Student story: Mish Khan in Myanmar on the New Colombo Plan

15th February 2018

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Meet Mish Khan, the first student in Australia to complete a Burmese minor, only available at the Australian National University. She's a 2017 New Colombo Plan Fellow in Yangon, Myanmar. She's there for 14 months, studying law at Yangon University and undertaking an internship with the UNDP Rule of Law Centre.

She's been having an amazing time: improving her Burmese, conducting honours fieldwork, eating tons of local cuisine and befriending the different communities in Yangon including activists, skateboarders, student unions and cosplayers! And of course, travelling around the different parts of Myanmar whenever she can.

Why did you choose to go to Myanmar and how were you supported to get there?

I chose to go to Myanmar because I have a curious, problem-solving personality and my Asian Studies degree and background working at the New Mandala blog at ANU has given me a deep interest in the Southeast Asia region.

Now is the most incredible time to be based in Myanmar, as it undergoes its reform process after decades of military rule and isolation. The challenges posed are diverse, enormous, and often depressing, but it is also so wonderful to be here and interact with the many inspiring communities fighting for the causes they believe in and working incredibly hard to build a better future.

While those following Myanmar in the news may have a sense of the activism going on, I'm lucky to also observe the cogs turn at a deeply local level, such as local skateboarders lobbying for skateparks so that Myanmar's youth can have space to train for international competitions, or student unions petitioning universities to amend archaic rules banning political activity on campus.

Luckily, I was able to organise my exchange with the generous funding of the DFAT New Colombo Plan scholarship and due to ANU being one of the few institutions in the world to have a memorandum of understanding with Yangon University.

How does your study of Burmese language and culture fit into your degree path?

Studying Burmese as a minor was crucial in my development as an Asian Studies and Law student. The Burmese lecturer Yuri Takahashi does a fantastic job in not just teaching Burmese language but engaging you with the culture and local Myanmar community-I've lost track of the number of times I had to improvise traditional dancing at a function, or don a longyi while making an introduction to someone visiting from Myanmar!

Did your study at ANU prepare you for life and study in Myanmar?

Yes, it certainly did. Beyond the Burmese language program, ANU has a very active and fantastic Myanmar Research Centre who are very open to engaging with undergraduates, and has a strong Myanmar Students Association who run regular social events. Furthermore, ANU has three field schools that travel to Myanmar, one of which I was lucky enough to complete in 2016.

What's been the most important experience you've had/thing you've learned?

The most important lesson I've taken from my eight weeks here so far is to say yes to everything! I am secretly quite a shy person but there is zero point having a comfort zone here. Go on that trip, go to that event, introduce yourself to that person, volunteer for that thing you were thinking of.

Why would you recommend studying Burmese?

Because the Burmese language is beautiful, and because ANU is the only place in Australia and one of the few in the world you can study it. If I were an employer I would be looking for someone who stands out from the crowd. There is a need for more Burmese-speaking internationals working within Myanmar, so if you are interested in working here in NGO, business, consulting it would definitely be a big plus.

Study abroad with the College of Asia and the Pacific.

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster