A conversation with a customer support agent in Myanmar
Thuzar Khine, our first jobbaticler in Myanmar, is very much the globetrotter. Though she is originally from Yangon, for the past 4 years she has been studying in Singapore and the U.S. Now that she’s back home, she is working remotely for Drvr, a company based in Thailand, as well as helping with her parents’ business and working as a Myanmar authorized sub-agent for Paula’s Choice Skin Care.
Despite her busy schedule, she was very much willing to share her thoughts with us about studying abroad, working with different cultures and the recent changes going on in her country.
How long has it been since you’ve been back in Myanmar?
I just finished my school in the U.S. and came back 3 months ago. I went to Southern New Hampshire University for about 2 years.
What was different about New Hampshire vs Yangon?
It was crazy — the weather is too cold but I really enjoyed my studies. This college life is a lot better compared to working life because right now I really don’t have time to read.
It’s totally different because the culture is totally American, and Burmese people are quite traditional. It’s quite different in terms of education, in terms of people, the way they think. Everything is a huge gap, but I went to Singapore before I left for the U.S. so I was quite used to it. I was in Singapore for about 2 years for college, then I transferred all my credits to the U.S.
I lived in three countries; I was always moving. I have to travel almost every month, because I’m helping my parents’ business and at the same time trying to set up my own brand. I’m quite busy doing 3 jobs at a time. The reason the Drvr job is really good is because I don’t need to go to the office everyday, but I just need to be working from home. I really like to work with people from different cultures. Our team consists of people from Australia, Germany, and our HQ is in Bangkok. I got to know a lot of different people from new cultures.
Would you say there’s a difference in the work culture amongst the three countries — Myanmar, Singapore and the U.S.?
Well, Singapore is already a developed country. We can say it’s one of the best countries in Asia. And the U.S. as we all know is one of the best countries in the world. So it’s quite developed, while our country, Myanmar, is a lot behind by 50 years, due to mostly government restrictions. So the working culture is very different. In a developed country like Singapore and the U.S., the people work in a system, in a structured organization. But people in Myanmar work more in the family business. I feel like it’s not good. I prefer to work with foreigners. Most of the businesses are family setups in the beginning. So it’s a lot of family staff, and there’s not going to be job descriptions, but you just have to do everything. It’s not really a systematic organization.
What do you think is attractive about Myanmar for foreigners?
I think people want to have foreigners and if other countries are very congested for finding new jobs, I think Myanmar is the right country to be right now because we need a lot of educated people here. I think that’s what the foreigners like about it. It’s not very competitive yet. So you can have new opportunities.
Have you seen any visible changes since the government of Myanmar opened up to foreign businesses?
It’s very different. A lot of foreign companies and a lot of foreigners are always looking for opportunities and how they can help our country. People are also helping our new government with the hope that we have a good education, a good life and good opportunities. Because the majority of people in our country are uneducated and there is quite a huge economic gap between the upper class and the poorer class. So the poor people are hoping for a huge change, a new political change by Aung San Suu Kyi. And there’s a lot of new foreign brands coming in, different skincare, different products. That’s what it’s like right now.
How common is it for people in Myanmar to study or work abroad, like you did?
Only a minority of people can study abroad because the parents can support them. My parents supported me so I had a good education throughout my life. Otherwise, the local education is not that good. To be able to speak English well with foreigners is not easy. In order to spend money abroad means only a minority, not even 10%, I think. No, it’s not even 10% [that study abroad].
What are some things you learned from living abroad?
I loved living in a foreign country because I was far away from home. In the beginning, my home was a bit traditional so they were like, “don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t go out at night,” but it’s not the life that I want. I want to learn new things, see new things, and be innovative and creative. So I learn a lot whenever I see new things. When I was studying in Singapore, after school, I never went straight home. I always went to a shopping mall, looked around, and thought, “What product should I bring back to Myanmar to sell?” as a business. That’s what I’m always thinking.
I prefer to live in the U.S. more because I had a chance to learn about negotiation, communication, sensibility, dealing with different cultures. Because usually at universities, there are people from different cultures. So we tried to understand each other and, we don’t have a lot of fixed, strict things that we have to stick to. I think I became more flexible after I studied in the U.S. That’s what I liked about it.
In the beginning, I was a little bit negative, but now I can think in more positive ways. I think in the U.S., they teach you how to think more positively.
Did you experience any culture shock there?
In the beginning, a little bit, yes. Probably in Singapore, because that was my first time abroad, and Singaporeans are a little bit different from Malaysians even. Singaporeans are very proud of themselves. That’s the culture shock that I got.
So people in Myanmar are not very proud?
It depends. Maybe rich people are really proud of themselves (laughs).
So… why wasn’t Aung San Suu Kyi able to become president?
I wanted her to become the president. But she cannot. Since two of her sons are not Myanmar citizens, she cannot become the president. The kids are British citizens. However, she is the one who is leading the team. She is someone who’s leading the president. She’s above the president.
You mean there’s a law that everyone in your family has to be a Burmese citizen if you want to be president?
Yes, it is the law. It’s in the constitution. So right now just because her kids are not Myanmar citizens she cannot become the president, but we don’t know what it’s going to be like in the future.
This story is part of our Jobbatical Stories series.