Co-authored by Daniel Obst, Deputy Vice President, International Partnerships in Higher Education.
When we first traveled to Myanmar two years ago, there was little to no Wi-Fi, few mobile phones (SIM cards could only be obtained by lottery and cost around $1,500 each, making it unaffordable for most), no ATM machines or credit card usage, and frequent electricity outages. Fast forward just two years: consistent access to Wi-Fi, excellent 3G, and little need to bring stacks of cash anymore (credit cards are now accepted at most hotels). The arrival of telecom providers TeleNor and Oredoo has reduced the price of SIM cards to $1.50 resulting in a reported 30%+ market penetration of cell phones. Electricity outages are still common, and traffic in Yangon is worse than ever, but major change is palpable everywhere, and ATMs and 3G are just the more visible manifestations of this extraordinary transition.
Recently moving from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, I’ve found that the conversation regarding a “rising Southeast Asia” is just as lively and engaging in Thailand as it was in Malaysia. One of the key drivers of this buzz is the much-anticipated launch of the ASEAN Economic Community at the end of this year (more on that below). In the following post I’ll dig a little deeper into some of the unique features of the region, which I hope those unfamiliar with Southeast Asia will find useful, interesting, and perhaps a prompt for if or how to be invested in this unique area of the world.
Htoo Htoo Wah is the head of the English Department at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, a leading Christian higher education institution in Myanmar. After spending four intense weeks as a visiting scholar at Northern Arizona University, he had a moment to reflect on his experience of U.S. higher education.
"The way to create a really great city is to establish a university. Then wait several hundred years."
It was Mark Twain, I think, who had this important insight. Neither cities nor universities get built overnight. But having returned from visiting universities in three very major and rapidly growing cities, I had a chance to reflect on what it is taking to build world class institutions of higher education in an age of globalization.
It was the Mickey and Minnie Mouse red and pink rolling suitcases that first caught my eye as what seemed like the entire population of Beijing headed to baggage claim. Then I saw the two children that were accompanying the bags and their parents. As we waited for the trains to the exit hall, I had a chance to notice a bit more about what the parents were rolling.
It was my privilege to be one of the keynote speakers at the China Annual Conference for International Education in Beijing. The other was a former foreign minister. As it turned out, we both never had the opportunity to study abroad. Although our jobs later gave us the chance to travel— in Minister Li's case to 183 countries—we both spoke about the opportunity we wished we had.
In September, IIE announced that it is launching a new course designed to train Ministry officials and university representatives in Myanmar on how to create and manage an effective international education office. The new course, “Connecting to the World: International Relations for Higher Education Institutions,” will be an "essential step to enable universities in Myanmar to connect with institutions in the United States and other countries so that they can build institutional capacity and prepare their students to meet current workforce needs and support rapid economic development." This project is part of a broader IIE Myanmar higher education initiative which seeks to help the country rebuild its higher education capacity.
Greg Galford, an Associate Professor of Interior Architecture from Chatham University, had never really thought about Indonesia two years ago, but was set to travel there in April 2011 as more or less a tag-along faculty member. IIE had selected Chatham to join a cohort of six U.S. and six Indonesian colleges and universities that would dedicate two years to developing institutional partnerships and increasing U.S. study abroad to Indonesia. When at the last minute the senior administrator leading the effort was unable to travel with Greg, he found himself solely responsible for representing the university, anxious about what would be expected of him in Indonesia, and hyper concerned about making the short layover from Seoul to Bandung.
A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in a classroom at MIT surrounded by about thirty Indonesians. My mind was wandering since everyone was speaking in rapid Bahasa Indonesia and, sadly, my Indonesian language skills are limited to “hello” and “thank you.” On the upside, I noticed the half-erased math equations on the chalkboard—something about “r” and squares and Greek letters—realizing that Bahasa might not be the most confusing language in the room.