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The Carletonian

Tiffany Thet ‘17 – Yangon, Myanmar

<ong>How would you describe your identity?

I say I’m Burmese, because that’s what I’m am. Both of my parents are Burmese, I still grew up with that culture. But because I moved around so much, it’s hard to say where I’m from.

My father worked for the UN, so I was born in New York City. I only stayed there for two years, and after which I moved to Bangladesh for a year. After that I moved to Thailand for a year. Then I lived in Italy for 7 years. I don’t really have a hometown. I spent the bulk of my childhood in Italy, and I can speak Italian and French, so I kind of equate my childhood memories with Europe. After, I spent the last seven years in Burma, which is were I’m originally from.

What are some aspects of America that have surprised you?

When I first came here there were no fences around houses and it was really strange to me. And being able to see someone else’s private life through the curtain. I’m not a creeper, but that’s so weird… you can see everything. Stuff like 4G, which I’ve never been used to, like having Internet wherever I go…here at Carleton everyone’s on the Internet 24/7. It feels a little bit disconnecting. And like, just generally stuff, like Target and Walmart and all these big malls; you guys have so many choices here. Apart from that, Carleton people are very nice and accepting. I guess they don’t really assume I’m international because my accent isn’t, you know, it’s pretty American. But when they do ask, they’re pretty interested.

How do you fit in socially on campus?

I like to say that I kind of have two different friend groups: one from International Student Orientation (because we came here a week earlier we were able to bond more; there were only 55 of us, so if was very easy to get to know each other) and then my American friend group. Sometimes they intersect, sometimes they don’t. With my international student group, we talk in Celsius, not in Fahrenheit. There are just some things we can bond over. During parents weekend, our parents can’t come obviously, so we spent the bulk of our time together. It’s kind of like we have that sense of homesickness. Domestic students understand homesickness, but it’s at a different level for us cause we’re thousands of miles away.

Other important differences between our two cultures?

Burmese culture puts a lot of emphasis on the community, it’s very inclusive and everything you do is for the family. I’m here with the mindset that my parents sent me here, so I have the duty to uphold my responsibilities, get a good job, get a good major. I think that influences a lot of international students. You’ll notice that most of our majors will probably gear towards areas where we can get easier jobs and get money.

Another main difference it that everyone is outspoken here, they’re willing to speak their mind. They’re not afraid of saying something, even if they’re wrong. Which I guess is very different from both my European school and my international school in Burma, because everyone was more conscious of, “oh shit, if I’m wrong, things could get bad.” I went to small schools in Europe and they’re kind of the same class size, but they are just more outspoken than from where I was from at least, because I lived in a small mountain village in Torino.

I’m pretty sure, for some of my friends, this is the first time they have met a Burmese person. I’m very lucky to be here, because it’s very hard for Burmese students to get out of the country. First of all, it’s really expensive; second, it’s really hard to get a Visa. But you would be surprised how many Carleton alums are in Burma. There are quite a lot. Like Joe Decker, he’s teaching at one of the international schools in Burma. A lot of the American embassy workers are from Carleton. Either that or they are from Macalester. So they got excited when Peter, the other freshman from Burma, and I were going to Carleton.

What future plans do you have?

Well, I’m sill a freshman, so I still have some time. I’m looking a Poli/Sci, but I will see what happens. My country is very important to me, since it’s just starting to open up. I’m not sure if you catch up with the news once in a while, but we’re just starting to move to a democracy after 68 years of oppression. If anything, I just want to study in that field and spread the word about the Burma that’s changing.

People here at Carleton still ask me how I got here. This one guy asked me if I got to school on an elephant. He was dead serious, and I was like, ‘I had a car.’ How did I get here? ‘I walked.’ ‘Really!!!’ ‘No, I took a plane.’ I went back for winter break, but it’s very difficult to go back, because there is no direct flight to Burma, and it’s very long and very expensive, so I will probably only be able to go back during the summers. I have a general plan of what I want to do, but I definitely want to go back to Burma.

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