Why Go to Myanmar?

Hsinbyume Pagoda in Mingun designed after the Buddhist mythological mountain of Mount Meru. Photo: Anne McGrath ’18

Myanmar may not seem like an obvious choice for a Global Immersion Program—after all, it’s not likely that any of the nearly 30 of us in the class will be moving to Myanmar after school—but the chance to experience a country as it begins to reopen to the rest of the world posed an alluring attraction.

A brief (modern) history of Myanmar: In the 19th century, the British colonized the country, abolishing centuries of dynastic rule (and changed the name to Burma). Myanmar regained its independence in 1948 but came under military rule a little over a decade later. This led to years of outside sanctions, which were supported by the country’s famed and beloved Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, as she fought for democracy. With embargoes from the U.S. and Europe, Myanmar was essentially closed off to much of the world. Eventually, in 2015 Suu Kyi’s party won the general election, yet the constitution still contains numerous provisions that keep the military in power and limit hers. For example, 25 percent of seats in the Union Assembly and regional assemblies are reserved for military appointees. Suu Kyi can’t even hold the title of prime minister because her children hold British citizenship.

Photos of Aung San Suu Kyi can be found throughout the country–here are old calendars hanging prominently in a store’s entrance. Photo: Anne McGrath ’18

In our class discussions this term, we’ve had the opportunity to dive deeper into the impacts of these sanctions; China’s One Belt, One Road initiative; the textile industry; and many other issues facing a country that is transitioning from a closed economy to an open one. But, the topic that has been at the forefront of many of our minds, looming large as we head into this exciting week of meeting with local companies and going on factory tours, is the current humanitarian crisis taking place in the Rakhine State. The class has given us a forum to hear from experts on the region and seek out information on our own—including reading the devastating Reuters report that led to the arrests of two local journalists. The ethics of de facto supporting a government by visiting the country is something we will continue to address during our week in Yangon—and something many of us have begun to talk about more openly with friends and classmates in an attempt to bring more attention to a devastating situation.

As we lead up to the week, some of us have spent the past few days touring other parts of Myanmar, but when we come together in Yangon (fun fact, not the country’s capital—the capital has its own fascinating back story that you can read about here) on Sunday we’ll be ready to dig deeper into these discussions.  Until then, I have a few thousand pagodas to visit.

Miriam Krule ’18

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