There were a number of firsts on the recent QUT/BABSEACLE Myanmar Externship conducted in July 2015. It was the first time foreign students had been granted visas to enter Myanmar with the intention of teaching CLE English at local universities. It was the first time the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) collaborated with BABSEACLE, the United Nations Development Programme, DLA Piper/New Perimeter and Herbert Smith Freehills on the “Bringing Clinical Legal Education to Myanmar”project. It was the first time a number of Magway and Monywa university students and local people had met foreigners. And finally, it was first time we had ever faced the prospect of not having a hot shower each night!
As final year Law Students from QUT, our role was to practice CLE English and promote interactive teaching methods with the law teachers at Magway and Monywa universities. Whilst also promoting an ethically-minded, pro-bono ethos. English is used to deliver the lessons and to engage students, teachers and legal practitioners with a vision to create a culture of working together to solve some of the similar social justice problems that exist within the Asian region as a whole. We were divided into 2 groups with 5 students working with Magway University and 5 students working with Monywa University. We spent our first week in Yangon learning about CLE and teaching methods before travelling by overnight bus (an experience in itself and another ‘first’ for some of us!) to our respective universities. We were accompanied by our QUT academic supervisor who spent a week with each group at both universities.
It was daunting to first arrive at a University with no context on the level of English literacy and whether the teaching staff would appreciate the introduction of different teaching methods, especially considering that most of the faculty staff started teaching before most of us were even born! However, after our first day we were all blown away by their genuine interest in English literacy, passion for social justice and knowledge of the CLE content. They were also open minded towards the adoption of new interactive teaching methods and critical-thinking centric lesson planning. The law teachers seemed to really enjoy our lessons and learning new methods to teach CLE concepts. Many of our interactions transcended language, giving us a cultural insight into Myanmar and the untainted kindness of their people. In our first week, the staff at both universities presented us with longyis– Myanmar traditional dress. At Magway, one of the teachers even stayed up all night to sew the outfits for us! This made us feel very welcomed and accepted as members of their law schools, although our height and hair colour and lack of Myanmar-language fluency may have suggested otherwise! We were privileged to have candid insights into Myanmar culture, law and history through our interactions with the staff and students at the universities. After spending 2 weeks working with the universities, we were very sad to leave. We were given farewell lunches of traditional Myanmar meals cooked by the staff – including a lunch at Monywa of over 35 dishes to share between the 6 of us.
We learnt much from our stay in Myanmar and hope that we left lasting impressions with faculty and students. The opportunity to come to Myanmar during such an interesting period for the country and being involved directly with the Universities in a unique social justice capacity is something we don’t think anyone really fully comprehended before our trip. But we now believe this experience will play an important part in our development as individuals and future legal practitioners.
We trust that this first adventure into a very different culture and practice of law will not be the last.
By Georgia Amery and Iain Mcgregor Lowndes_Students at Queensland University of Technology