Amy Levin was the first U.S. Fulbright Scholar to teach at a public university in Myanmar in 30 years when she arrived in February.
Levin, a women’s studies and English professor at Northern Illinois University, has spoken publicly about her experiences as part of a lecture called “The World Out There: Myanmar’s Journey From the Inside.” Levin’s lecture is listed through the Illinois Humanities Council Road Scholars Speakers Bureau.
She also spent a few moments recently talking with Daily Chronicle reporter Andrea Azzo about the trip. Myanmar, also called Burma, is a country of more than 60 million people near China and India.
Azzo: What got you interested in speaking about this topic?
Levin: The trip out [to Myanmar] was transformative for me. When I talked about it with colleagues, students and friends, they found it to be very interesting for a combination of factors.
Few Americans have been to Myanmar, so to them, it’s interesting hearing about another country. I was primarily working with women and minority literature. It opened discussion about diversity in both countries.
Azzo: How diverse was it there?
Levin: In my own classes, it was extremely diverse. There were students who were Hindi, Muslim and Christian, and there were various kinds of Christians. There were also students who appeared to be Chinese and Indian.
Azzo: Why go to Myanmar?
Levin: I was on the Fulbright roster, and they sent out a call for people to go. I was selected. I wanted to go there since NIU has a historic connection there. I wanted to be part of that and learn more about the country that’s been interesting to so many people here. This is a time of change there. There has been all kinds of new connections. I was excited about a place that changed so much.
Azzo: Why do you think it’s important to know what is going on in other countries such as Myanmar when that may not apply to the average American citizen?
Levin: It does apply. I think everything is internally connected. Every day, we use things from other places in the world, like appliances and cellphones. People from other parts of the world immigrate to the U.S. Many of us are tourists to other parts of the world. There’s always a close connection, and certainly with teaching. For example, one of the activities we did was what happens at the kitchen table.
Azzo: What are some differences you noticed while teaching in Myanmar?
Levin: Many things were different. At the university I taught at, students wore uniforms once or twice a week. They often recited as opposed to having an open discussion. It was hard to get text in English, so most work was short.
Azzo: What do you hope people learn or take from your presentation?
Levin: First, I hope they learn about a different country. Second, I think it’s great to think about human rights and democracy since it’s changing daily in Myanmar. Foreign cars were not allowed for 30 years up until the year before I got there. Imagine all the cars you see going down the road looking really ancient or falling apart. Many students have never met a native English speaker before. Americans were not allowed on campus until a few months before I was there. Just being there was really special.