I was so excited when I found out that I got into Global Immersion: Doing Business in Myanmar! I have wanted to travel to Southeast Asia for quite some time, so when I saw that GIP Myanmar was being offered for the first time I jumped on the chance to enroll. The past six weeks of in-class sessions in NYC have been filled with both student presentations concerning emerging industries in Myanmar as well as guest speakers who have experience setting up businesses in the country. Once we arrive in Yangon, a major city in Myanmar, we will visit with telecom, retail and financial service companies, among many others. We will also have the unique opportunity to visit with the U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar. While we have had exposure to Myanmar via videos, speakers and individual research, most students were so interested in the economic emergence of the country that we decided to travel to Myanmar prior to the official start date of class.
Since opening up its borders in 2011, Myanmar has been working to increase its presence in global tourism. I was incredibly excited to visit both Bagan as well as the Inle Lake region of Myanmar to understand first-hand how far the country has to go to become a prevalent tourist destination. The two days we spent in Bagan were absolutely amazing! The former, ancient capital of Myanmar was once covered in over 10,000 pagodas. While today just over 2,400 pagodas remain, the picturesque landscape is still incredible. We took a beautiful, sunrise hot air balloon ride which allowed us to see the remaining pagodas in all of their beauty, and then spent the rest of the day on rented electric bicycles exploring the pagodas on foot. In the evening, I climbed one of the tallest pagodas in the area with ten of my clustermates and watched the sun set on our exquisite time in the area.
I departed Bagan early the next morning en route to the Inle Lake region. During the ten-hour drive through the mountainous countryside I really felt like I was able to experience the true Myanmar culture. We travelled through a small village at the base of Mt. Popa where we stopped to photograph a beautiful monastery on the cliffs of an extinct volcano. Shortly after the Mt. Popa stop our group encountered a broken-down truck carrying hundreds of bags of cement on a bridge blocking the only road to Inle Lake. We pleaded with our driver to find another way around the accident and traffic, but he told us there was nothing else we could do besides sit and wait for the wreckage to be cleared. We had no choice but to stop for hours while we watched a village come together to build a bypass road through village backyards to enable stopped traffic to pass. It was at this moment that brought me back to the reality that Myanmar had a great deal of work to do on their infrastructure before the country would be amenable to mass tourism.
When a new road was put into place, our group was able to continue our journey to Inle Lake, an area known for the fishing and farming villages built on stilts on an incredible lake bordered by mountains. We took a full-day boat tour of the various villages and watched how the locals spun handmade silk goods and created silver and gold jewelry. We were also treated to another amazing sunset, this time on crystal clear water showcasing breathtaking reflections of light.
I am so glad I decided to travel in Myanmar prior to the official start of our Global Immersion Program. I feel like I have gained a great deal of context that will help frame the conversations during our company visits in Yangon. While I am sad to end this portion of my country exploration, I am really looking forward to connecting with the rest of my classmates and digging into the issues that Myanmar will face in the coming years to emerge as a worldwide economic participant.
Sabrina Stucka, MBA ’15