The Study Abroad Newsletter

Monastery in Myanmar

Kristen Hofer
Semester at Sea, Worldwide

My name is Kristen Hofer, and I am majoring in Environmental Science. I had an opportunity to spend my final semester before graduation on the spring 2016 voyage of Semester at Sea. We spent 102 days traveling to 11 different countries around the world.

Funny enough, one of my favorite days of the entire voyage actually ended with horrible food poisoning while in Yangon, Myanmar. It all started when my friend and I handed our taxi driver handwritten directions in Burmese to take us to a monastery. We were going to visit an English class taught by our new friend Myo, whom we had met the day before. He taught English in the afternoons to high school students, and was full of energy and excitement when he met us. He insisted that we come visit his monastery and his students, and let them practice with native English speakers. Arriving at his monastery in a quiet, dusty little neighborhood away from the rush of the city we had grown used to was a refreshing experience. We were dropped off in a small crowd of monks and novices and it was suddenly obvious that they didn’t get many visitors. As soon as we arrived Myo ran over, cheering and hollering, he was so excited that we had accepted his invitation.

Elephants at the zoo

Myo led us into a gathering room where we sat on the floor and had a feast of fruits, tea, and cake. He started running into side rooms and emerging with students, dragging them by the elbow and sitting them down next to us. They were very shy at first, but very eager to practice English, and pick our brains with questions about everything from America, religion, music, and culture. It was a privilege to spend an afternoon talking with these students, and we sat and talked for hours, never reaching an end to the questions, stories, and curiosity they had for us. The part that stuck with me the most was how eager and optimistic they were for the future of tourism in their country; many of the students hoped to learn English and then become tour guides. Thein, one of the students, even took us out and gave us a tour of his pagoda. As evening came we decided to say goodbye and jumped into a taxi down the road. 10 minutes into the drive, still 2 hours from our ship, was when the food poisoning hit me and I found myself puking into a gutter off the side of the road. Looking back, I have to laugh at how an amazing day could end in such a ridiculous way!