Thein Mwae is an educator from Myanmar who is studying Educational Technology in order to improve the Burmese education system.

Thein Mwae teaches English to students and provides English training to teachers in her home country of Myanmar. So to say she’s proficient at the English language would be an understatement.

But Thein Mwae has learned invaluable lessons in the StepUp program, an intensive program offered by the University’s International Center for Academic and Professional English (ICAPE), which teaches students comprehensive English language and cultural training.  

“StepUp helps students be ready for their academic journey throughout their program,” Thein Mwae says. One of the most interesting courses she took focuses on American culture, particularly in the university education system. 

“For me, StepUp is not only a course that can help with English proficiency, it’s also something that helps me explore how education works in the United States and how they manage classrooms in American universities,” Thein Mwae says. 

What sets StepUp apart from other English language programs is its focus on preparing students for language and cultural success in and beyond the classroom.

Ashley Murphy giving a certificate to Thein Mwae in a Lehigh University classroom
Ashley Murphy (left), assistant director for ICAPE, presenting Thein Mwae (right) a certificate of completion for the StepUp program.

“[StepUp] takes someone who has a lot of potential and ensures they have what they need to succeed,” explains Ashley Murphy, Ph.D., assistant director for ICAPE. “If you’ve already attained some degree of English proficiency but you don’t yet feel confident, [StepUp] will help meet your goals and help you get to the next level.” 

Murphy points out that a share of the StepUp coursework is geared toward people who are not familiar with the American education system, those who may never have written an essay, for example. 

StepUp is available to anyone who has achieved an intermediate level of English proficiency, Murphy says. This includes Lehigh University students, scholars, community members, and spouses of Lehigh students, scholars, faculty, and staff.

Thein Mwae, who dreamed of studying abroad for her graduate degree, completed her StepUp program this past semester. Now she will take what she’s learned into the lecture halls of Lehigh University, as she pursues her master’s degree in education—particularly lessons in essay writing and citations. 

Thein Mwae is a USAID Burma Lincoln Scholar at Lehigh University, one of 135 Lincoln Scholars across the country. The competitive program was designed to provide young people from Myanmar graduate opportunities. 

“I learned academic writing, formatting, and APA [citations] in StepUp,” she says. “This will be my first experience in submitting papers or thesis work, and [StepUp] will be a great help in my graduate program.” 

Once Thein Mwae, who has never left her home country until attending Lehigh, completes her graduate degree at Lehigh—she has a projected date of 2025—she is looking forward to applying certain elements of the American university system to her education work in Myanmar, most notably, she says, office hours. 

“The education system [in the United States] is totally different from my country,” she says. “There are some good things I can take back. I really like office hours.”

She goes on to say that office hours provide a unique opportunity to discuss students’ concerns and necessities. 

Thein Mwae explains that back home, if students have questions or concerns, they are limited to discussing those during class time or for a short time after class is dismissed.

“Office hours are more effective.  I really love that,” she says. “As an educator, I appreciate the office hours with my professors, as I can learn some educational concepts and practices, which I can bring back to Myanmar.”