Moung Kyaw: Colgate’s first international student

By Alicia Nguyen ’20, Colgate summer research fellow, and Emily Jeffres

The Myanmar native was a popular speaker and missionary who attended all three spurs of the early university campus: the grammar school, the undergraduate course, and the theological school. 

Vintage photo of Moung Kyaw in both his native and Western attire
Vintage photo of Moung Kyaw in both his native and Western attire

Mirror image of Moung Kyaw in traditional Burmese clothing and western clothing, circa 1865

Moung Kyaw,1 Class of 1868, was one of the university’s first international students and the first of Burmese origin.

Born on March 5, 1843, in Myanmar, also known as Burma, he journeyed to the United States at the age of 16, probably at the encouragement of Baptist missionaries from central New York. Shortly thereafter, he converted to Christianity and enrolled in the Grammar School (later known as Colgate Academy) in 1864. He continued on to the undergraduate Scientific Course, from which he graduated in 1868.

Kyaw made a name for himself as a popular speaker at religious and anthropological lectures throughout the northeast, where he was regarded as having a “pleasant address” and “speaking [the English language] with perfect facility.”2 He was also a featured speaker at his August 1868 commencement exercises, where he gave a speech noting his passion for the Christian faith and his wish for progress in Burma.

Few men have given more evidences of consecration, self-reliance, persistent energy, associated with mental ability, than this devoted young Burman.”

The First Half Century of Madison University (1819-1869): Or, The Jubilee Volume

After completing the collegiate course, Kyaw enrolled in the Theological Course, but did not graduate. He married Mah Shway Mai, a Burmese woman, in Chicago in 1869, then returned to his native country to serve as a missionary on the island of Belloo Kyan.

In a letter to a friend written in 1876, Kyaw relates that he is “homesick” for his college and for the United States, although he was perhaps somewhat comforted by the piano and two canary birds that he had brought back with him.3 Kyaw contracted tuberculosis and passed away in Henthada, British Burma, in 1883, leaving behind a legacy of Christian devotion infused with Colgate University spirit.

Today, with nearly 10 percent of the student body being international, the Office of International Student Services celebrated Kyaw’s legacy and 150 years of international student presence with a Japanese tea ceremony demonstration by Professor Yukari Hirata at Reunion 2018.

Notes & Sources

  1. Moung’s surname is alternately spelled Kyau and Kyan due to variations in translation.
  2. “Commencement at Madison University,” New York Daily Reformer, August 8, 1867
  3. “Moung Kyaw Writes from Beloo Isle,” Madisonensis, September 11, 1876
  • Biographical file for Moung Kyaw, Special Collections and University Archives, Colgate University
  • Colgate University. The First Half Century of Madison University (1819–1869): Or, The Jubilee Volume. New York: Sheldon & Co, 1872
  • Madisonensis [Colgate University student newspaper]
  • Smith, Elmer William, ed. General Catalogue Number, Volume 1. Hamilton, N.Y.: Colgate University, 1937

Feature image from Biographical file for Moung Kyaw, Special Collections and University Archives, Colgate University

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