The world today is one of an ever growing interconnectedness of peoples, nations, goods, and services from around the world. In a sense, our world is “shrinking”; transportation is getting faster, easier, and more advanced; distance is becoming irrelevant; boundaries are becoming increasingly permeable, groups and cultures do not have a territorial basis, and a new kind of non-physical “place” is emerging. It seems that the entire world is being touched by Westernization, even in the most remote places, with fast-food chains and malls popping up all over the map. McDonaldization, the implementation of the fast and efficient model, seems to be taking over as well, as more and more emphasis is being placed on efficiency and profit making. Can you imagine a country without fast food chains and commercial malls? Can you imagine a country not yet touched by the Western world where the culture is not contaminated by outside forces? Burma is one of the few lands left to be minimally touched by globalization, and I am one of the lucky few to have experienced the beautiful country in its purity.
Burma has been a closed country for years due to a repressive, corrupt military reign. This has led to Burma staying as “untouched” as a country may ever be. Women still chalk their faces with Thanaka, made from tree bark to save their faces from the harsh Southeast Asian sun. Men still wear longyis, traditional skirts tied in the front with an intricate knot. Monks still walk the streets, begging for food and praying at one of the thousands of golden Pagodas scattered throughout the nation. It was only in 2013 that Burma opened their borders. Through my study abroad program, I was able to study and experience Burmese culture and Buddhist religion in the old capital of Rangoon, as well as a rural village on Inle Lake. I served food to Buddhist monks at a monastery, participated in a sacred Noviciation ceremony, spent time volunteering at an orphanage, visited the floating villages of Inle, met the famous Padaung tribe women, as well as ate traditional meals in a Burmese home.
There are already signs of how globalization will soon take hold of the nation, but for me, the most amazing aspect of my experience in the country was how there was nothing familiar. There were no fast food restaurants, a slower pace of life, and rather than rushing to the next moment, people enjoyed the present. It has been said before, but I truly do believe that the best part about education abroad is learning on location and not only experiencing different cultures, but also realizing how you can implement different aspects of multiple cultures into your own life. Through my time in Burma, I learned the value of simplicity. Being able to be in a land basically untouched by the Western World let me see black and white the influence of globalization on other parts of the world, along with the true values of Burmese culture. With the current sense of possibility and change in Burma, as well as with the opening of their borders, it is not going to be long before globalization takes hold. Globalization brings both positives and negatives, but to me, Burma may lose what I appreciated most about it in my time there. If I could offer you one piece of advice, it would be to take the chance to visit a land less travelled and step away from the traditional touristy sites. You just might find something truly amazing. I stepped out of my comfort zone and found the incredible land of Burma, where through my education abroad program, my eyes were opened to a land unique in so many different ways.
Photos and post by Courtney Smith
Courtney is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador studying Psychology. She is a Junior at Transylvania University, and she participated in a Semester at Sea Program.