On her first day back on campus, after being in Myanmar for seven months, architecture senior Saddha Zaw said she didn’t expect every single thing that happened to remind her of Burma.

“My first day, I had this philosophy class, and the professor started discussing about the ethical dilemma behind torture. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is too real to me,’” Zaw said. “After class, I went to the professor and told him I just witnessed a coup. He didn’t know what to do with me.”

On Feb. 1, 2021, a military coup occurred in Myanmar. Over 1,500 Burmese people have been killed in the year since the coup occurred and are still protesting to this day. Burmese students who attend Cal Poly were affected, whether they were in the United States or still in Myanmar, while the coup took place. 

In the year since the coup, Zaw  has returned to Cal Poly and is re-adjusting to her life here again.

“Every day I’m on survival mode,” Zaw said. “I can’t really think of what fun thing I’m doing this weekend. I feel like I have to moderate the level of fun I have because I feel bad for the people still in the country who do not have the liberty to even walk down the street without worrying about getting arrested or even shot. But I’m also trying to enjoy the freedom because I know that I wouldn’t be able to do that in Burma.”

Computer engineering senior Thiha Myint was also in Myanmar during the coup and said he struggles going about his day-to-day life.

“It is hard to pretend nothing happened in front of other people,” Myint said. “Because no one will understand what we experienced. We had to see what it is like to be in hell.”

Originally Myint said he was upset that more people didn’t care about the coup, but now said it is natural for people to not pay attention to it.

“People only care about what directly affects them, and just because you don’t experience it, it doesn’t mean other people’s experience is invalid,” Myint said. “I haven’t experienced homelessness or being a refugee or Asian hate in the U.S. That does not mean that their experience is harder than mine; everyone has their own degree of hardship.”

Both Myint and Zaw donate a portion of the money they make to support the citizens of Myanmar. 

“I try to be in contact and read up on news every day,” Zaw said. “But then it’s also hard to limit myself and not let that weigh on me the whole day.” 

Zaw said that she and other Burmese students at various universities in California are pushing for the Burma Bill, a bill that is currently under review by the senate and essentially requiring the U.S. government to support the people of Myanmar who are pushing for democracy in the coup.

For the time being, Zaw is not sure what her future will hold, but she said she wants to return to Myanmar to help rebuild the country after she graduates.

“The fact that it’s been one year since the revolution, it doesn’t feel like a long time but it also feels like forever,” Zaw said. “We didn’t know it was coming, we didn’t think it was going to take this long.”

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