By Kayla Roby —
A U of L exchange student could one day lead his Southeast Asian country, if he gets his way. Zay Yah Oo arrived in Louisville less than two months ago after leaving his home country of Myanmar.
Oo’s big move to Kentucky was based on a full scholarship from the U.S. government to receive his master’s degree in political science and public policy here.
“I came to learn and be part of the social life and educational and political system,” Oo said.
Living in America is a dream come true, but moving to a new country with an entirely different culture can be difficult.
“The biggest culture shock would be the language and expression,” Oo said. “I don’t know if what I am saying or doing is being friendly or not towards others.”
Oo said if he could share one piece of his country’s culture with the US, it would be their genuine hospitality and friendliness towards others, especially newcomers.
“Most people are ready to help one another with anything whether he or she knows you or not,” Oo said.
He said that since moving to Kentucky, people tend to look at him with suspicion when asking for help or directions, making it difficult to connect with others, let alone navigate the city of Louisville.
Unfortunately, many international students face communication issues due to language and cultural barriers.
“Learning another language, it is also a process of learning another way to see the world,” U of L International Student Coordinator Connie Martinez said.
Even though the transition to a new country has been rocky, it’s worth it for Oo’s future career.
After being under military rule for over 50 years, it wasn’t until 2015 when Myanmar elected to become a democratic government. As the country slowly transitions to a democracy, the need for strong political knowledge becomes more urgent. This is where Oo’s passion for political science comes in to play.
“If I were equipped with the knowledge and skills that a Master’s degree would offer me, my efforts would have much more impactful in providing leadership and overcoming the challenges that Myanmar is facing on its road to democracy,” Oo said.
Once provided with political expertise from U of L, Oo intends to share his knowledge with his country.
“I have a passionate commitment to doing everything I can to make sure that Myanmar’s transition is a success.”
With the country’s desperation for policy reforms and a strong intellectual leader, there is no doubt that Oo said he will give nothing less.
“When I return home, I will rejoin my party (The National League for Democracy) with plans to run for office in the future,” Oo said.
Photo by Kayla Roby / The Louisville Cardinal