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Through a Fulbright, CWU’s First Exchange Professor Headed to Myanmar

CWU geography professor John Bowen is very familiar with Southeast Asia. He’s lived and worked in Singapore, conducted research in Malaysia and the Philippines, and traveled across Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. But he’s never been to Myanmar, until now. Bowen will get that opportunity after receiving a prestigious Fulbright US Scholar Program award.

Bowen on a previous trip at the Golden Triangle in Thailand, near the border with Myanmar. This is as close as Bowen has been previously to Myanmar, which lies on the left side of the photo beyond the river.

Through the Fulbright grant, Bowen, who specializes in the geography of Asia, will teach at Yadanabon University in Myanmar. From November to April he will be in the country also known as Burma. Among the poorest yet most diverse countries in the region, it’s a nation of more than 100 ethnic groups, which borders Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, and Thailand.

“It’s the largest country and, in many ways, the most significant country in Southeast Asia that I have not visited but I have wanted to for a long time,” Bowen says. “The country is a frequent highlight of courses I teach—especially Geography of Asia and World Regional Geography. Being able to visit a place that I have taught a lot about is really important to me.”

Bowen will become the first CWU professor ever to go on exchange to Myanmar, where Burmese is the official language but English is the language of university instruction.

“The fluency varies among the students; some are perfectly fluent but some are not,” Bowen points out. “To try to smooth things, I’m attempting to learn a little bit of Burmese but it’s very challenging.”

While in Myanmar, Bowen will also continue to conduct research into his other areas of specialization: economic development and transportation -- especially aviation.

“I used to work for Singapore Airlines and, ever since then, I have been doing research on the aviation industry around the world,” he adds. “I published a book earlier this year about low-cost carriers in emerging markets. That kind of airline is growing most rapidly in regions such as Southeast Asia. They’re just beginning to have an effect on Myanmar. It will be fun to work with students to explore that.”

At present, higher-paying jobs in Myanmar don’t necessarily require a university education, so Bowen will lead classes that will be primarily comprised of women.

“Women, who oftentimes are the secondary wage-earners in the household, are the ones that go to get university educations,” Bowen explains. “Something else that really surprised me about teaching there is that faculty teach barefoot. It’s a sign of respect to take off your shoes.”

Bowen is among more than 800 US citizens who will teach, conduct research, and provide expertise abroad for the upcoming academic year through the Fulbright Program. He also looks forward to learning first-hand about culture and customs of the country and the region.

“While Myanmar overall is diverse in terms of religion, Mandalay, the city where I will be, is mainly Buddhist,” Bowen says. “The city is filled with Buddhist temples and pagodas and I’m looking forward to exploring those. Myanmar is a really interesting country in terms of its geography and where it’s located, wedged between India to the west and China to the north. Many aspects of the country's politics, economy, and its culture—including its food, which is partly a fusion of some Chinese and Indian elements—reflect that.”

The Fulbright Program, considered to be the flagship international educational exchange offering sponsored by the federal government, now involves more than 160 countries worldwide. Bowen was selected based on his academic and professional achievement, record of service, and demonstrated leadership in his field.

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Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, director of Radio Services and Integrated Communications, 509-963-1487, Robert.Lowery@cwu.edu

Photo: Bowen on a previous trip at the Golden Triangle in Thailand, near the border with Myanmar. This is as close as Bowen has been previously to Myanmar, which lies on the left side of the photo beyond the river. 

 

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