Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Life in crazy, wonderful Myanmar

The country is still behind the times in many ways but it is changing rapidly, says Marie Starr

Fri, Sep 20, 2013, 00:01


Marie Starr

After 50 years of being ruled by a military junta, Myanmar is experiencing a major overhaul. It is an endlessly interesting time to be here, to be part of the adjustments and advancements the country is making towards modernisation.

I couldn’t have imagined when I was filling out my CAO, in 2008, that I would end up in Yangon after graduating. There were signs of a downturn but I didn’t let that deter me from applying for architectural technology in Cork IT. I had wanted to be an architect since I was 12.

In third year, we began to notice the graduates ahead of us had to move away. Doing a postgraduate course to become fully qualified seemed fruitless. The cafe where I worked couldn’t give me any extra days, and my income was just enough to get by.

Other people I knew were leaving for Australia or Canada, but I had a taste for the exotic, so when an opportunity arose to go to Asia I snapped it up.

My boyfriend and I flew to Bankgok last September to do a course in teaching English as a second language, with a five-month job placement at a school in northeast Thailand.

We were searching for jobs elsewhere in Thailand when I came across a position in Yangon. We didn’t know much about Myanmar and thought it would be exciting.

We’ve been here six months, teaching literature at an international secondary school. The social scene is fun, with a lot of young people from all over the world. Although I don’t earn anything like what I would at home, it is enough to live a good life in Yangon.

The country has opened up to the rest of the world over the past two years and there’s evidence of that everywhere. Every month new restaurants open and international companies and businesses set up. A ban on international cars was lifted in 2011, and the roads can’t really handle the volume of traffic.

English-language newspapers have started up, the first privately owned media here. I read a newspaper called Irrawaddy founded by Burmese journalists living in exile in Thailand. The paper was banned until last December but is now readily available.

The country is still behind the times in many ways. The internet is hard to come by, and to use Skype I have to go to the biggest, poshest hotel in the city, full of people like me doing the same. It’s hard sometimes to be out of contact with home.

The roads are in bad condition and sewers are often open. You always have to carry a flashlight at night in case the power goes. It is now monsoon season, and the roads flood easily, forcing you to change travel plans at a moment’s notice. The hot, dry weather can be hard to handle, too; it reached over 40 degrees this summer.

The language barrier also takes getting used to, but because of Myanmar’s colonial history, many older people have very good English.

The majority of the time it is fascinating to live in such a rapidly changing place; I hope to stay at least another year. I have developed a new appreciation for Ireland since moving away, but at the moment England or elsewhere in Europe are more likely options.

I don’t know anyone from college who is working in architecture in Ireland. About half now live in Germany, Australia and the US, working, although maybe not in architecture.

I’m glad to have experienced crazy, wonderful Myanmar. Most people don’t want to pack up and leave family and friends to find work, but after my experiences I would recommend they try it.

- In conversation with Ciara Kenny

This article appears in the print edition of The Irish Times today.