One of the great opportunities that Myanmar’s steady political and social change is affording is the chance for many outsiders to experience and take in the country first-hand.

Now this exciting in-country experience is being given to 11 students from the Australian National University

This weekend they will jet set from Canberra to Myanmar for a study tour that, among other activities, will see them take in the ancient capital of Bagan and mix it up with powerful politicians in Naypyidaw.

The students will spend two-weeks in the Southeast Asian nation as part of the in-country course ‘The Political Economy of Myanmar’. Hosted by the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, it is the first time that ANU has sent students to Myanmar.

The course continues that University’s long history of engagement and research on Myanmar, and builds on the Australian Government’s commitment to overseas study opportunities for Australian students and people-to-people exchange through the New Colombo Plan.

The course is convened by New Mandala co-founder, Professor Andrew Walker, who said that with historic elections due later this year, there was no better time to visit.

“Students will experience the politics, economy, history and culture of Myanmar through visits to government agencies, non-government organisations, universities, the national parliament, museums and important cultural sites,” said Walker.

“While in the capital Naypyidaw they will visit Myanmar’s parliament as it prepares for the upcoming election.

“Our students will get to meet and learn from local university students and talk to them about their experiences of social and political transformation, democracy and development.

“The fact that we can take a group of students to Myanmar and meet freely with local students, academics and NGOs is a sign of the pace of Myanmar’s reform over the past five years.”

Myanmar has undergone profound change since the ruling-military government changed the constitution and conducted elections in 2010. That rapid development is set to culminate with another national election later this year.

Tom Murphy and Claudia Mooney are two of the students taking part in the study course. They said their first visit to the country represented an unrivalled opportunity to get to know the real Myanmar.

“I am really interested in Southeast Asian security, and Myanmar is a key player between America and China for one, as well as in terms of general trade in the region,” said Tom. “So it is really interesting to see how the opening up of the country will affect trade and the overall security situation in the region.”

Claudia is keen to learn more about development.

“I am quite interested in the contested idea of sustainable development and I think Myanmar is an interesting example as we can watch development happening in real time,” she said.

“What I am curious in seeing is whether lessons have been learned from what has gone wrong in the past and whether development is sustainable or unfair.”

Those who are interested can follow the students’ experiences in Myanmar on Twitter via the hash tag #myANUmar. And stay tuned for students’ reports of their trip which we will run on New Mandala in the near future.

James Giggacher is editor of New Mandala.