As exam week slowly came to an end, I sat down with the three Mawlamyine exchange students who visited Fort Wayne and four of my students from the postgrad/ honors class for a conversation on their life as a university student and as a citizen of Mawlamyine. I hope this excerpt from our delightful and thought-provoking dialogue will give citizens of Fort Wayne a glimpse into the lives of young people in our Friendship City:
- University life
- Attendance and student motivation
- School and classroom culture
- On leadership and being a role model
- On changing the education system
- Activities outside of university
- Goals and dreams
Download the PDF version of this interview: Interview with Mawlamyine Univ students
Introductions: Name, major, and one interesting fact about yourself
Htet Shine: I’m Htet Shine. I’m studying English literature. I’m a master’s student. One interesting thing about me is I’m an introverted person so I don’t want to show anything about myself, but I want to know about others. I’m now trying to be extroverted. I’m such kind of person. It was a great honor to be chosen as an exchange student. Thank you.
Hsu Lei: I’m Hsu Lei Nandar Oo. I’m 3rd year honors English specialization student. As for me, one interesting thing…to be honest, I think almost everything in my soul is interesting. If I mention one out of all of them, my patience or my understanding of others is one of the interesting things about me.
Hein Oo Lwin/ Adam: I’m Hein Oo Lwin, 3rd year honors English specialization student. For me, personality is everything. I do believe in it. I’m interested in building one’s personality, to improve one’s personality.
Khine Thazin Thein/ Katherine: I’m Khine Thazin Thein. I’m a 1st year master’s student specializing in English. What I like most about myself is I like to help people and I can easily make friends with a stranger everywhere and every time. That’s what I like most about me.
Thaw Thaw: I’m Thaw Thaw Ye Htut. I’m 1st year master’s student in English specialization. The most I like about myself is I’m very active in international interaction. This is the most important thing for all of us I think: to communicate because you have to live in your society.
Myint Myat Oo: Hello. My name is Myint Myat Oo. I specialize in English. I’m also a master’s student. For me, I think I always smile. Many people said I never get angry because I have a big smile on my face. If they see me they also have happiness. I’m very optimistic.
Hein Min Htun: I’m Hein Min Htun. I’m a student from 1st year honors English specialization. I specialize in language and literature. An interesting fact about me is that I’m too passionate about English literature. I devote my time exploring the world of English literature. I want to be a writer of English short stories and poems. Now I’m creating 3 poems. This is my dream. My soul is English. This is one interesting fact.
Me: I hope you can share your poems with us in the future. Htet Shine, Thaw Thaw, and Katherine, you’ve had a chance to see the difference between Fort Wayne and your university experience here in Mawlamyine, but even if you haven’t been able to see another country’s university life, I think there is much that we can learn from hearing all of your stories about what it is like in your university. How would you describe a typical day at your university? (Beyond exam week.)
Htet Shine: Student life here [in Mawlamyine] is really different from student life in Fort Wayne. One thing we have learned about student life is that here in our university, student life is very simple. In the morning, [students] come to their classes to learn, to take every class even if they’re not really interested in it. They have to take classes all day. They just go back to their house and help their family members. They’re mostly helping their family members [with] household chores. Typically, student life here is really simple. During the weekdays, I go to the university and take all the classes. Then I go back and I take a rest. I do my job and help my mother in our work. Typically my student life is really simple.
But the student life in Fort Wayne is a little bit interesting because the students themselves work a lot. One of the students I met in Fort Wayne told me she has 3 part-time jobs. This is quite a different matter from here [in Mawlamyine]. They are just so persistent and hard working. It’s quite different from here. Generally we don’t have to work because most families provide enough support for our education. But the students in Fort Wayne, they don’t need to depend on their family members. They have to stand straight for themselves. I think this is a good point.
Thaw Thaw: As he mentioned, our university life is simple. Maybe some students are really interested in their majors and specializations, but most of the students are just attending the university. They have no grand ambitions for their life – they just want to be a graduate. But in Fort Wayne, all of the students are very active in their learning. They can switch their specializations. Their career might be the way they want it to be. It is not forced. And also they got jobs there. They have to start working on their own, not like us.
Htet Shine: Another thing I want to mention is that honestly, I’m not keen on English literature. In my matriculation examination, (every student in Myanmar has to take the matriculation exam before they join the university) I did really badly so I had no choice. I had to choose English specialization. But the students in Fort Wayne can follow their passions and they can pursue their interests.
Hein Min Htun: Here it is very strict. You have to attend class most of the time. If you miss the class, the teacher will get angry with you.
Attendance and student motivation
Me: Interesting. So you’re saying in your university, attendance is strict?
Hein Min Htun: Yes. Strict. Most of the time you have to listen to teachers lecture. Most of the students miss the class.
Me: We talked about attendance during the past 2 months. From a teacher’s perspective, I always wondered, “Well, how can we get students to come to class?” I feel students miss out on learning opportunities if they’re not in class. Since we’re on that topic, I want to ask you, what do you think would motivate students to come to class or to maximize their university time?
Hein Min Htun: Different style of learning.
Htet Shine: Yes. It depends on the teacher as well.
Hein Min Htun: Yes! Exactly.
Htet Shine: Teaching technique. Most of the teaching techniques that the teachers are practicing are such kinds of passive teaching. You have to listen to whatever the teacher is saying. No comments. The teacher themselves don’t have enough time to answer the questions.
Katherine: There is also another point. That is the teacher gives tuition, another class, outside of university so the students rely on the tuition and skip school and go somewhere for their pleasure.
Me: So you think in a way tuition classes harm attendance?
Me: But the students pay extra for tuition classes, right?
Katherine: Yes. They can afford it; it’s not that much.
School and classroom culture
Htet Shine: I think they should make some kind of group work and presentations for the students as well. There are no visuals and facilities so this is quite a boring thing. Also, teachers are not gaining access to modern technology. Some teachers don’t even have an email address. In the U.S., you can ask the professor the things you don’t understand through email, but here it is not used. I think the teachers should have emails. Even if [teachers] don’t have enough time to answer the students’ questions, they can use email to reply when they come home. This is a helpful way. And also if they want more students in their classes, they should have more activities that seem to be more energetic and something interesting for students like group work or group discussions.
Me: So more interaction is what you would want to see?
Htet Shine: Yeah.
Me: By the way, since we’re on that topic of technology. It’s interesting to me, ever since I came, how many people added me on Facebook or sent me a friend request. And then I got all these messages from students asking me questions or just saying, “Hi. How are you?” Or –
Adam: “What is love?” (note: I wrote a poem on this topic because for some reason, I had several people ask me this question – click here to see the poem)
Me: Okay that’s a philosophical question, but they also asked me grammar questions. I really thought about, “Well if all of the students are on Facebook, why not use Facebook as a learning tool?” Then we can really try out, “How might technology be used in the classroom?” Even this question is relevant to teachers in the U.S. We’re always questioning, “To what extent should we use technology in the classroom?” The issue in Mawlamyine is different in that you don’t have as much technology in the classroom. It’s always just a blackboard and desks. How might we change up the classroom so that it can be more effective? Before we move on to the next topic, are there any more comments on this?
Thaw Thaw: To motivate the students to come to class – it also includes the classroom decoration because the classroom may seem very boring. Actually, when I went to Fort Wayne at IPFW, just in the entrance there are stickers of every color. It motivates you to attend class. Classroom decoration is also [part of] motivation.
Katherine: We can also make some kinds of activities. In our university we don’t have like reading club or conversation club or multicultural club. We saw the multicultural club in IPFW, but here there is no club. I think if we have that kind of activities the students can be motivated to come to school.
Hsu Lei: We need to also motivate from our kindergarten students. Even though some teachers give way to discuss, students can’t discuss or speak up because we are using a conservative way. We have to change that manner. From our kindergarten and also high school level students, we need to change the teaching method and teaching style. We need to motivate the students.
On leadership and being a role model
Hein Min Htun: It would be in vain. The priority is to change the morale. There might be some role models in our class. There should be only one role model just like an ideal student.
Me: Only one?
Hein Min Htun: It’s very rare.
Me: If you were to describe your ideal student who could be the role model for many students in the university, what would be the qualities that you would find in that student?
Hein Min Htun: He is supposed to shine at other factors like being helpful and good at social skills. Not just in learning. And have a better understanding between friends and he can help us as much as he can.
Myint Myat Oo: I think it is very difficult to find an ideal student because they all have qualifications in their specializations.
Htet Shine: Maybe we don’t know deeply about them so that’s why we can’t decide.
Me: Or is it possible that you are always looking for someone else, but not thinking you yourself can actually be a role model to your classmates?
Adam: That is what I want to say. My role model is myself.
Adam: Because I want everyone to be like that.
Me: Not like you, but you mean they themselves–
Adam: They themselves. Everyone can be a role model for himself/herself.
Hein Min Htun: Although there are role models in our class, there are many students who don’t follow their good character. As I have said, it should be prioritized to change our morale.
On changing the education system
Katherine: I want my friends to use the Internet usefully. We have lots of English pages, like BBC and some other news. There is also the British Council page. They post English lessons every day and we can learn it, but most of the juniors, they just use Facebook to post their face and their photos. They just use Facebook to make conversation with their friends. Even when we made an English conversation club with a teacher, when we motivate them to come to our club, they’re just afraid and they never try it so they never become fluent in English. So one thing is I want them to be confident. They’re always afraid to communicate with a stranger.
Myint Myat Oo: I want to cancel the tuition system because many students focus on their tuition classes. I think they can find language skills and teaching techniques in the [university] classroom. I think the teacher needs to be more skillful in teaching.
Me: Here is the conundrum: to what extent do we want the teachers to do everything and at what point should the students actually be responsible for their own learning? The teacher can only do so much. At what point can we depend on our students to also take on the responsibility for their own learning?
Hein Min Htun: I think to divide many classes. In each of the class there will be fewer students. The teacher can focus on each and every student and they won’t need to take any tuition classes.
Htet Shine: I think it’s a long shot to divide classes. One thing I would like is for my teachers to cooperate more with the students. They should create a more comfortable environment where we can talk freely, discuss with each other, exchange our opinion and points of view.
Adam: I think the teachers also feel like us. They may know how to teach students. If they divide students into many groups, their teaching would be more effective. They might know about it. The students also want it. The problem I think is not the teacher or students.
Htet Shine: I heard also that the government called some professors from the U.S. or U.K. These professors train teachers how to create a friendly environment.
Me: To be fair, it is hard for teachers to change. Not just because we’re human, so it’s hard for us to change in general, but also because if you did not experience that kind of environment, it would be hard for you perhaps to imagine what it’s like to use more discussion or create a more inclusive, supportive, warm and loving environment, for example. I think you already have teachers here in Mawlamyine who are doing their best. This is a really great discussion. I’m always fascinated with what students have to say. Part of my teaching philosophy is using student voice because education to me is not just about memorizing facts and knowledge; it’s about how can I help you grow as a learner and as an individual so that you can look at life in a richer way and in a way that will help you better understand its complexities.
Activities outside of university
Me: Okay. So we’ll move out of the university. What are some of your activities outside of university?
Katherine: I usually go swimming. Sometimes I go to the orphanage to offer them something. In my last summer, I interned in an NGO.
Thaw Thaw: I used to take English classes. I also did some volunteer work teaching English in the rural area. Nothing special.
Myint Myat Oo: I like singing. I sing more than 3 songs each day. It’s my hobby. I visit my friends. I do volunteer work at World Vision. I teach many students who cannot afford their tuition fee.
Hein Min Htun: I used to teach a student from our major who could not afford to attend tuition classes, but now I haven’t had to teach her.
Htet Shine: I am volunteering in the monastery where I teach young students ABCs. Most of the students there come from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is worth to teach them what I have learned throughout my life and share my experiences with them.
Adam: I teach the matriculation students. Like Ma Myint Myat Oo, I also teach the poor students who cannot afford the tuition fee. I’m a freelance singer. I used to go throughout the whole country like 2 or 3 times a month. It is also how I earn my living.
Me: Since people in Fort Wayne aren’t familiar. Can you tell them a bit about how you got your career started?
Htet Shine: Actually he competed in a singing contest that is very famous in the whole country.
Me: What’s the name?
Adam: Eain Mat Sone Yar အိပ္မက္ဆုံရာ – It means “Where Dreams Meet.”
Htet Shine: And he won the 4th prize (i.e. 3rd runner-up).
Me: And this was in what year?
Adam: 2 years ago. My casting/ audition was in December 2014 and it was on air in 2015.
Htet Shine: He became very famous.
Me: Wonderful. How did your life change?
~Everyone laughs. ~
Me: Not what you expected?
Adam: Because I’m not the winner of the contest.
Me: And you’re still continuing your singing activities, right? It’s not unusual for students in the U.S. to pursue their passions. I open up this question for all of you – given your interests, what do you want to see happen in your future, either in your career or in your other activities? What are your goals and dreams?
Goals & dreams
Htet Shine: I’m preparing myself to apply for a Fulbright scholarship. Currently, I’m trying to practice for the TOEFL. Studying in the U.S. is my dream.
Katherine: My dream is like his. I want to be seen as a foreign master’s degree holder. I can build an English institute and be a good teacher for our Mon state and local people. That’s my dream.
Hein Min Htun: In the future, I could be working as a tutor at Mawlamyine University. It’s possible. I might go to England to attend university to acquire English literature. It isn’t sure.
Katherine: I also want to participate in an NGO. Like doing some kind of social work to help people.
Adam: I love to learn English language. I want to be very fluent and proficient in speaking the language, but my ambition is not to be an English teacher. Honestly, I just want to be a famous singer.
Me: I’m looking forward to the day that you do.
Adam: Now I’m joining another singing contest. It’s on air in April.
On the meaning of ‘friendship’
Me: Okay one last question: what does the word ‘friendship’ mean to you? We’re a Friendship City so I wanted to know your thoughts on this word.
Adam: For me friendship means ‘no secret’ because most of my friends tell me their secrets, even though they don’t tell their parents. My best friends tell me everything although they don’t tell their other friends. So my definition of friendship is ‘no secret.’
Thaw Thaw: For me friendship means your best friends don’t let you do stupid things alone. Just do together.
Me: So you would do bad things together?
Thaw Thaw: Not bad things, but good things. They will be on your side.
Htet Shine: Friendship means sharing and caring what you have learned. It’s very important in human life. The two cities are friendship cities so we have to share and exchange our experience and knowledge with each other. I think Fort Wayne and Mawlamyine have a lot in common. For example, diversity as well as population. Here there are about 230,000 people. This is quite similar to Fort Wayne. But the traffic system here is very bad, but in Fort Wayne it’s really good.
Hein Min Htun: As for me, friendship is the bond time between my friends and me. If we want a devoted friend, what we have to do is to be devoted towards him. It’s true friendship.
Myint Myat Oo: As for me, friendship is like a family member. I love my friend as a sister or brother. I can quickly rely on them. Every time I need help, I can ask and get help from them.
Hsu Lei: As for me, friendship is purity. Most of my friends that I ever met throughout my life were almost fake. That’s why I’m always afraid of meeting or having fake friends because I devote my soul to my real friends. So I have no secret and I have no lies. That’s why I also need the reality of them, the simplicity of them, and the purity of them. That’s why my friendship means purity.
Katherine: For me, friendship means being trustworthy, can keep the secret, and never feel like a stranger even when we’re far away. We always feel close. One more thing is friendship means if somebody is weak, then the other person can help and give strength to her. That is what I believe.
Me: Great. Thank you so much everyone. I really enjoyed my time speaking with all of you. This really was a great conversation. I will keep in touch on Facebook because I think there were so many ideas that popped up in this conversation that we can really put into action. So don’t think I’m done completely. 🙂
interview by Mary Encabo