This city and this country are poor, but there is a tremendous energy and warmth here. I applied for a Fulbright in Myanmar partly because Southeast Asia is one of my areas of expertise, but I had never been to Myanmar before.
I lived in Singapore for several years and have traveled extensively and done research across the rest of the region, but not here. And Myanmar is not just a fascinating country on my bucket list. It is also a vitally important one, especially given its geography. The country is positioned strategically between India, China, and the rest of Southeast Asia.
It is also a country that has in abundance some of the world’s major early 21st century problems: ethnic conflict (which has led recently to charges of genocide against Myanmar’s government), severe inequality, vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change, corruption, tensions related to migration flows, etc.
I see in my students the capacity to address some of those problems and hope that the time I spend here will help them, if only a little, to make a difference. And I hope as well that the insights and experiences I gain in Myanmar, including how to teach under sometimes trying circumstances, will enrich the lives of my CWU students too.
I miss home, including my colleagues and some of the comforts of CWU, but I am very glad to be here, honored to have won a Fulbright, and eager to learn more about this place. As a geographer, exploration is an important part of my identity and there is much to explore in Myanmar – with or without my shoes on.
[CWU Geography Professor John Bowen will be sharing his experiences of living and working abroad in regular dispatches appearing on Cwucrimsonandblack.com. He and other Wildcats abroad are featured in the Spring 2020 issue of Crimson & Black, CWU’s alumni magazine, available in May.]