Greetings from the Golden Land, Thailand's next door neighbor and one of the most interesting places in the world to be an NES English teacher, Myanmar. A little bit larger than Thailand, but with a few million people fewer than the LOS, Myanmar and Thailand are not only similar in many ways, but also have been connected by history and proximity for centuries.
Nowadays, the two countries are connected by not only island murder mysteries, but also investment and millions of immigrants working as either laborers or in tourism jobs requiring decent English skills (the overall English-speaking abilities in this country are superior) in the more wealthy eastern neighbor. In addition, more than a handful of NES teachers are moving west to contribute to one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Who knows? You, an Ajarn.com reader, may be considering such a move yourself. I've only been here eight months, and before this, I was an ajarn in Thailand. I'm at a point where I can still remember the place I left whilst also knowing enough about this new place so that I can create this list I share with you now:
TEN THINGS ABOUT TEACHING ENGLISH IN MYANMAR THAT DIFFER FROM THAILAND:
1. Pay. I'll preface this by saying that there are exponentially fewer job opportunities in Myanmar than Thailand. Government schools here do not hire NES teachers. Only a couple of the big TEFL training center chains have outposts here in Myanmar, and even amongst them, they're only in the capital, Yangon. That said, the schools here pay pretty well. When I came here, I'd only had one year experience teaching in Thailand, and I increased my income by 175%. It's not that easy living here. Perhaps the good pay has to do with 'hazard pay'.
2. The paperwork process working here is a lot easier. There are no work permits required in Myanmar. It's a lot simpler, albeit you're always doing visa runs. You can't even get on a plane to Myanmar without having obtained a tourist visa or showing that you have the proper letters from your employer that they'll give you a job. With such, you can get a business VOA for $50. It's only good for ten weeks, so every 70 days, it's on a plane back to BKK, KL or Singapore for your visa run and a weekend away. If you're considering working here, your potential employer should pay for this, but there's no Ministry of Labor to deal with, no degree requirements and no suspicious looks from the immigration officials.
3. At the moment, there are more political rights in Myanmar than in Thailand. This formerly-known-as-Burma country is thought of in many circles as an oppressive, authoritarian regime. These days, things are moving towards greater freedom and democracy, even though there's still more to do. Thailand has been historically a lot more democratic, and the current regime is transitory, but at least there hasn't been a coup here since 1988.
4. Some Thai products are cheaper here than they are in Thailand. Chang Beer comes to mind, but Thailand exports tons of products to Myanmar annually. A 16oz Chang at the local mini-mart costs 800 Kyats, roughly 26 Baht.
5. This is a cheap place to be an alcoholic. Although the fine publishers here at Ajarn.com don't want to perpetuate the stereotype of the TEFL teacher as being a heavy drinker, but English teachers have been known to put away a drink or two. Maybe it's due to the Myanmar people really enjoying an adult beverage themselves, beer and booze are readily available and ridiculously inexpensive. A pint of draft beer at the ubiqutous road-side beer stations will put your back about $.60, ie, 19 Baht. If you're into the harder stuff, a fifth of local whiskey or rum costs less than two US dollars. It's good place to drink yourself to death, if that's your thing.
6. Thai restaurants are the most common foreign cuisine eateries here, so if you really like Thai food, you can get it here everywhere. There are also lots of Chinese food joints, surprisingly few Indian joints (but more than Thailand) and the local cuisine is intriguing and delicious. Your choices of western food are more limited, but just today, things got better. There are no McDonald's, Burger Kings or Subways here, but come 2015, the first KFC will open in Myanmar.
7. Myanmar students learn English more readily than Thai students. There are a variety of reasons for this. First off, the phonemes in their native language more closely resemble English. They have a "TH" sound. They have a real "L" sound. Albeit their language is tonal, it isn't as tonal as Thai. Whereas the written language also does not use the Latin alphabet, but if there are any remnants of their English colonial history, it's a familiarity with English characters. In any case, I think that the ability for a nation as a whole to learn English somewhat depends on how different their native tongue is. Thai is about as far away from English as you can get.
8. Myanmar is a lot more tolerant of individualism than is Thailand. You can see this after five minutes in Yangon. Both young men and women have some pretty crazy hairstyles and colors and although traditional dress remains very conservative, there's a higher percentage of people here who feel free to express their creativity via their outward appearance.
9. The Myanmar language word for Thailand is "Ayudya". 250 years after the last big war between these two countries, remnants of that conflict remain.
10. Myanmar women are more beautiful. Again, I don't want to pander to the negative stereotypes of the TEFL teacher, but it's still true and worth mentioning. For that matter, my female and gay colleagues have had no complaints about the men here either. But as for the women, they tend to be more voluptuous, specifically in the area of gluteus maximus. They have butts.
A couple of my acquaintances from the teacher community in Bangkok have already come here to Myanmar. If you want an authentic SE Asian experience like Thailand was 25 years ago, Myanmar is the place.
I'll close with saying that despite all these nice differences I wrote about above, there are dozens more. Yangon's public transportation is hellish to non-existent. Traffic here is even worse than Bangkok. The roads here are crap. Despite recent advancements, internet access is spotty and usually very slow. If you don't like being stared at, this isn't the place for you. Foreigners are still a novelty here and you get treated like a celebrity wherever you go, with all the downsides that treatment entails.