Fort Wayne and Mawlamyine, Myanmar have been “friends” since February 2016, when a delegation including Professor Chad Thompson (English & linguistics) traveled there to sign a “Friendship City” declaration. We published Thompson’s notes and photos from that trip. So what has happened since then? Quite a bit! There has been a second trip to Myanmar, an art project by a delegate is on display at the Allen County Public Library through March 2018, and exchange students from Mawlamyine will arrive starting in summer 2018.
In early spring 2017, a second group of faculty and students visited Mawlamyine as part of the Fort Wayne Sister Cities International delegation. The group consisted of Thompson, Professor Hao Sun (English & linguistics), author Helen Frost, and Teaching English as a New Language (TENL) students Meghan Menchhofer (graduate student, communication), Yin Thet (elementary education), and Htaik Khamom (communication sciences and disorders).
The two-week trip involved both community outreach and leisure activities. The delegation visited many places including the U.S. embassy, the Kanbawzathadi Golden Palace, Setse Beach and hot springs resort, as well as numerous natural landmarks and Buddhist pagodas. Faculty spoke at Mawlamyine University and other schools. The group visited an orphanage and went hiking on Ogre Island, where the slate is mined for school writing tablets that are sometimes called “Mon iPads” or “Burmese iPads.” They also met with former exchange students, people from the Mon community, and the families of delegates, Thet and Khamom.
This was the first time Khamom returned to her home country in 12 years; for her, the trip “was a surreal and unforgettable moment.” She also said that the tour helped her brush up on her Burmese and was important for her career path: “I wanted to see for myself how the education system works over there because I’m currently pursuing a TENL certificate to teach abroad, and Myanmar is certainly one of the countries I look forward to teaching in.”
According to Sun, former director of the TENL program, TENL students need international experiences: “I believe enrichment of cultural and linguistic knowledge have a positive impact . . . , benefiting our students, the university, and Fort Wayne, where we have a large immigrant and refugee population. Building strong communities locally as well as developing relations with communities in Myanmar is important for Fort Wayne and for our region.”
Luckily, the friendship between our cities will continue. In June 2018, students from Mawlamyine will come to Fort Wayne to attend classes on campus through an exchange sponsored by Fort Wayne Sister Cities International. Thompson would like to have students from Fort Wayne travel to Myanmar next year.
Sun, an avid proponent of student exchange programs, emphasizes “the impact of bonding, cross-cultural understanding, and friendship resulting from these visits through Fort Wayne Sister Cities, as already evident from our first exchange, will undoubtedly have lasting effect on all the participants. . . . Most important is that such visits bring opportunities for building, expanding, and strengthening communities, for people living in Fort Wayne and for making connections and building bridges across the globe.”
If you want to check out some additional photos from the 2017 trip to Myanmar, through March 2018, Menchhofer has created an art exhibit at the Allen County Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne. Voyage: Global Photography & Artifacts is a collection of travel photography and cultural artifacts from Menchhofer’s many trips, including last year’s to Myanmar.
To learn more about our TENL program, visit their website.