Yangon-Myanmar, Cultural perceptions from a world traveled Bolivian
Skills for Working in Development
Before starting a placement in a developing country, all CUSO volunteers are supposed to take a training course called “Skills for Working in Development (SKWID)” in Ottawa. At SKWID, volunteers learn methods of coping with new cultures, risks, and incidents. In addition, volunteers learn about many situations that could affect their placements in a negative way and how to overcome them. For example, one of the many things we learn is the different stages of cultural adaptation a person can experience while in placement.
The first stage is known as “The Honeymoon Stage.” Your enthusiasm is at its peak. The point where you simply love everything and you have lots of energy and a positive attitude. Your excitement is at an all-time high about your new surroundings and the amazing adventure you find yourself on. The culture, the food, the language and the people all make you happy and eager to absorb as much as you can.
The second stage is the “Culture Shock.” In this stage you may feel discouraged, tired, frustrated, scared, homesick or simply bored. This can happen when you have difficulty adapting to your new surroundings, the culture, the food, the language or the people. This is when your new environment can make you unhappy, angry, stressed or just lonely.
The third stage is the “Adjustment.” This usually happens when you are able to establish a routine and you start having a sense of normality again. Your sense of humour and energy return as you start to become more familiar and more comfortable with your new surroundings.
Finally, the fourth stage is “Adaptation.” This happens when you open your mind and completely accept this new way of being. You feel motivated, you stop being sad and feeling isolated and you start to appreciate the good things about this new country you find yourself living in. You become more adventurous and you accept all these changes and adapt to a new way of living.
The SKWID also has a session called “Expectations vs. Reality.” This session helps you keep your feet on the ground. You may think everything will be perfect once you get to your placement country; however, there may be situations which are out of your control. Situations such as communications and having difficulty understanding the local language or getting sick from the local food. Things we take for granted in North America such as not having access to Internet or utilities such as electricity or warm water. These amongst many other things, can easily lead you to feel the impact of culture shock.
Let me now tell you a little about what I saw this past week.
In Canada most people usually take their shoes off when entering a house. In Myanmar, ALL people MUST remove their shoes when entering a house, a hotel, an office or when visiting Pagodas or religious sites. Failure to do so can prevent you from entering anywhere.
The traditional Burmese clothing is very interesting! Men wear long skirts called “Longyi” and women wear long skirts called “Sarong.” Even though the weather is very warm, the culture is very conservative; therefore, women are not supposed to show shoulders or knees and are expected to be modest. Having your knees or shoulders exposed can cause bad impression. People may look down on you.
Many Myanmar people wear “thanakhar” on their faces. “Thanakhar” is a yellow paste made from wood which is used as sunblock and/or makeup. You can find it in supermarkets now; however, Burmese people prefer to make their own as it is more natural.
I’m still trying to get used to seeing drivers on the right side of the car is a new experience for me. Most of the drivers are crazy and do as they please, so it’s always an adventure to cross the street, even crazier than in Bolivia.
Let me now focus on a few things you cannot do here. It is inappropriate to leave tips at a restaurant or hotel as people will feel diminished, even insulted. You cannot take pictures of military or police installations, if you do you can be imprisoned! You should never point at people as it is considered very rude. You can never touch the head of another person because they see it as offensive. You cannot throw things to people as it is also considered very rude and when you pass something to another person you should always do it with both hands.
You may be wondering about the country, the language and the traditional food. I will dedicate a whole chapter about it. So, stay tuned!