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Studying Abroad with the Murphree Family in Myanmar

December 2, 2016

Daniel Murphree, a UW M.A. student in Southeast Asian Studies, spent the summer of 2016 studying Burmese with the support of a Foreign Language & Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship from the UW Southeast Asia Center.  Daniel undertook his summer language studies at the Win Language Academy in Rangon, Myanmar, along with his partner and child.  He writes about the unique experience of studying abroad in Myanmar:
Daniel Murphree with Burmese homework“This year’s UW FLAS fellowship explored, for the first time, a language program in the country of Myanmar for the study of the Burmese language.  While there were many uncertainties along the way, because of the perseverance and fortitude of our education officer and the prospective school, the kinks worked themselves out, the government requirements were met, and learning Burmese in Myanmar was viable.
As a student of Burmese language, religion, and ethnicity, I was eager to look into this novel opportunity.  It is simply a different approach to learning the language when, after five hours of instruction, you have to get into a cab, tell them where you want to go, greet your apartment complex guard, go to the wet market, and pay your bills – all in the language you are learning!  Getting there though, there was one major consideration: I’m a bit of an older student with a family (partner and 2-year old).  To make it even more interesting, my wife is also taking the language independently.  After 8 years of working with UNHCR refugees from Myanmar stateside, our family ambition is to relocate to Myanmar and do more work/research there.  So, in addition to figuring out all the simple things of living in a different country, we had the added tasks of figuring out daycare and nanny situations!  Why go into such detail?  Often I find academia to be of a nature that persons with children or family units do not feel like it is possible to do on-site language study or research, but it is.  In fact, I would say that if your family is adventurous or flexible, something like this is not only possible, but plausible.  If you’ve ever wanted the opportunity to learn a language in a country other than your own, FLAS opportunities present balanced yet rigorous opportunities to do just that.
Win Language Academy

Even though the program was six weeks long, we stayed an additional four in order to do some qualitative research, enjoy the area, and spend time with new friends.  All of this reinforced what we had learned in class.  Talking with our taxi-drivers was an adventure in itself.  We talked about religion, politics, food, family, and Obama (Myanmar folks love Obama!).  As a family we visited a few monasteries, met a few monks, visited museums, and most importantly, shopped for food and clothes.  I think one of the major take-aways from a study trip like this was to confirm, for us, that long term living in Myanmar is both possible and fun.  If I am to conduct meaningful research, it seems likely that we will have to spend some time there.

Skyscraper and older building, RangonI am grateful to the Southeast Asia Center, the FLAS Coordinator, the U.S. Department of Education, Win Language Academy, Drs. Laurie Sears and Mary Callahan, and my family for making this opportunity possible.  Although not my first time in Myanmar, it was certainly my most memorable time.”
FLAS Fellowships are funded by the International and Foreign Language Education Office of the U.S. Department of Education.  FLAS fellowships support undergraduate, graduate and professional students in acquiring modern foreign languages and area or international studies competencies.   Students from all UW departments and professional schools are encouraged to apply.  Find out more about the FLAS Fellowship here.