Putting down roots
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A new student society is helping Myanmar students live Canberra and ANU life to the fullest.
Imagine arriving in Australia and being so overwhelmed by the technology, that even the concept of using an ATM is baffling.
For Khaing Sandi Win Min, one of 23 students from Myanmar at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, everyday realities like Internet Banking and Wattle were also strange when she first arrived in Canberra.
“I was often lost. I didn’t even know how to use Google Maps,” she recalls.
Coming from a country that was up until 2014, largely devoid of social media technology, let alone ATMs, the 24-year-old Master of International Relations student found adjusting to new technology one of the greatest challenges.
As Myanmar makes the transition from military rule to democracy, better educational opportunities are opening up, with the country last year announcing the first scholarships in 50 years for students wanting to study abroad.
Helping students like Sandi settle into everyday life, is the newly formed ANU Myanmar Students’ Association.
In line with Myanmar’s progression towards democracy, its logo, which includes stars from the Australian and Myanmar flags, was agreed upon by executive committee members, all of who have been democratically elected.
“The number of students coming to ANU from Myanmar is on the rise,” says Chit Win, a PhD candidate at the Coral Bell School in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
“We feel we should help the new comers.”
The association kicked off this month with a party that celebrated Thingyan, the Myanmar New Year Water Festival.
Usually held around mid-April, when conditions are hot and dry, the festival involves serious water throwing.
Canberra’s rather cold Autumnal conditions meant people were merely dabbed with water.
“There was traditional dance, and guests were treated with traditional Myanmar food,” Chit Win added.
Other activities organised by the association include a planned trip to the Snowy Mountains, and quizzes aimed at familiarising students with Australian slang, and excursions to Sydney.
The establishment of the ANU Myanmar Student Association follows a long tradition of the university assisting students from the Southeast Asian nation.
Trevor Wilson, a visiting fellow at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific and former Ambassador to Myanmar from 2000 to 2003, notes the long association goes back to the 1960s.
“They came both as Australian Government-sponsored students under the Colombo Plan, and as individuals, for under-graduate and post-graduate studies,” he said.
The government scholarships were stopped as part of Australia’s sanctions against Burma, following the country’s 1988 military coup d'état, although a few students still came as individuals.
The scholarships resumed in 2010.
As for Chit Win, he’s not just helping new students find their feet; he also continues to foster increased understanding and dialogue between Australia and his home country.
He will lead a panel in Burmese at the next Myanmar Update at ANU, running Friday 5 and Saturday 6 June, ahead of general elections scheduled to take place at the end of 2015.
This year’s conference examines the theme of conflict.
For further information about the free, public event visit http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/asiapacific-region/2015-myanmarburma-update
For more information about the Myanmar student association, visit their Facebook page.