My guest Ko Thaung Myint was born in Rangoon, came to the US to study on a scholarship from a college in Iowa.
He has an extremely interesting work life as a data engineer, qualified chef and licensed pilot.
We discuss the importance of diversity - in terms of ethnicity as well as thought.
The first part of this conversation is in Engish - the second in burmese.
Listen to the full conversation in audio or read a selected excerpt below.
➤ Where did your American story begin? When did you leave Burma?
I left Burma 2008 August. As a young kid I've always been intrigued with the United States. I had multiple chances to go study in Australia, Singapore, United Kingdom... but my heart has always been set on being in the US.
➤ I totally relate. We all have the same story. So tell me, what as it about America that attracted you?
It's just the vibe of it. You know, you grew up to hollywood movies. And I think it has to do with being in Burma where a lot of American products are not available due to sanctions, so it's always like something you wanted to experience. So I think that drew me more to America than anything else. I wanted to see what I've seen in all the movies are like - everything from the low riders, to the cholo culture, the LA scene, the New York scene. Everything. I wanted to see what it's like.
➤ Did you get a strong taste of it even while you were in Burma? How did you access it all while you were still in Rangoon?
Some through video games. What's that really famous video game it's called...um...
➤ Grand Theft Auto?
That's right! Grand Theft Auto San Andreas - that's the game as a 13 year old that you played. And your parents are so paranoid because everyone's swearing in the video game and they're shooting and very violent stuff going on but as a kid you're always like, 'I want to see what that's like!'
So, on my first day when I landed in LA, I went to a cholo neighborhood. So the term 'cholo' right it's like a Latino American thing - they have their own little subculture going on, so I went to that neighborhood even though people said there's going to be guns and violence and stuff, I just wanted to see.
➤ Let's talk about your history in Burma because I know you have a very interesting family background. Can you talk a little bit about your grandparents?
So, my maternal grandparents were both combat pilots when Burma gained independence in 1948. My grandmother was the first ever female combat pilot for Burma. My grandparents met at the air force base in Meiktila and my mom was actually conceived there so I have a pretty strong aviation background. And I've always looked up to them in my life. They're not around anymore but I still live by their wisdom.
➤ And what do you do today in America?
I split my time in three different ways, in terms of career. So, I'm a part-time cook, a part-time pilot and a full-time data engineer for American Airlines.
➤ I love it! That has to be the most exciting three-way career I've heard about so far on this podcast! How did you get into aviation in America? Because I'm guessing you didn't have any kind of qualification when you arrived.
Oh I didn't. So, I had a misconception; I always thought that going to pilot school and all that stuff, you have to actually take time out and actually do it as a full-time thing. I did not know that it's manageable to do it on the side.
I've always been into aviation, I love airplanes and then I grew up in Mingaladon which is like right on the edge of the Yangon International Airport, so as a toddler I would look up into the sky and see all these jets and propeller planes and fighter planes land and take off and I've always been mesmerized by it.
Later, when I grew up, I started tracking each flight on excel. I started tracking each flight by the airline and the departures and arrivals. Later down the line, especially when you live in a place like Iowa, where you have to fly to go anywhere, I wanted to know if I'm paying x amount of dollars to an airline, I want to know what experience I'm getting out of it. So I started researching different airlines, airplane types, their business models.
And for the longest time it actually kept that way until one day at the gym, in graduate school, at the University of Oklahoma, I saw somebody wearing 'the University of Oklahoma Flight School t-shirt' and I was like, 'Wait, what? We have a flight school?'
So from then on my interest into aviation grew even more and I started researching about that and before long I did my graduate research thesis on civil aviation analyse in the US. I got to present that at a global conference back in 2016. And before you know it, I got a call from a recruiter at American Airlines asking me, 'Hey, do you want to come work here?' and I'm like, 'Are you kidding? Of course!'
So that's how I started.
➤ So when you say, 'Do you want to come and work here?' what were they offering you?
It's a data engineering role, so that's what I do as a full-time employee. That's a day job and then you know, as the saying goes, 'Hang around a barber, you'll get a haircut soon enough,' so just like that, when you're working in an airline, there are other people who are flight training, who are also working at the airline, so I get to hang out with them and soon I asked where they're doing their flight training and I signed up for it. And I've been flying for close to two years now.
The full conversation continues on the podcast.