I guess I am going to start a new chapter soon. This isn’t going to be the first time the old characters from my previous chapters became so distant in a new study abroad chapter. I came from Burma (Myanmar) to the US two and a half years ago to start a new chapter at Bucknell. With my humble experiences and with some imagination, I will try, as much as I can, to compare and integrate my Burmese experience, my Bucknell version of America and my journey to see a glimpse of UK. Hence the name of this introductory blog: Dot to Dot.
By the way, my name is Thet Hein Tun. I am a junior and I’m studying civil and environmental engineering, and comparative humanities. And why am I studying abroad while I am already abroad? Well, this is because every time when my friends go home for breaks and I have to stay in Lewisburg for whatever reasons, I feel like my entire world gets nuked by the aliens. So, although I’ve been learning new things every semester, I want to have the good feelings of getting away from Bucknell for a few months and acquire some new perspectives. But I still need to fulfill my engineering requirements. Luckily, Nottingham has an engineering exchange program with Bucknell so it is relatively easy to take the required courses there and get transfer credits. (Starting from upcoming year, the program is expanded to include non-engineering students.)
I will be leaving for Nottingham in about two weeks. Currently, I am staying in Lewisburg and getting ready for my UK adventure. The visa application process was not that difficult, most likely because I was applying only for the six month student visitor visa. The only cumbersome part was that I had to go to York (PA) to have my fingerprints taken. Those fingerprints, apparently, were then matched with my fingerprints from US database to verify my profile. In my opinion, Burmese people and western visas don’t go along very well. Despite the fact that I submitted enough paperwork to prove my study in UK, I was still worried that the materials were not conclusive enough to support my case. I couldn’t feel relieved until I got my passport with the stamped visa back. When I applied for US visa to come to Bucknell, it was much more complicated. The US embassy wanted to know ins and outs about their candidate who was going to spend the next four or five years or so in their country. Also, because the primary language back home is Burmese, I had to notarize a ton of documents in English. The documents included but were not limited to, my birth certificate, national identity card (somewhat similar to social security number except we have our photo on the card), family record form, nation-wide Grade 11 final exam scores and, etc, etc. Given my visa application process history, I was ecstatic when I received the email saying that my UK visa was issued.
Nation-wide Grade 11 exam (aka Matriculation Exam) Pass Certificate (Burmese & English versions)
I was more worried for my UK visa than my US visa. Though the process was long and complicated, I was relatively relaxed during the US visa application because some of my friends were in the same boat as I was. Also, my family supported me 100%. My father drove me everywhere I wanted to go regarding the study abroad process. (The legal age to get driver license in Myanmar is 18, and I tried to learn how to drive but I just can’t drive!) My cousins, too, came to my house and helped their soon-to-be-gone-but-clueless kin put together his backpack and suitcases. In fact, I was too relaxed that I even forgot the appointment date and missed the first visa interview. In contrast, for my UK visa application, I had to push myself to make sure that I sent all the required documents in time. Sometimes, my host mom inquired and reminded me about the application process. But, most of the time I was treated as an “adult” and was responsible for myself. Although I haven’t been relying on other people too much lately, I’m not entirely independent either. Through the years at Bucknell as an international student, I’ve managed to seek help from Bucknell community when necessary. For instance, a retired Bucknell professor drove me to York for the biometrics appointment. In retrospect, I was more anxious about the UK visa probably because I wasn’t in Kansas (or in my case Yangon) anymore.
My cousin helping me pack in Burma (left) vs. me “preparing” to pack at Bucknell (right)
When I left Burma for US, I didn’t feel anything special about leaving. Although I knew that my life wouldn’t be the same once I left the country, I was imagining that it was just another short trip and I would come back home very soon. Then, I got homesick during my freshman year, mostly during breaks when people were gone and I had nothing else do. Gradually, I learned not to suppress but instead try to acknowledge all the happy, sad, goofy and awkward memories. Those bittersweet feelings during the flashbacks make me realize what my values and priorities in life are. Along with the conscious decisions I made, I am who I am today because of the people I have encountered in various chapters. In many ways, they propel and define the storyline of my life. I am really excited about the UK chapter and new faces I will meet there. Also, I’ve been thinking about how to take advantage of these five months. And definitely, I will continue writing blogs. On the other hand, I am going to miss my Bucknell friends, especially the graduating seniors. It’s going to be a while before I meet them again. Last, but not least, I am both nervous and looking forward to going back to Burma after the Nottingham journey. It’s going to be the first time I go home since August 2009.
A very early chapter of my life: My parents, my younger brother and me
My pre-nineteen chapters: with my grandmother (on the left) and with my Burmese friends (on the right)
Some of my Bucknell chapters were pretty colorful!
And some of the memories were kept in classic black and white…