In a small ruby mining town called Mogok, in northern Myanmar, I was brought up in a family that didn’t own a TV.
At around nine years old, I would sit with my dad listening to the radio, curiously asking questions until he became irritated. The subjects ranged from Kim Jong-il and Saddam Hussein to pro-democracy movements in my country. He would explain as much as he could. When my dad was away, I would open up the radio and tinker with the electronics, a hobby that has survived into my late 20s.
As a child, I helped with my parents’ work. There were times when I only had a pair of school uniforms, but I didn’t look for sympathy. I was very proud of my resolve and saw this as a strength. My parents always said , “We may stay hungry but will send our kids to school.” Their words inspired me to dream big, to be honest and do good for others.
My minority background as a Nepalese in Myanmar sometimes made my circumstances complex. However, nothing impeded me from aspiring for greater things. For me, self-confidence, more than warmhearted encouragements, is the primary source of motivation. Seldom do I get discouraged by unfavorable circumstances.
In fifth grade, I barely passed my exams. Realizing that I had no other option but to become educated, I stopped roaming around and focused on my studies. To the surprise of my teachers and myself, in sixth grade I was among the students with the highest scores.
Taking private classes in addition to those offered by the public schools is a common practice in a country that spends less than 1% of GDP on education. The question one of my teachers asked was which private class I would take. I almost broke down in tears. I was too embarrassed to say I couldn’t afford private classes, and I was disappointed with my teacher’s assumptions. Nonetheless, I told her the truth. I was very proud and wanted to show everyone what I could do.
- Age: 29
- Ethnicity: Nepali
- Country: Myanmar
School & Program
- Jacobs University
- Bachelor’s, Global Economics and Management
- 2nd Year in Program
Goals & Dreams
- Become an economist
- Loan Amount: $9,775
- Amount Left To Fund: $5,875
- Contract Duration: 14 years
- Status: In School
What Others Are Saying About Goutham
Upon finishing high school, I joined medical school but later dropped out because I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the program. I fell in love with the Pre-Collegiate Program (PCP) when I came to Yangon. The curriculum was akin to those of liberal arts colleges. I was encouraged to think critically before expressing my opinions and to respect others’ points of view.
However, when I joined the Pre-Collegiate Program, I could not afford the program fees. My teachers were very generous and provided a full scholarship after learning about my family’s circumstances and visiting my apartment, where I slept on a thin sheet on the floor. Even then, I could not afford to study peacefully.
In addition to managing a heavy school workload, I worked part-time by teaching English, programming, developing websites, and even fixing computers. There were times I had to skip lunch. In the evenings, I would go to my aunt’s house for dinner. There were days I missed classes since I was too tired to get up early in the morning. My grades suffered as a result, so my teachers at PCP arranged a loan so I could sustain myself. Afterwards, I was able to focus more on studying and improved my performance in class.
I repaid the loan soon after graduating by working on website projects. I began working at a non-profit co-working space called Devspace Yangon for my internship, and a few months later I started a small company with investment from a partner. As anything is possible, when I started the company, I had nothing but a laptop which was in fact a gift from someone. I learned computer programming and other IT subjects using computers in libraries and internet cafes.
Today, although my company is not ‘successful’ by common standards, it has served clients across many industries, both local and international. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. But given where I came from, I am thousands of footsteps behind. Whatever life presents, I strive to exploit its fullest potential in meaningful and productive ways.
In 2013, I applied to colleges in the US, Germany, and Hong Kong. Although I was accepted and received scholarships from some, I could not afford to enroll. Therefore, I started working to save money so I could return to college later. This time, I am determined to earn a degree and will sell everything I own to fund my education. With scholarships, a student loan, and personal savings, I hope I will have enough to cover all of my expenses and achieve my goal of becoming one of the best-performing students at the university, academically and otherwise.
Written by Goutham with editing assistance from Zomia’s volunteer editors.
“‘Nothing is impossible.’ It is a cliche I take literally in life.”