Every year, America settles down for a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. This year, one of our former students, Thein Min Swe, had the privilege and pleasure to find himself in the US during this most festive time of year. Now at Harvard, pursuing a Master of Public Health, we caught up with him one Sunday afternoon to learn how he's doing.
Out of the of 40 students in the MPH program, Thein said he is the only one from Myanmar. He explains how he stays on campus from 9 AM until 11 PM, before going home and cooking lunch for the following day. There is a culture of peer pressure and intensive studying. Students on his program can take a minimum of 20 credits per semester, but everyone takes far more than that and boasts about their academic prowess. Classes are around 1.5 hours and his favorite classes so far are those which are mathematical based. Between classes, the day is filled with workshops, guest speakers, and seminars.
Due to the Myanmar teacher / student relationship, our student postulates on the fact that the teachers here are very friendly and he ‘really admires their dedication to their students.’ The teachers stay after class to answer additional questions, whereas in Myanmar, usually students are afraid to ask the teacher. He also enjoys the class discussions; his classmates are very responsive, and the professors have written the papers that the students study.
Outside of class, he also attends weekly meetings at the Harvard Chan ASEAN Student Organization (pictured above) and engages in some local activities. He has dressed up as a zombie for Halloween, gone to a national park (pictured above) and has been to the time-honored tradition of American Football (pictured below). (As a Brit, I have to call it American Football, rather than just football!) However, our poor student got into trouble for shouting along with some Yale fans when Harvard had lost a point; he really needs to learn more about the rules of the game!
For Thanksgiving, he said that he ‘has no idea’ what it really is; Van enlightened him – mentioning pilgrims, food and parades with turkey floats.
‘The MAIN thing is the TURKEY!’
One of my colleagues once explained to me how her dad had welded two doors together, and this feat of engineering was left up in their attic year on year for the 24 family members to descend upon and munch their way through 2 turkeys, 10 kilos of potatoes and countless vegetables.
After our conversation, Thein joined other fellow students for Thanksgiving dinner organized by the school (pictured below).
With winter fast approaching, our student mentioned he has a ‘huge expectation’ of what it will be like and is excited about ‘seeing snow for the first time in my life.’ His professors talked about the glory of snow and the drifts and falls which storm around and trap people indoors. With irregular buses and the falling snow, he isn’t sure how he will cope with the long winter months. However it won't be too long; soon, he'll be heading to Sierra Leone to work with a local hospital for about a month.
After Harvard, he plans to eventually join an international organization through which he can help implement accessible health care services to people in and out of Myanmar.
Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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