If you want to make an impact in a country’s overall advancement, especially within education, teaching in Myanmar is right for you. What you will experience is a beautiful, spiritual place colored by vibrant diversity and history, stuck between what was, and what is, a nation in extreme transition.
MYANMAR OR BURMA?
This seems to be a touchy, somewhat sensitive topic. In short, saying Myanmar is okay.
The word Myanmar in the Burmese language (official language) is the word for the country. When the British colonized Myanmar, the name was changed to Burma, which also has roots in local dialects. However, since 1989, the country has been formally known as The Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
That is why you still see and hear the use of Burma, especially in British context. This also explains why several cities and places appear to have two names. Rangoon is the English name for Yangon, which is the Burmese word for Myanmar’s largest city.
Some locals prefer to call the country Myanmar because not all people are of Bamar decent. Barmans make up the largest ethnic group, and are frequently referred to as Burmese. However, there are actually over 130 recognized tribes in Myanmar. A Shan or Karen person would not necessarily consider themselves Burmese, even though they are from “Burma”, and speak Burmese.
Other locals, and many international news agencies, still prefer to refer to the nation as Burma largely due to political reasons and familiarity.
CULTURAL TIPS AND TABOOS
Myanmar’s people are friendly, generous, and hospitable, with a tinge of innocent curiosity about the outside world. You may never want to leave, and if you do, you will not go empty-handed. It is a custom to be treated, and given small gifts at random.
Tip: Older, educated generations of people from Myanmar (60+) speak English very well, as they may have gone to a British-run school during their childhood.
Taboo: Asking about politics, the military, or the past is generally not a good idea. However, if people approach the topic, you could get into an interesting gaff about Myanmar’s former regime.
Tip: Dress conservatively. Myanmar is a country with deep Buddhist roots. Seeing knees (and shoulders for women) in holy places is forbidden. Also, expect to take your shoes off in many public spaces. Locals dress very well when going to a temple, or attending a religious event. So should you. You can always get away with sporting a longyi.
Taboo: Males associating with girls and adolescent females (outside of their family) is not usual.
Trying to learn Burmese by using a phrasebook is really difficult. Words are not always spelled like they actually sound, as there is no official Romanization system.
For example: kyat is pronounced ‘chat’. The ‘ky’ combination sounds like ‘ch’.
The ending of words is often dropped as well, adding another challenge to mastering the language outside of the country.
For example: Mingalabar is pronounced mingalaba.
This is likely the reason why English learners in Myanmar have a hard time properly enunciating endings of English words.
Thank you: jeh-zu-tin-ba-deh
You’re welcome/No problem: ya-ba-deh
HOW TO GET A TEACHING JOB IN MYANMAR
Teaching English in Myanmar is the common way to come, but opportunities to instruct other subjects (in English) are also available. Several positions are usually vacant at private institutions, in addition to international schools. Most jobs are in major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay.
The British Council in Yangon recruits for teachers regularly, as the demand for English education increases. Directly contacting an international school is always an option. Going through a service provider such as Greenheart Travel might be a good idea if you do not know where to start. Keep in mind there are costs associated with going through service providers.
Essential qualifications vary. It is best to have at least a TESOL/TEFL or CELTA certification to be a competitive applicant. Salaries vary greatly as well, but do not expect to get much more than $1,200 USD for most teaching gigs.
You will need to get a business visa to work in Myanmar. Thankfully, the process has become quite simple. You can even get a visa upon arrival depending on your country of origin, reason for stay, and if you have the required documents.
IN THE CLASSROOM
You might not have access to technology in the classroom. While this will probably become less of a norm in the near future, for the time being, countries like Myanmar are not as advanced as what you are potentially used to.
Quality teaching materials are not widely accessible either, and a very slow Internet connection makes it difficult to search for and download resources to use. Bring fresh ideas, teaching aids, games, curriculums, and/or textbooks with you. Just in case your school does not follow a set syllabus. You could be asked to create one.
If you really want to teach underserved populations, be sure to do your research. Myanmar does not allow foreigners to enter public schools. Teaching jobs are only obtainable in private and international academies at this time. Volunteering at orphanages, monasteries and/or nunneries is a potential.
WHY YOU SHOULD GO, NOW
Myanmar is one of the most unknown, undocumented, and unexplored places in the world. But, that is going to change very soon. Now is the time to go.
You will be among some of the first groups of foreign teachers to assist with the overall development of Myanmar’s education system, primarily relating to English. The country is transitioning rapidly, and this trend will not stop anytime soon. Go now to experience a place unlike any other.