Another six months quickly passed by with many great adventures and life's lessons. I learned to absorb new learning to help me grow personally and professionally. Some of the highlights that will include in this learning log encompass domestic and overseas travelling experiences, attended local and out-of-state conferences, engaged in public speaking events, and my education journey and endeavor. The past six months might sound chaotic, but in midst of busyness I enjoyed and appreciated every moment life has given me.
First, please allow me to share my travelling experience and adventure. The very last thing I left off from my learning log six months ago was a preview of my travelling plan embarking on an overseas trip and my anxiety for the unexpected. Last December, I took some times off from work to enhance on my leadership journey, broaden my worldview by exploring different perspectives through travelling adventures. The trip served me two purposes, personally and professionally. Personally, I have never been to inner region of Burma or Myanmar as I grew up in the peripheral and remote mountainous region of the country. Both my parents were born in Yangon and in the delta areas. Growing up I would hear them telling me amazing stories with anecdotal referencing to historical events and physical landmarks. Once was recognized as the rice basket of Southeast Asia region, I would like to see for myself the birthplace of my family lineages. Professionally, this would be an opportunity for me to visit the country legally as citizen of the United States and meet educators and leaders in education field. I anticipate, through Bush Fellowship, my social network/connection would be broaden and people in Burma/Myanmar and Thailand would be excited to hear and share their stories with me.
After more than twenty hours in the air, my flight landed in Bangkok, Thailand before it transited to Yangon, Burma/Myanmar. I was a bit surprised to see a huge multitude of people everywhere and this reminded me of Minnesota State Fair in a sense. The only differences is our state fair happened only once a year, while it's a normal thing in this part of the world. Although I had lived here during my formative years, now I felt more like a foreigner. I stayed in Bangkok briefly and prepared myself for a short flight to Yangon. I didn't really know what to expect and felt a mixed of feeling such as anxiety and fear for the unknown. Although it's only 45 minutes flight between these two metropolitans, Yangon is drastically different than Bangkok. In Yangon, people still embrace its colonial past and glory, whether it's in architecture forms, social interaction or physical infrastructure. I didn't feel like stranger at all as people were very warm and charm, friendly and hospitable. In a sense, it's authentically beautiful. I felt a sense of ease when meeting Thara Saw Kapi (Thara refers to a teacher in Karen language) who serves as an Executive Director for an organization dedicates to advance the education of youth in Burma/Myanmar that has a headquarter in Yangon. He is a U.S. citizen, but about three years ago he left his profession in higher education field to embark on the unknown adventure. He's my main contact and I had collaborated, planned and scheduled everything in advance prior to the trip. Knowing him and through his connection, I got to go to places that regular tourists/visitors might not have access to or meeting people, mostly leaders in education field, that would be difficult to schedule a meeting with. This experience has taught me the power of connection and relationship in a very different and meaningful way.
While in Yangon, delta areas and Karen State, I had engaged in several public speaking opportunities talking to young people from diverse ethnic nationalities and linguistic backgrounds. Sharing with them my experience might show them a glimpse to our Western world, but I realized that hearing their stories has a profound impact on my life. In America, although it's difficult, opportunities still exist. But sadly and hopelessly, these young people in Burma/Myanmar, opportunity was almost nonexistence. At one public speaking engagement, a young man came up and said to me that "When you return to America, please tell young people there to study hard and don't forget us!" I was sad and yet felt humble to be a massager to his invaluable massage. His words still echo in my head as I'm composing this reflection. Their resiliency and determination amidst the absence of opportunity and uncertain future is truly remarkable beyond comprehension. My month long trip wouldn't be possible without having the time and resources provided to me through Bush Fellowship. I came home to Minnesota and began meeting with Karen community, attended events and engaged in several public speaking opportunities. On occasions, people came up and told me they appreciated the artifacts, stories and travelling experience I shared with young people in my community here. This trip has given me a different perspective about life and society. When we deprive others the opportunity to excel, everyone struggle. On contrary, when we promote opportunities for others, we strengthen our social fabric and connection.
Aside from an overseas trip, I took another trip to attend SXSW Conference down in Austin, Texas as part of an additional opportunity offered by the fellowship. It's my first time flying to Austin and the weather there closely resembles Thailand and Burma. Getting away from freezing Minnesota's weather for a few days was priceless. There, I got to meet and hear nationally recognized speakers, from famous politicians, journalists to innovators, and attended workshops and presentations that no short of amazing. But the most surprise and priceless of all, I got to hang out with other Bush fellows and getting to know their works in a deeper level. We had a lot time together, but not really enough, for getting to know each other in the most neutral space and platform.
The process to effective leadership is the willingness to learn and relearn from everyone and everything around us. For example, one significant lesson I learned came from my coach who shared with me about the art of adaptation. In the ever transforming political culture that evolves constant changes, having the interpersonal and social skills to maneuver the uncharted territory is critically essential. In a sense it sounds to me like survival for the fittest, adapting to change without jeopardizing our personal core value and belief. With the process of adaptation, I successfully overcame doubling my education coursework to maximize the funding opportunity and hoping to completed all the required criteria, except dissertation, by Spring, 2019. Taking all these courses have enhanced my understanding of K-12 education system. By gradually developing competency in school administration, I gain a great sense of confidence to take a small part in solving the bigger education problem in our region and beyond.
Individualized instruction and learning is every children fundamental rights. Attending the one day conference organized by Bush Foundation and hearing topics from practitioners on this issue provided me with positive vibe and optimism. It seems to me like our current education system is unintentionally judging students/children to the point of stigmatizing them, instead of promoting a collaborative learning culture that maximizes individual's strengths. Individualized learning in education is non-negotiable and while writing this I am thinking of thousands of language learners with traumatic and interrupted formal education who feel discourage because our K-12 system promotes a college going culture that almost belittle or make them feel like a failure in the absence of other alternatives. I hope my education background will help prepare me to help solve the solvable problem, bringing relevance, effective and individualized instructions to all learners.