There are several cellphone companies in Myanmar but reception may vary from site to site. Peace Corps/Myanmar issues basic cellphones to trainees during pre-service training to use for the duration of your two years of service. These phones are essential for communication in emergency situations. Some trainees choose to bring smart phones from the United States. Please consult with your carrier to ensure that your device is unlocked and may be used overseas. SIM cards are affordable, but cell phone calls from Myanmar to the U.S. are expensive.
InternetConnection and speed across the country varies considerably. Internet access during pre-service training is quite limited and you should not expect daily access. After pre-service training, a majority of Volunteers have the ability to access the Internet on a daily basis. Internet facilities and locations with Wi-Fi can be found in major towns in Myanmar. Many cellphone providers have Internet packages that can be connected to a smartphone, computer, or tablet. Volunteers have a small monthly communication allowance to cover a moderate amount of internet usage.
Housing and Site Location
Currently, Volunteer worksites are in villages and small towns in Yangon Region, Bago Region, and Mon State. Volunteers will not be assigned to areas where there has been recent or ongoing civil unrest. Volunteers are expected to immerse themselves in their community and commit to staying in their community for the majority of service.
Volunteers live in the communities where they serve and at the level of the people with whom they work. This means Volunteers often do without most of the amenities that you may be used to. Living conditions will be simple, thus flexibility and a sense of humor regarding living conditions will ease transition to the Volunteer lifestyle. There is no guarantee of continuous electricity or running water at your site and toilet/shower facilities will be very basic. Drinking water must be boiled, filtered, or purchased. Volunteer housing is carefully approved by the Myanmar government, and may include apartments, small houses, and shared housing. Housing for Volunteers will vary from site to site and will depend on local availability. However, all housing will be subject to the Peace Corps standard of safety and will meet Peace Corps/Myanmar’s housing criteria.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in Myanmar currency (kyat) that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of your host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home.
Credit cards can only be used in very few places in Yangon and some tourist areas. There is a risk of potential identity theft associated with using credit cards in Myanmar and some U.S. banks restrict some usage in the country.
Food and Diet
The food in Myanmar is fresh and delicious. A popular joke is that Myanmar people are either eating, talking about what they recently ate, or planning what to eat next. The staple food is rice, so Volunteers will find a variety of rice (or noodle) dishes for all meals. For example, you might have boiled rice with some type of meat for breakfast, fried rice or noodles with or without meat for lunch, and boiled white or brown rice with curry or stir-fried vegetables for dinner. Breads, rolls, doughnuts, and a variety of snacks are available in almost all convenience shops. Be aware that Myanmar cuisine tends to be quite oily.
A great variety of vegetables and fruits are available in the markets year-round, and tofu can be found in most locations. Food stalls in towns offer reasonably priced cooked food and are open from early morning until late at night. Volunteers can cook for themselves, buying meat, rice, vegetables, and fruits from local fresh food markets at their sites. Food is relatively cheap and can be purchased comfortably with the monthly living allowance. Vegetarians can eat well, but some may find it difficult to maintain a strict diet, especially in some social contexts and due to the common use of fish and oyster sauce. As with so many aspects of a Volunteer’s daily life, you will need to maintain a flexible attitude about food.
Public buses, trains, and airplanes are the modes of transportation for long-distance travel in Myanmar. Buses, taxis, trishaws, and bicycles are the modes for local transportation. Volunteers are not permitted to operate cars or operate or ride on the back of motorcycles and are discouraged from riding bicycles in busy, congested areas. Travel after dark is prohibited unless given prior permission. Traffic in Yangon and some other cities is very heavy and travel in Myanmar is potentially hazardous. Delays and cancellations due to bad weather, road or airport conditions, mechanical failures, or lack of personnel are to be expected. Bus travel is particularly difficult, as buses can be dirty and overcrowded and often are not properly maintained. More information on transportation within Myanmar will be given during pre-service training.
Due to government restrictions, travel within Myanmar for work or personal purposes will be more restrictive and controlled. While Peace Corps generally follows the travel recommendations of the U.S. Embassy and has its own guidelines for Volunteer travel, local government offices may also have guidelines and restrictions regarding Volunteer travel. Volunteers should be vigilant about informing both Peace Corps and their school communities about travel plans well in advance.
Myanmar people spend a lot of time socializing with their families and close friends. Men and women socialize in quite different settings; men around public spaces and women in and around the home. Volunteers will spend much of your free time eating, attending Myanmar festivals and cultural events, and socializing with your colleagues and neighbors. Sports such as soccer and cane ball are very popular in Myanmar. Dating as it is known in the United States will be noticeably absent. There are cultural mores to follow in Myanmar regarding dating which you will learn about during pre-service training.
Please be prepared to have a very different kind of social life in Myanmar and to spend most of your time in your community with your colleagues and neighbors, not other Volunteers or foreigners. Your ability to adjust to and enjoy this kind of social life will be an important aspect of your success as a Volunteer.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Myanmar people generally dress quite conservatively and neatly, especially in villages and smaller towns. As teachers, Volunteers are expected to be role models and will need to observe and follow the local standards of professional dress. This will earn you respect and increase your effectiveness and credibility in the community.
Public school teachers wear a uniform to school—a white blouse (women) or shirt (men) and a green longyi (for both men and women)—and Volunteers are expected to wear that uniform. For both men and women, clean and ironed clothing is important to maintaining an appearance of professionalism. Dressing the same as the other teachers will bring you the respect from your fellow teachers and from the students that you will need to be accepted and taken seriously as a teacher.
Male Volunteers should know that long hair, beards and moustaches, and earrings are not commonly worn by Myanmar men and are less culturally accepted, particularly in rural provinces. Multiple-pierced ears and body piercings are not commonly worn by either gender. Tattoos that are not discreet, especially for women, may also cause unwanted attention in rural areas of the country. If you have large tattoos, be prepared to wear clothing that will cover them. Take note that tattoos of the Buddha or other religious symbols are not accepted. Tourists have been deported because of this in the past.
Peace Corps/Myanmar emphasizes community integration and intentional relationship building as the most effective way for Volunteers to enter into and be accepted by Myanmar communities. Peace Corps/Myanmar is very serious about Volunteer professionalism, as each Volunteer represents the Peace Corps. You will have the duty and privilege to set the standard for yourself and for Volunteers who follow.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to the following professional standards:
- Show respect for the people and culture of Myanmar at all times.
- Observe local standards of behavior, dress, and protocol.
- Comply with policies that ensure your safety and security.
- Strive to integrate into your community and Myanmar society, spending more time with Myanmar colleagues and counterparts than with other Americans and expatriates.
- Learn the local language as an ongoing responsibility during your entire service.
- If you choose to drink alcohol, only drink in a socially appropriate, culturally respectable, sensitive, and safe manner, respecting yourself, your host country, the Peace Corps, and the people of Myanmar.
- Behave as a professional colleague of your Myanmar co-workers, other Volunteers, and Peace Corps staff by resolving any differences through openness and respectful dialogue, avoiding gossip, rumor, or personalization of any conflicts.
- Recognize that you are a co-owner of the Peace Corps/Myanmar public image, along with staff and the Volunteers who will serve in Myanmar after you.
As a final note, teachers in Myanmar are highly respected and viewed as role models for their community. There is a cultural and religious significance to this status and Volunteers should be aware that, even outside of their school communities, they will be viewed primarily as teachers and be treated accordingly.