a group of children standing around a tree

Teaching in Myanmar

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Dragonair 252 A321 Economy Class Hong Kong to Yangon
Inya Lake Hotel Yangon
Yangon Airways 917 ATR 72-212 Yangon to Bagan Nyaung-U
Hotel Umbra Bagan
Teaching in Myanmar
Yangon Airways 910 ATR 72-212 Bagan Nyaung-U to Yangon
Myanmar Life Hotel Yangon
Dragonair 251 A321 Economy Class Yangon to Hong Kong

I was very excited for my first teaching experience outside Hong Kong – pretty giddy for it, too, as that kept me awake the night before.

After getting off the flight to Bagan, we visited the Nyaung-U market for a while, which was…an interesting experience. People were so keen to sell stuff to us – handing stuff to us, spreading stuff on our cheeks – that I actually had to be pretty hostile to keep them away.


Bagan Nyaung-U Market

We were then bussed to the school courtesy of Travel Expert Hong Kong, and under our tour guide, Po. He gave us a few introductory phrases that we could use on the kids – though mainly due to (delusional) me thinking that the kids would understand, I wasn’t really listening.


Basis Elementary School, Bagan, Myanmar

We got to the school at nine. While we taught five grades over our 29 people, I was assigned to third graders. I picked a group that had an even number of boys and girls, so I could get them to work together.


My nine kids

We sat down next to a tree and I told them to stand by a circle, except they didn’t. So I repeated. One of my kids (heaven knows how to spell his name, but it’s on the lines of Pohn-dan-go) started making a circular shape and talked in Burmese, and they all made a circle.

I went around trying to remember their names, which were hard to remember – I managed to remember it after about five hours of teaching, and I had nine kids – I can’t even think how those who partnered managed to remember all their kids’ names (that said, they didn’t, so it’s fair). Then I tried to play a few games. Except they just stood there. And that was because they couldn’t understand a word I said. A word.


Photo credits to my teacher Mr. Werner Paetzold

By that point, I was speechless. I stood there, thinking of a plan while the nine kids (and four first graders who were there for a visit) just stared at me. I knew by then that they were eager to learn. I just didn’t know how.

So I started right off the bat with a book.


Photo credits to my teacher supervisor Mr. Gregg Lee

They didn’t seem to understand it, but I tried to make my lessons interactive, however, it didn’t seem to be working. By “interactive” I thought it would be like talking and discussion, which clearly didn’t work out, so I tried using items the kids had. Well, that sucked, as they got bored anyway.

I mean, even when they spoke English I couldn’t understand them given how heavy their accent was. I had to chase the kids back when they were getting water despite them pronouncing “water, water” for about three minutes. I mean, for a tourism city like Bagan, if people can’t understand the kids, that’s pretty horrifying.

I had them learn “my name is”, which was a complete fail on all accounts. Before I knew it the bell rang and the kids were off to lunch – I doubted I’d get the kids back after lunch, or if they’d just be gone after that.


Suffice to say with the below video that I was pretty pooped after my first international teaching experience.


So, during lunch, I started planning. What would make the kids learn? Obviously. Action. But how would I make myself original, with my lesson plan, unlike the others? How would I elevate the learning experience into something that would be enjoyable even for little kids like them? Still agonized but with a newfound confidence for my next session, I walked back to school (there were some pretty cute puppies along the way from our restaurant to the school).


Puppies, Bagan, Myanmar

I hid the flashcards behind trees and bushes as the kids were coming, then I had the kids find the cards (having them learn the concept of hiding and finding before they did that – apparently one of the trees was one I had to be careful around as it was incredibly poisonous and could murder a child in under thirty seconds).

The flashcard finding was a huge sh*t show. They fell on top of one another, they rolled around, the completely destroyed a non-poisonous bush that their “target card” was inside. But I could see that they enjoyed it – they wanted more. So I gave them more of it during the three-day course, and they liked it.

Every time, even if they got beat down to the ground by my other kids, had the card snatched down from their hands (these children wanted recognition) and victory stolen from them in bright daylight, they managed to keep a smile on their faces. This was truly inspirational and I managed to learn a lot from that alone.


Watching the kids run away to get their cards (photo credits to my friend Charly Cheung)

Learning that every child could focus for around 10-15 minutes after 10-15 minutes of action was very useful throughout the duration of my stay – quick thinking was a skill we learned that every teacher picks up.


Photo credits to Mr. Werner Paetzold

They just left at the end of the day (it took me a while to realize that the bell was ringing), and I spent each afternoon high-fiving kids.

I went to the hotel (which, as 99% of you read, was a great place to rest up) on the first day feeling so exhausted, I was near a mortuary state when I fell on my bed as I got home. At night, we sat in our teacher supervisor’s room and discussed a few changes we could be making, mine mostly revolving around making them do more than just run around. While there was a big lesson plan written for most of the people (written by the other group leader – I was one), I decided to go askew and see how my children would learn best.

I knew that learning was a hardship for both teachers and students, but children were required to learn so they would become successful in the outside community. You build unbreakable bonds with people that you execute the hardest things with – your classmates, your colleagues, your students – and in this case, both the children and I were trying to have the children learn new things.

My own plan worked for the first two hours of the second day. I had them team up with other children while I set up for other games (though they ended up finding me every time – they basically refused to join any other group).


Duck, Duck, Goose with my friend Lolo’s kids too


My kids found me! (Photo credits to my friend Cindy Sun)

After a relaxing lunch on the second day thinking that my kids would be better, I returned only to find out that my kids had been through a lunchtime of fun. I spent the next two hours yelling, and learned that teaching is never a very stable experience. My kids were running away, getting unfocused, and getting easily tired at active activities. Most of them wandered off, and I was getting very frustrated. In the end, I managed to make the day rather productive despite the troubles, but it definitely was a tough day.


One of my kids returning home with his older sister after school

We spent the evening near the Ayeyarwady River, which was a stunning experience, and a great way to relax.


Ayeyarwady River

By dinner, I succumbed to wave upon wave of fatigue, and started to feel rather queasy and uneasy (I basically slept on a friend on the way to the bus, something I’ve really never done – while I’m normally a multi-purpose pillow to my friends, the reverse isn’t true unless I’ve lost my sanity). At night, it was shown that I was sick. I sat through my teacher’s debriefing on a hotel chair, looking wrecked and tired, and really unwell. Without even reviewing on a lesson plan, I took a few pills and went to bed immediately.

Admittedly back then I was more concerned about my health than anything else and wasn’t ready to teach the kids sick, but in retrospect, I’m pretty pissed I had to sleep through these views. My friends had a morning run without me, though, and didn’t mind showing me some pictures.


Sunrise at Bagan, Myanmar (photo credits to my friend Eve Boulanger)


Sunrise at Bagan, Myanmar (photo credits to Charly)


Sunrise at Bagan, Myanmar (photo credits to my friend Chloe Lee)

Well thinking back again, it was the most productive morning I had ever got from the kids, which was helped by the shade that lessened my fever in the amount of time. They learned about the concepts of “happy”, “sad” and a few other emotions.





As always they got tired of learning as usual, so we had a few running games with my friend Irmina, but we managed to keep it mostly teacher-initiated.


Running games

In the whole lesson plan, I got them to understand colors, shapes, emotions and body sizes, which was pretty incredible for four days.


Writing the word “fat” on a piece of easel

(I learned that the kids wouldn’t be taking my phone, so I resorted to taking a few more pictures of them, integrating each picture at the right time so they would feel less awkward, including showing them weird pictures of each other.)

After lunch that day, I gave the children a few books and gave them a bit of chill time, as it was my last day teaching them. The less you have access to things, the more you cherish them. The children loved the books and spent the whole two hours flipping through pictures. I read them a few and helped them out individually.

That night we got ready for sports day though I was ready for it to be a sh*t show. And it was, but at least, we got a good idea of who won and who didn’t.


Awards Ceremony

And so it was time for us to leave. We had about twenty minutes with the children, which was chaotic, but I joined in their local games (which involved chasing, and with the kids, strangling and beating down to the floor). Our call to the bus was an abrupt one, so the children were giving me high-fives, hugs, handshakes, and I bid them farewell (I plan to return, so I’ll be seeing them again). A few of my children (and lots of other children, some teary) were outside the gate waving to the bus, which was enough to make a few of my friends tear up, especially those teaching seventh graders as those people wouldn’t be seeing their children again.

What did I learn?

  • Learning is a process that both the teacher and the child have to go through. Especially in this lesson plan, it wasn’t easy for me to teach, but it wasn’t easy for my kids to learn either. We went through the experience of education the children together, which was the key to our bonding.
  • In a world where technology rules, there are still children unexposed, yet are eager to learn as much as they can. Technology has ruined most of us though there’s a small fraction of the population that still hasn’t been fully exposed to it. However, they’re incredibly willing to learn, so there aren’t any excuses for anyone who’s too lazy to help out with the community.
  • You don’t need to necessarily leave your city to teach. There are children in your city that can be underprivileged or unknowing that a skill that you possess. In Hong Kong, over half the people cannot read English fluently. And adding on to that, teaching is such a rewarding experience that it can’t be forgotten. There are ups and downs, but overall, you leave with a grand sense of knowledge about people and children.

How will I return?

Who knows?

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