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How to Engage with Your People from a Different World

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Before I start off my story, I would like to encourage the readers to read this article to the end for a quick Burmese slang lesson!

Studying Abroad

When I first went to study abroad in the US, I was one of the only two Burmese students at my college. I was able to communicate the same way as I used to back in Myanmar (Burma). Also, the community of my college in the states was very small compared to the number of students in a normal research university. So, it was not very surprising to see very few people from my country. However, now that I have come to Sydney for a study abroad in Australia, I have started to encounter a lot more students from my country; surprisingly to me, a lot more miscommunications as well.
I have noticed that there are two types of Burmese student here in Australia: One of them is an Australia-born Burmese student who was born of Myanmar-born Burmese parents. And the other type is a student like me, who was originally born in Myanmar but studies abroad.

Australia-born Burmese Student in Australia

Jessica is a student at Macquarie University, Sydney. She was born in Sydney to two Burmese parents who came here in the 90s.  I had a chance to talk with her about the experiences and relationships she has with the Myanmar-born Burmese students at her university. Jessica told me that it is hard for her to engage well with other Burmese at Macquarie. She said this was because she does not fully understand the use of certain words and phrases by her fellow Myanmar-born Burmese friends despite speaking Burmese fluently.

Myanmar-born Burmese Student in Australia

Most of the young Burmese people, such as those around our age, do normally use local slangs in their conversations. Jessica does not know any of the local Burmese slang as she has not actually engaged with someone at her age from Myanmar before. So, she feels that she fails to connect with her fellow Burmese peers.
I also started to reflect on my interactions with other Myanmar-born Burmese friends who are studying in Australia. I totally agreed with Jessica on her experience. We really do use local slangs among us whenever we talk. Besides, I remember a past conversation I had with other Burmese international students about Burmese who were born outside Myanmar. At that time, we talked about how many of the international students believe in a stereotype. A stereotype that, if a person was born in another country, whether that person is born of Myanmar-born Burmese parents or not, they all tend to see that person to be culturally influenced more by the country they were born in. Thus, less likely to consider that person as a Burmese peer.
From my point of view, I believe that we should appreciate those who are born outside Myanmar but still keep their identity as a Burmese more; they are the actual ones representing the identity of a Burmese abroad.  I believe that it is reasonable to appreciate one’s own nationality or identity and represent it in another country. This is not going to be an easy task. But, if we succeed in representing our identities accurately while abroad, this will bring new knowledge and values to that new world. In addition, it will bring solutions and explanations to various stereotypes across cultures.

Engage everyone

The unexpected conversation I had with Jessica made me aware of my communications with my other Myanmar-born Burmese friends here in Australia. I explained my conversation with Jessica and encouraged them to include the Australia-born Burmese students in their conversations. Then, I suggested them to explain the meanings of the slangs and phrases we use daily. I would also like to encourage everyone to better include and engage more closely with your people from another world; let them know what it is like to be of that identity in your home country.

Burmese Slang Lesson!

Do you know that the local Burmese people from Myanmar use the phrase “Foo Foo Mhoke” ? The Literal Translation of this is Blowing Foo Foo. It is used to describe a situation when someone is being privileged. Well, now you know it! For example, “This professor is ‘foo foo mhoke’ (blowing foo foo) on Phyo” means that Phyo is getting a lot of privileged treatments from the professor.

Phyo Thuta Aung is a Computer Science major with an Applied Math minor at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster and studied abroad with IFSA Australia program at University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia in Fall 2019. He served as an International Correspondent with IFSA through the Work-to-Study Program.