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Myanmar homecoming ten years in the making
Exactly ten years to the date, Spring 2018 voyager and solo Burmese student Richard Thawng returned back to his home country of Myanmar as the MV World Odyssey sailed into port February 19, 2018.
“I’m really excited to see my extended family, my aunts and my friends that are still living in the country,” Thawng said. “And also to see the changes in my country as compared to what I remember from being there nine years ago.”
Richard grew up in a city called Than Tlang, which is located in the Chin state of Myanmar. When he was three years old, his father left the family to search for other job opportunities in the U.S. Later on, Thawng and his family moved to Yangon to work on their paperwork to get to the U.S.
“Over the three years we lived in Rangoon [Yangon], I did not receive any education,” Thawng said. “All the money that we had back then was spent on applying for visas and paperwork to get to America.”
Thawng left Myanmar for the United States on February 19, 2008 and settled in Dallas, Texas.
“It was a hard time for me adjust to a new life, in terms of education,” Thawng said. “It was so hard to catch up on the things we learned in school. I did not speak any English during that time, so the only thing I knew how to do was math because does not require you to speak English.”
Thawng taught himself English by using the dictionary as his tutor. He would translate street signs to help him learn the English he needed to succeed in school. He now attends the University of Houston in Texas.
“With the help from what I learned in high school, I was able to receive a scholarship through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and it helped me fund my Semester at Sea voyage,” Thawng said.
On February 19, 2018, exactly a decade after Thawng left Myanmar, he disembarked the ship to get reacquainted with his home country. During that first day, Thawng brought along a group of his friends to go see his extended family in Yangon.
“I visited the apartment that my mom and I lived in for two years and I took a photo,” Thawng said. “I wasn’t able to go inside, but it brought back so many memories. It was sort of a sad moment for me thinking we had started here and everything that took place here.”
Thawng’s family has been supportive of his journey back to Myanmar and has encouraged him to meet with more of his extended family in Chin state and strengthen the familial and cultural ties between them.
“It’s really special for me to show my parents that I can come back to country without their financial assistance,” Thawng said. “I carry my parents and family with me with my Chin coat I take with me to Myanmar and all over there. It is as if they are traveling the world with me, and shows that what they have sacrificed over these last nine years was not done in vain.”