I will be departing from Myanmar on Dec. 4th and arriving back to the U.S. on Dec. 8th after spending a few days in Seoul. It’s unclear if/when I will be returning to Myanmar. Since leaving Proximity in July, I’ve spent time in an ethnic region, conducted independent consulting work for a human rights group, spent dozens of hours in self-reflection, and spent 100+ hours exploring local start-up opportunities (the latter of which is somewhat ongoing). I provided myself a December deadline to make a go/no-go decision on next steps in Myanmar. Although I have warm leads, I have no committed next steps lined up as of now (career-related).

So what did I learn? These are just some of my own thoughts:

Non-work:

  • Change/newness is scary, but the ability to adapt is incredible. And, by extension, learning through doing is effective, while trying to learn in stasis is challenging.

When I first landed in Myanmar, even trying to breath the air seemed like a strain. Now, leaving Myanmar is scary (change, both ways, is tough). Likewise, painting a massive blue wall in my room was scary, but now I love it.

  • Living abroad means a transient expat community.

I found it challenging to build a strong sense of community. I think it was partly due to the transience of ex-pats (I know I’m adding fuel to the fire by leaving after having been here for just over a year).

  • Living in a third world country is not in-and-of-itself horribly dangerous.

I think danger lies on a spectrum. Certain places are clearly dangerous (e.g. Syria currently, ethnic war zones, etc.) but otherwise one could be the victim of a crime in Yangon, New York City, or small town America.

  • There are hardships in living in a country without developed infrastructure.

Food poisoning was a much bigger deal than I thought it was going to be. I’ve spoken before about issues like feral dogs and crazy driving, but they pale in comparison to the hardships the locals have to face: broken education system, broken medical system, etc.

  • Take advantage of being in an incredible new place, even if it doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Reflecting back, it would have been nice to  see more of the country. I got caught in the mode of thinking it was all more or less old hat, and then basically checking out (aside from the core things I was used to, like going to the pool, cooking food, watching movies). Unfortunately I think I have this mentality about the U.S. as well.

Work:

  • Formulate an idea of the local industry, and company structure, before signing up.

I assumed that clean energy would be a huge greenfield opportunity, but I could have spent some time assessing the market and how the initiative would fit in with the broader organization.

  • For me, teams are critical, and setting a proper foundation (and meeting the team before joining) is important.

I was so eager to join that I didn’t push the issue on touching base with the team before I arrived, and I think that set things on a shaky foundation.

  • Donor-funded organizations have large hurdles trying to bridge a) business practices and b) a reliance on donor funding for survival.

The donor safety net can be too tantalizing to embrace difficult business analysis/decisions, compounded by a potential donor desire for relatively quick wins.

As I now head back to the U.S., I hope to gain new perspective and figure out where I will be going next. Transition points are always the most challenging for me, often, I think, because they are filled with what I perceive as “big decisions that need to be made correctly.” Even deciding to leave, and dealing with some last-minute decisions that came up, served as hot points shaking me from a place of stability. Something I need to work on.

Some time ago I was talking about the concept of grace. An entirely separate blog post could be written just reflecting back on this topic, but I have been exploring this some more. Could God’s grace be a solution to the “oh crap, I better not make a wrong decision” tightrope that I find myself on again and again? What are the underlying fears/desires that fuel the obsession with making “correct” choices? I feel so hard-wired in this “correct choice” way of thinking, but I’m hopeful that with God’s grace change is possible. In the meantime, I try to be thankful for each day and take it from there.

Anyway, hoping to catch up with family and friends in person soon!

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