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‘There’s a heavy taboo surrounding these things in Myanmar’

23 December 2020
Thaint Thaint Thwe
Thaint Thaint Thwe

Thaint Thaint Thwe from Myanmar (26) is following the two-year Master’s degree programme in Clinical and Psychosocial Epidemiology. A scholarship from the Eric Bleumink Fonds for students in developing countries enabled her to come and study in Groningen.

Coming to Groningen was no mean feat for Thaint Thaint Thwe. She was unable to obtain a visa in her native country Myanmar because the Dutch embassy there doesn’t issue them. So she had to go to Thailand, where the coronavirus pandemic complicated things even further. ‘Tourists weren’t being allowed in; you could only enter the country for a doctor’s appointment.’

She knew how to arrange that, but on her arrival in Thailand, she still had to go into quarantine for 14 days. ‘It was all very tense. They were saying that people from Myanmar weren’t being allowed into the Netherlands. They eventually made an exception for me because I was a student.’ It was a long, gruelling process, ‘but I spent the two weeks in Thailand reading, to prepare for my programme.’

Although she has attended a few lectures since she arrived in October, most of the teaching has been online. ‘I don’t mind, I’m enjoying my time here. I bought a bike recently so that I can get to know the city and the surrounding areas. Despite there being so few ‘real’ lectures, I still manage to meet new people in my student accommodation.’ She’s noticed that studying in the Netherlands is not what she’s used to. ‘It’s much more active than in Myanmar. In Myanmar, you’re supposed to listen and take notes, whereas here you’re encouraged to ask questions. I’m plucking up the courage to do it.’

Why did she choose Groningen? Four years ago, Thaint did a tour of Europe with her brother, who had just been awarded a PhD in Hamburg. ‘We stayed in Groningen and it was love at first sight. What a fabulous city. When I heard that the Faculty of Medicine had such a good reputation, I set my heart on studying in Groningen.’

After finishing her degree in medicine in Rangoon, the largest city in Myanmar, she spent a year working at Marie Stopes International, an organization that works to promote family planning and contraception, or ‘reproductive choices’ as this is known. ‘There’s a heavy taboo surrounding these things in Myanmar, which is a very a poor country. I think that it’s important to help to break this taboo because it prevents so many people from asking for the help that they need.’

She would like to continue her work in this sector, preferably by providing psychological help. This is why she looked for a Master’s programme in Groningen in the field of psychology. Once she had found what she was looking for, she discovered the possibility of a scholarship from the Eric Bleumink Fund in a Facebook group for international students. ‘I knew that I wouldn’t be able to come to Groningen without a scholarship because I simply couldn’t afford the tuition fees and accommodation. A lot of the other non-European students say the same thing. Waiting to hear whether I’d been accepted was nerve-racking. The application process included a statistics test, and I knew nothing about statistics. But I heard that I’d been accepted in March. I was so excited to have been given such a fantastic opportunity.’

Text: Dorien Vrieling
Photo: Gerhard Taatgen
Source: Broerstraat 5

Last modified:16 December 2020 11.18 a.m.
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