Teaching English in Lashio, Myanmar: Alumni Q&A with Christine Nguyen

What is your citizenship?

What city and state are you from?
Melbourne, Australia

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Taught English abroad previously

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Malaysia, China, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar, United Kingdom, Italy, Vatican City, France, Ireland, Fiji, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Tanzania/Zanzibar, Kenya, South Africa, North America, Canada.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I've always loved writing and reading, and wanted to share this love of the English language with others. Given the opportunity to do this, combined with my seemingly never-dying wanderlust, it seemed like a perfect fit for me.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Primarily just the culture shock and fear of being able to communicate effectively within a totally different environment (and a non-English-speaking environment, no less!).

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
Friends and family were generally really supportive.

Mothers being mothers, there was a little bit of apprehension on the Mum-front (and probably continues to be)!

Overall though, I think my circle of friends and family have been pretty awesome, and they continue to be a strong support base for me while I'm abroad. I'm pretty lucky and super-grateful.

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I wanted a certification that would be recognized internationally. Plain and simple.

After extensive research, I chose International TEFL Academy because they just ticked all of my boxes in terms of what I was looking for in getting TEFL certified.

The course was comprehensive, up-to-date, and practical; the time-frame worked for me; there was a lot of flexibility in terms of when to start my course; the reviews by ITA alumni were fantastic; the pricing for the courses was fair and illustrated value-for-money; and a HUGE tick for me was that the customer service and post-course-completion service were exceptional. From start to finish (and continuing!), I'm really chuffed with myself for selecting and studying with ITA.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?
The course really challenged me. I had previously completed a TESOL certification a few years back but my ITA course was much more comprehensive, real-world-based, and practical.

My instructor was helpful, gave great constructive feedback, and was clearly an experienced professional TEFL teacher herself.

I enjoyed the tasks, online forums/chats with other students, and greatly appreciated the opportunity to apply everything that I was learning in the course straight into the classes that I was teaching at the time. Studying online also allowed a lot of flexibility for me in terms of assignment submissions and task completion -- it required more self-discipline and time management, but I enjoyed that too.

Teach English in Myanmar

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
It helps me every day in my current teaching position. I find myself flicking back through my notes a fair bit when thinking about lessons and planning, or when I run into road-blocks and challenges in the classroom.

Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Myanmar in the city of Lashio. I am the co-founder/co-director of an English language/education center here in Myanmar. Our goal is to give rural youth (i.e. in rural towns like Lashio) access to quality education and international teachers.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been in Myanmar since November 2014 and will be here for the next year or so... (watch this space!)

What school, company, or program are you working for?
DevelopEd | Development & Education Co Ltd

During which months does your school typically hire?
All year round

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?

How did you interview for this position?
I started the school. And I love teaching. Does that count?

What kind of visa did you enter on?
Work vis

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
Oh, man. Back then (late 2014), it was a rigmarole but now, it's really streamlined and easy.

You would enter the country as a 'Business Consultant' on a 70-day business visa. Available upon arrival at Yangon International Airport so long as you have the correct paperwork from the organization supporting the visa.

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
- Bachelor's degree
TEFL Certification
- Previous TEFL experience, a good sense of humor, previous travel in South-East Asia, and a love of good food.

What is the best way to apply?

Myanmar TEFL

Tell us about your English teaching job!

  • Teaching work hours per week: We cap teaching/class contact hours for all teachers at a maximum of 20 hours per week.
  • Pay: DevelopEd is a small NGO/local enterprise so pay, in comparison to other English schools, is not huge, BUT full accommodation and board is provided, as are local transport costs. As of June 2017, teaching staff are paid anywhere between 300,000 - 500,000 Ks ($225 - $375 USD) per teaching month (depending on qualifications and experience).
  • Are you able to save? How much? Unbelievably, I do save because daily costs here are really minuscule. I struggle to spend money on myself, and I tend to spend money mostly on prizes/snacks for my students, eating out (soooo cheap), or just general toiletries. I'd estimate that I save about $400-$500 a month.
  • The type of school you are working for: DevelopEd is a private English language & education center that teaches pragmatic English skills and focuses on community development via the provision of quality education. We have international professionals/native English speakers mentoring local staff; teaching local students pragmatic English language skills and IELTS preparation; working on community development and project management skills; teaching computer skills, and we are also working towards complete handover of the education center to the local staff and their community.
  • Students (children, adult, business professional, etc.): DevelopEd's target demographic is 'rural youth' so most of our students in the Active English classes and IELTS are in the 17-25 year old range. As we also teach local iNGO staff and other local industry professionals, our non-English courses (computer skills, report-writing skills, etc) see a range in ages from 20-45 years.
  • Vacation time: DevelopEd runs on a three terms per year timetable that works around, and tries not to clash a great deal with the local university schedules (as a lot of our students attend both our courses and university). Terms are 10 weeks long, with a three week break in between terms. Term 1 normally starts in early February, and Term 3 ends around mid-late October. Over the longer 'winter' break, DevelopEd also usually runs a Winter School (five weeks long), and various other workshops.
  • Anything else you would like to share? It's a fully immersive teaching and living experience here in Lashio. Living at the school and with some of the students, it's been a wonderful learning experience and though I've been here a while now, I still continue to learn new things about my work, the students, and the culture that I'm living within every single day. There's never really a dull moment.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
As mentioned above, teaching staff are provided accommodation at the education center. All teachers have their own private room with full use of all house and education center facilities. It's not fancy but it's clean, safe, has a hot shower, is a pretty relaxed environment, and everyone works and lives together with a somewhat family-like vibe. There's no pressure to be together all the time; everyone just does their own thing and occasionally will share a meal together or just hang out.

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

  • Cultural aspects: Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country so you won't travel too far without seeing a golden pagoda on the horizon or on a hillside. Monks are hugely respected and there's barely a month that goes by where there isn't a festival on. In Lashio (Northern Shan State), there are also large Muslim, Hindu, Chinese, Christian communities. It makes for a very lovely melting pot to be living within and experiencing. Plus, the food is AMAZING.
  • Public transportation: In the larger cities, there is public bus transportation and taxis to get from A-B; however in Lashio, most people rely on getting around in three-wheelers, by their own motorcycles, or car.
  • Nightlife: There is one nightclub that I know of here and, surprisingly, it was pretty decent! Locals also love going to KTV (karaoke) joints and singing their hearts out.
  • Social activities: There are the local hot springs to visit just a few minutes out of the town center. There is also excellent hiking around the hills that surround Lashio. Funnily enough, roller-skating is also quite popular here, and there are a couple of roller-skating rinks where one can partake! There are three cinemas in town that show both Burmese and the latest English movies (the popcorn is the best I've ever had), and they occasionally also show Thai and Bollywood movies too. About half an hour out of town, there is a swimming pool where the high school and university students like to go for a dip on the hotter days.
  • Food: There are many different ethnic groups in Lashio, and they all make amazing food. The predominant cuisine is Shan (this being Northern Shan State and all) which is largely rice-based, and soy beans/beans of any sort also play a large role. You also find a vast array of Chinese food, Kachin food, Indian food, and I've even seen sushi. Western and Thai food is also starting to make its way into Lashio. When I arrived, pizza was non-existent as was good coffee; now, not so. You'll find pretty good versions at some of the larger and more established restaurants in town.
    Expat community: The expat community here is small compared to the larger cities (i.e. Yangon, Mandalay etc) and at the moment, I would estimate that it hovers at around the 30-40 person mark. Occasionally there will be expat BBQs or just drinks to round out a working week and to catch-up. It's a nice group of professionals from all different walks of life and countries.
  • Dating scene: Ha. Non-existent. But maybe I just have no idea.
  • Travel opportunities: You can fly to almost anywhere in Myanmar from Lashio. It's also situated quite close to the Chinese border and the countryside on the drive up there is phenomenal. Neighbouring towns like Hsipaw, Pyin Oo Lwin, Kutkai are also worth a visit as they are very picturesque and attract a fair few more tourists. Likewise, Mandalay and Bagan are within reach by car/taxi. Train travel in Myanmar is also an experience that every traveler should attempt...! Safe but will take you a while to get places. Good for when you just want to sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery.

What are your monthly expenses?
For reference: $1 USD = 1,365Ks (as of July 2017)

  • Rent/utilities: None - provided by school.
  • Food: Most days, I spend, at maximum, 2000Ks (about US $1.50). If I'm feeling fancy and splurge a bit, a meal plus drinks where two people eat until they're full, will cost about 15,000Ks (US $11).
    • A bowl of noodles: 500-800Ks (35-50 cents USD).
    • A large Myanmar beer: 1700-2000Ks ($1.25- $1.50 USD).
    • A fresh strawberry juice: 1500Ks ($1 USD).
    • A huge basketful of fresh greens and vegetables from the market: about 5000Ks ($3.75 USD).
  • Social activities: Movie tickets are about 1500-2500Ks ($1 - $1.75 USD).
  • Transportation: A motorbike tank of fuel will cost about 4000Ks ($3 USD).
  • Phone/communication: I spend about 10,000Ks on phone/data credit every 2-3 weeks.
  • Travel: A bus ticket to Yangon costs 20,000Ks ($15 USD) one-way. 

Teach English in Myanmar TEFL

How would you describe your standard of living?
My standard of living is pretty good here. I feel very grateful and lucky.

As Lashio is a large trading town, I can find most goods that I need here. Also, because it's also still largely a farming/agricultural town (on the outskirts anyway), the fresh produce is phenomenal and quite cheap. Eating seasonal produce is one of my greatest joys about living and working here.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
If rent/accommodation is not an issue, then to live comfortably, you'd need to earn around 300,000 to 500,000 kyats a month. Any more is a bonus. I seriously struggle to spend money here.

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Do your research. Talk to others who are already in-country. Do a bit of travel around the country first if you're able to. Always have a stash of emergency money on you, a decent first-aid kit, a hat, a roll of toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Bring a good sense of humor too. The culture shock should not be underestimated.

Yes, I would recommend teaching in Myanmar (especially in rural Myanmar). It has been such a rich, fulfilling, colorful, and challenging experience. I've learned so much about myself too while I've been here - I'd highly recommend it.


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