Myanmar Coup Creates Uncertainty for International Students


Kristina Stahl / The Triton

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When Henry Naing, a fourth year Biochemistry major, first heard about a coup occurring in his home country of Myanmar, he struggled to focus on anything for days. Worried for his family’s safety back home, he immediately called to check up on them—but the Myanmar military had shut down the internet, making it difficult to contact his parents.

“It was hard for me to focus on anything else like my health, my wellbeing, my sleep, my eating schedule, and my academia,” said Naing, describing his reaction to the blackout.

Ever since the military seized power from the Myanmar government and detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, the country has been embroiled in an ongoing coup. Social media platforms have been blocked, the internet has been shut down multiple times, and people in different cities across the world have gathered in large throngs to protest.

The coup not only affects those living in Myanmar but the international Burmese community as well, including Burmese students at UCSD. Another student, Jenny M., a fourth year Cognitive Behavioral Science major who asked to be identified by their first name, shared similar experiences with Naing.

“Everyone in my family is back home [in Myanmar]. That’s a country that I call home and is near and dear to my heart,” Jenny M. said.

Closed banks in Myanmar have made financial transfers and exchanges more difficult, which posed a challenge for some international Burmese students who use their bank accounts or rely on their parents’ financial support to pay tuition and everyday expenses. A communication blackout that lasted for more than 24 hours prevented Burmese students and other people living in different countries from contacting and checking in with their family members and friends.

On the other side of the world, fourth year Mechanical Engineering major Nyanye Tun participated in protests with his friends in Myanmar in the weeks immediately after the coup started. 

“In Rangoon [Yangon], they haven’t shot us with the rubber bullets, but in other cities, they’re using their force to force on the protesters, and they’re also kidnapping the protesting leaders at night,” said Tun in an interview on February 12, when he was still involved with the protests. “It’s just bad, like everything is uncertain here. So yesterday the dictator just released 23,000 prisoners to create chaos and…last night [someone] just burned a house.”

Since then, the military has systematically injured and shot protesters. During a holiday weekend, soldiers and police killed at least 114 civilians on March 27, making it one of the deadliest days since the military took power.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 726 civilians have been killed as of April 15.

Many people living in Myanmar obtain information through Facebook and personal connections, according to Tun. He said the authorities cut the internet spontaneously and mainly target individuals who post on Facebook and other social media platforms.

These intermittent internet blackouts limit students’ ability to fully participate in remote learning, especially with lectures held through Zoom and assignments posted online. Whenever there is internet, Tun does his coursework or attends classes asynchronously.

In San Diego, Jenny M. and Naing both have Internet access, but the coup and their worries about the safety and well-being of their family and friends in Myanmar can affect their academics.

Naing hopes that professors will provide extensions and be understanding if they see students’ academic grades drop due to the current happenings in Myanmar since the poor grades would affect the students in the future.

Aside from the coup’s impact on their academic performance, students are also dealing with the uncertainty of Myanmar’s future. With the turmoil back home, some international Burmese students’ plans after graduation are subject to change, depending how the situation unfolds.

“I don’t know how long the military is going to be in power, and therefore I don’t really know if I can even take my degree back home to do something. So it’s kind of like I’m afraid I might not be able to use whatever education I already got to help [the people in] my country like I want to,” Jenny M. said.

Prior to the pandemic, Jenny M. and Naing were involved with the Burmese Student Association at UCSD. Although the organization is currently inactive for the 2020-2021 school year, Jenny M. and Naing met with Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Alysson Satterlund and Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Becky Petitt on March 5 to discuss how the university can best accommodate the Burmese student community.

According to Jenny M., the university offered various accommodations for students affected by the coup, such as walk-in appointments set after work hours specifically for Burmese students who are residing in Myanmar. The university will not drop Burmese students who are unable to pay their tuition.

Students from Myanmar are also contacting the International Students & Programs Office (ISPO) for assistance as they navigate other challenges including threats to personal and family safety, their ability to return to campus, and their academic performance. According to Assistant Director of University Communications Erika Johnson, the ISPO has reached out to each of these students to offer support and connect them with other campus resources.

“ISPO also connected students to additional College, Graduate Division, Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), and Student Affairs resources,” Johnson said in an email to The Triton. “In addition, the Financial Services Office is also working with students as we understand the country’s banking system has been disrupted.”

During this time, Jenny M. and Naing have been in contact with their friends and family and stay updated about the coup through social media and word of mouth, but they noted that they have received support mostly from the Burmese community. They hope that the campus community can become aware of the situation in Myanmar.

“I feel like this whole situation in general is lacking the international support in a way because I feel like a lot of other social justice issues in the U.S. Like us international students and all over the world, we supported the situations here, but I personally think that we lack the international support that I was hoping we would get,” Jenny M. said.

In Myanmar, Tun anticipates that the conflict will escalate even further across the country.

“There could be like [a] civil war at any moment,” said Tun.

Elizabeth Peng is an Assistant News Editor for The Triton. Assistant News Editor Julianna Domingo assisted with the research and writing for this article. You can follow her here @coolyannaa.