Works and Days


"President’s Summer Fellowship 2017"

PSF: Jasmine Williams '17, Teaching English in Myanmar (Burma)

Jasmine Williams, senior english major and recipient of the President’s Summer Fellowship, reports in from Mingaladon Township, Myanmar, where she is spending the summer teaching English at a monastery and learning Burmese language and culture.

I've been at the monastery for a month or so now. I don't really know simply because I do not keep track of the date here. School in Myanmar begins during monsoon season in June, and ends before the summer in March. So I arrived at the perfect time to begin my teaching with my students' new school year. Learning English is a part of Myanmar's education standard, so I am here to work on the students pronunciation and conversation--they can read and comprehend written text quite well. I brought many books from America to start an English Language Library the the monastic school, and so the students who take an interest in pursuing the language further have the resources to do so. 

I teach one class a day for about an hour, fourth to eight grade. I tutor twice a week with fifth and sixth grade students, and daily, I work with the novice monks to improve their English. As a man who has himself learned five languages, Sayadaw, my monk and mentor, is very intent on enhancing his students' English education in order for them to succeed in the new Democratic Government of Myanmar (yay Daw Aung San Suu Kyi!). 

Jasmine with a monk at the Monastery

I've learned many things through my living and teaching here. Teaching ESL is very different than what I've done before. I think my biggest challenge is my lack of a Burmese vocabulary. So in the beginning or my teaching, I used many hand signals, props, and charade like gestures to communicate with my students. Now that my vocabulary is slightly larger, and now that my students are more adjusted to my American accent, I am able to better adjust to my students needs. The education system here is quite different than it is in The States, and some practices have been around since my mom was in grade school. So as my students adjust for me I must also adjust for them. In my spare time, I observe the other teachers and have conversations with them on what they think is lacking in the Myanmar education system. The teachers tell me what works best for their students, and what they would like to do to enhance their teaching. It has been a privilege to be able to talk with these teachers and to get to know them--I feel like I have really grown as a teacher and as a person, for our conversations help me expand my world view...I am learning to be a better teacher. I have been tutoring and teaching since I was in middle school, and currently I am a lead teacher with Reed's Science Outreach. It has been an amazing opportunity to further my pedagogical learning here--to see how other teachers teach their subjects in a place so different from The States. 
I also visited Yangon university, and stepped inside the office that my grandmother used when she was a professor of history. I feel like I understand my family a little bit better. I feel like I understand myself better. 

My days at the monastery are quite peaceful. When I'm not working with students, I read for my upcoming thesis--which, hopefully, will focus on literature written in or about Myanmar. I attempt to read and memorize Pali, and to work on my Burmese vocabulary--learning a second and third alphabet is quite difficult. My students like to make fun of my Burmese accent, and the other day I said "butt" instead of "lazy," but you know it's a process.