Acclimating to the New World
In Mt. Lebanon, Taunggyi, and Crown Point

This essay addresses how a granddaughter and her grandfather adapt to new worlds they encounter. Let me begin with the grandfather. Due to WWII, my dad wasn’t able to go to college. However, a couple of years after returning home, he got a promotion at which he worked. My family had to move from Pennsauken, NJ to Pittsburgh, PA.

My dad asked a real estate agent which area in Pittsburgh had the best schools. He wanted to prepare his three boys for college. The real estate agent told him Mt. Lebanon had the best schools in Pittsburgh. It did have the best schools in the area, but Mt. Lebanon ranked among the nineteen best schools in the entire country. In addition, it was also the wealthiest community in Western Pennsylvania.

My father sacrificed everything for his three boys. We didn’t have the money to live comfortably in Mt. Lebanon. It was also challenging to acclimate myself academically to my new world. Mt. Lebanon taught me two things—I was dumb and poor. Being dumb in Mt. Lebanon meant that I mainly got Cs, several Bs, and occasionally an A. All my friends benefited from starting school in kindergarten at Mt. Lebanon. I had to scramble from sixth to twelfth grade to get the grades I did. It took me half my life to realize that I wasn’t dumb or poor.

During the journey down my bumpy yellow brick road of life, I had to work hard in college, graduate school, and post-graduate school. Interestingly, forcing myself to succeed academically has paid off in my twilight years. Additionally, I love to teach and travel.

I have gone to school overseas, taught overseas, and traveled all over the world. Traveling is the best teacher. George Santayana said about education, “A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.” Ibn Battuta said about traveling, “Traveling; it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” They were both correct.

Enter Ti Ti and Taunggyi. The parallels between the two of us are unbelievable. Several years ago, on my second trip to visit my family, we talked about Ti Ti going to college. She lived in a nice middle-class community and school system like mine in Pennsauken, NJ. However, to get into college, both of us needed to change the schools we attended. I went to Mt. Lebanon, and Ti Ti went to the DNNA Private School in Taunggyi. Both schools were exclusively college preparatory schools. We both started out in regular schools and were above-average intellectually. Additionally, we both felt the educational dichotomy that we might not be as good academically as we wished.

Ti Ti worked hard at DNNA. At a special recognition service, Ti Ti was honored for being the best math student in Shan State.

I never miss a teaching moment. Ti Ti is now attending Gusto University. In an email to me, she said something that confused me. To be honest, Ti Ti’s comment rattled me. In a not-so-subtle way, I asked her a simple question. I wanted Ti Ti to grade her academic acumen. Using the grading standard of teachers: 70-79% C, 80-89% B, and 90-100% A, I asked her what grade she would give herself? Ti Ti responded quickly and said 80%.

What? Ti Ti was a B- student? Then I realized that Ti Ti wasn’t much different in her academic background than I was. Neither she nor I saw us as others saw us. Ti Ti isn’t an intellectual clone of Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking any more than I am. However, she is one of the most talented students in Myanmar.

Today, I got an email from Moh Moh today. Our State Department confirmed that they both had submitted applications. Ti Ti applied for a student visa, and Moh Moh applied for a visa to travel with Ti Ti to Crown Point to assist her as she accumulates to her new world in America as an international student.

Now, all that Ti Ti needs to do is be interviewed by a consular staff person at the US Embassy about her wanting to study in America. When Ti Ti gets her student visa, she will come to Crown Point, live in my home, and go to college in America.

I was ten years older than Ti Ti when I did a year of post-graduate work at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. There wasn’t much acclimation for an American whose great-grandparents came from Scotland.

Ti Ti will be learning in another language. While she is more than fluent in English, it will be a bit of an adjustment. It will take a day to adjust. Then there is the food issue. Moh Moh will cook some meals, and I will do the same. It will be fun in the kitchen. The weather is quite different; Myanmar’s seasons aren’t like ours. Winter in Myanmar isn’t cold. All my trips to Myanmar were during winter break from teaching in the States. I wore a light jacket a couple of times.

On my last trip, we took a hot-air balloon ride over forty-square miles of Bagan’s stupas and pagodas. Early in the morning, we got ready to board our gondola. Whose is wearing a shirt?

Nonetheless, it will be an exciting time for Ti Ti, Moh Moh, and me.


This video is of Neil Diamond singing about Coming to America.