Today’s classroom: The ancient, marvelous pagodas of Old Bagan.
I consider it a rare and treasured opportunity to work as an instructor this summer and am humbled you are trusting me with your loved ones on this adventure. It’s the path less traveled, pardon the cliché. Over the span of one month, we immerse ourselves in the diverse, complex, gorgeous, tragic, historic landscapes and communities of Myanmar. We use travel as a tool to teach awareness of self, weaving leadership skills into our curriculum. We challenge our students – and ourselves as instructors – to think critically beyond international news headlines that never truly tell a full story.
There are many cries for international boycotts against Myanmar. As a foreigner myself who has visited Myanmar approximately ten times, I still grapple with my privilege, my position as a foreigner, my identity in a Burmese context. Maybe in your family’s decision making process, you questioned if Myanmar was the best choice or a responsible destination. But I’ve learned over the years that avoiding a country or enforcing sanctions on a nation hurt everyday people. Not those in power, with whom we often most forcefully disagree.
The tourism industry is hurting badly. Taxi drivers used to making $30 per day now make $3-6 from foreigners. Harming their livelihoods won’t change the stance of the government or military. By entering Myanmar – not boycotting it – we are allowing a young generation to grapple with what global citizenship means, how we can affect change responsibly in our home communities or as allies overseas, and how we can use storytelling to empower even more to do the same. It’s not a perfect system. We try to choose local business owners to support. Still, there’s always questions about where our money truly goes and who we support by extension. But the guest speakers we encounter, the monuments older than many modern day countries we explore, the unfettered natural beauty we wander. Those are experiences that change a mind, open a heart, deepen a soul.
When it comes to global citizenship and responsible travel, there’s often no black or white answer. But we are hoping that this month will Ben the catalyst for the conversations we need to have about social justice, responsibility, and navigating the world as an international traveler.