Our exciting journey is around the corner! We hope you are getting excited and perhaps have already started packing. You should have received your Course Preparation Manual in the mail complete with packing list, and we want to provide you with some cultural tips to help you to decide what should make the cut to come with you on your three-month journey. We want to be as culturally appropriate as possible because we are entering the homes of our generous homestay families, elders, and monasteries. Since they are opening up their lives to us, and work to be welcoming and provide for our comfort, we want to be as respectful as possible.
What does it mean to be culturally appropriate? It means we need to be able to “code switch” from out of our own cultural glasses. Myanmar is a highly collectivist culture which focuses on the group and how your actions can affect others. Therefore, showing respect to others– to elders and communities– is highly valued in Myanmar. Consequently, how you present yourself within the community is very important. Cleanness and tidiness is crucial, rather than about expensive clothing or fashion. Especially in monasteries, it is important to look clean in terms of your clothing and your personal hygiene. In collectivist cultures like Myanmar, modesty is vital to practice in everyday behavior– it’s not about standing out or being seen. Gentleness and humbleness is appreciated in the group culture. Individuals who show off are not typically honored in Myanmar culture.
Another aspect of Myanmar culture is that relationships between people is highly important. Myanmar people are very friendly and they smile a lot too. Your smile will melt their hearts. Dressing appropriately will help everyone to feel comfortable. If you dress appropriately then you will be taking the initial step to be accepted in the community. Otherwise you might be seen as a tourist or first and foremost, a foreigner, and it will be more difficult to be accepted. The main focus for clothing is that it is not revealing (for both genders). Once in Myanmar you will quickly observe that traditional dress for men and women is conservative– it covers shoulders, knees, legs, and does not show cleavage.
So please, no tank tops and generally speaking no shorts for both genders. That being said, more revealing clothing can be worn by young Myanmar people in urban/city places, so there might be times where that clothing is okay to wear. Also, while trekking it might be okay to wear shorts. You can buy traditional “longyi” (similar to a sarong or wrap) at any local market. They are inexpensive and comfortable and will help you to be accepted by the local community. Buying them will also support local economies. In most places a longyi is expected dress. In home stay and monasteries, you need to use your longyi for “bucket shower”.
Once we get in country we will encourage you to visit a local Myanmar market to buy traditional longyi and a few other things. We will be strongly encouraging you to wear longyi and other traditional clothing while in many communities in Myanmar.
Shoes: We are trekking along small trails between villages so you will be able to wear normal running/tennis shoes. You don’t need heavy hiking boots, unless you really want to wear those. You will just be carrying extra weight. A pair of sandals or flip flops which are easy to take off is very necessary for everyday use in Myanmar. When you enter temples, monasteries, and houses you will have to take off your shoes. So shoes that are easy to slip in and out of are very nice to have in Myanmar.
ATM/Money: If you are bringing U.S. Dollars in cash to convert, they have to be clean, new notes. Money exchangers will not accept money with even the smallest folds, creases or writing on them. Recently, ATMs have been installed in most big towns and cities. Make sure your ATM cards have a Visa or Mastercard logo on them and that you tell your bank that you will be visiting Myanmar.
Homestay Gifts: You should bring gifts for your homestay brothers or sisters. It is not mandatory to give gifts, but it is an important cultural part of Myanmar life to give gifts. It will be a nice thing to share with your family and it will help you to get involved in life there.
If you have any questions, post them on here and we will respond to everyone.
Looking forward to seeing you all soon!
Parker, Nikki and Siang