Teaching personal finanance to Burmese students
February 22, 2007 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: She will be going to Thailand to teach students mostly from Burma and needs some advice.

If you have any follow-up questions for her, you can ask them, and if she gets a chance, she will either email you directly, or she will email me and I will post what she says.

Here is what she has to say:
In a couple months I will be headed off to Chiang Mai, Thailand to teach several classes to a group of about 20 students between the ages of 17 and 22. Most (if not all) of my students will be from Burma.

I have been asked to teach a class this year related to budgeting/finance. The school has found that once they send the students back to their communities they do not seem to have a concept of a budget. An example is a student who graduated and then was sent to manage another recently started small school. Unfortunately he was not sure what to do with the resources given him. Apparently many of the students look at money as something to be spent right when it is earned.

My confusion over all of this is that I am fairly well-versed in the basics of personal finance here in the US but want to be sure that once I teach my class I will have gotten a heads up on cultural differences. An example that I have heard of is that in Thailand people care for extended families more than we do in the US and would therefore need to take this into account when budgeting. What other bits of information are there like this that I can keep in mind while planning and teaching my classes? Are there any good books/websites that I could read about the concept of finance and budgeting from the perspective of Thai culture (in the more remote areas)? My main goal is to give them the most pertinent information and not the same thing they would get if they took a finance class here.
posted by gauchodaspampas to Society & Culture (3 answers total)
Be prepared for some possible tension between the Burmese and the Thai. The two groups aren't exactly friends. I dated a guy from Thailand once, and he flipped if someone misidentified him as Burmese. (because, in his opinion, they are all bastards...)
Anyway, I know that the above sentiment is probably not held by all Thai people (or the reverse for all Burmese people) but there is a history.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:38 PM on February 22, 2007

I lived in Chiang Mai in the mid-90s and spent significant amounts of time in the mountain areas as a part of my studies.

A couple of comments:

Given the area's recent history and refugee flows, "Students from Burma" almost certainly means people from the border indigenous groups, probably Karen.

This is v. important as Karen share few cultural similarities with Thai or ethnic Burmese. For example, "lowlanders" (ie Thai, Burmese, Lao) are paddy rice farmers, Buddhist and members of the dominant national cultural while "highlanders" (any number of indigenous groups, ie Karen, Hmong, Lisu, Lahu) are mountain rice or (traditionally) opium farmers, some degree of Christian/ Buddhist/ animist and excluded from the dominant national cultures. There are significant (and, in some cases) bitter differences between highland groups. Thus, what makes sense to a Karen might seem ridiculous to a Hmong.

Without knowing the ethnic make-up of your friend's future students, I cannot offer anything more specific. Your friend should realise that many of these communities are not integrated into the lowland economy and thus do not have monetary or financial systems that "make sense" in the Thai or Western context. "Purchase" of goods or labour may be predicated on exchange of goods-in-kind, tangible assets like silver, opium or baht or involve future obligations or spiritual duties.

I would caution, however, that wading into what is a low-intensity civil war (in the border areas) without a good handle on the ethnic, religious and political dynamics of the communities and their members might be counterproductive, both for your friend and her future students.

Good luck.
posted by docgonzo at 6:26 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

You're going to teach Burmese students, and it will involve financial budgeting? Yes, there's a big cultural element to recognize there: religion.

I was lucky enough to spend some time north of Mandalay with an interpreter, and we talked with various villages, partly about their finances (as he was also advising them in this regard). I don't know if you've had much contact with Burmese before, but I've found them to be the most devoutly religious people anywhere. Buddhist through and through. As a result, villages were neglecting things like basic water supply in order to build the best possible monastery or shrine. I mean, tens upon tens of millions of kyats, in the case of one tea-growing village. So consider that religious observance may play a key role in decisions about finances. Most of the Burmese I met were also hopelessly naive in this regard, too, and had had bad experiences with being cheated by unscrupulous travelers. (and truly believed that karma kept the reckoning -- they didn't have to)

docgonzo is right about the likelihood of you dealing with Karen people, though, and I don't know how that would affect these cultural/religious (and economic) norms, as eastern Burma was closed to me.
posted by dreamsign at 3:43 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

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