A Student’s Journey from Myanmar to Tulsa

Elizabeth McCullough, Staff Writer

In winter 2013, a plane descended on the runway in snowy Nebraska. Nuami Lam Tung, now a senior international relations student at Oral Roberts University, stepped off the plane with her parents and three siblings, gripping their thin jackets tightly to their bodies to protect against the chill.

The family spoke no English.

Lam Tung was born in Kalaymyo, Myanmar. Each morning in elementary school, her teacher told the students to pray to Buddha. But as the other students clasped their hands together, Lam Tung resisted, telling her teacher she would not pray to a god she did not believe in.

The children in her community mocked Lam Tung and her family for practicing Christianity in a primarily Buddhist region.

“We wanted to move to the U.S. for better living conditions,” said Lam Tung. “But I would say mainly because my parents wanted better lives for my siblings since there is no good education, and because of the discrimination against our people because of our religion.”

The first step in this transition was to leave Myanmar and live as refugees in Malaysia. Lam Tung’s parents had to work from early morning to midnight to keep food in their children’s bellies. The children were left to fend for themselves at home.

“Since we were refugees, we could be arrested anytime,” said Lam Tung. “We were always scared.”

Soon after their move to Malaysia, Lam Tung’s mother was diagnosed with blood cancer.

Her father had to stay by her mother’s side in the hospital. And the Lam Tung children moved to an orphanage where Lam Tung cried out to God to heal her mother.

After months of treatment, the doctors told the family that their mother’s cancer was gone. They rejoiced, but their celebration was short-lived.

“So, we have no money,” said Lam Tung. “She had cancer. She was at the hospital for months. Think about the hospital bill. How would we pay it?”

A man they had never met approached the family and paid their bill in full. With renewed hope, the family continued their quest to move to the United States.

Regularly, Lam Tung and her family would wake up at 4 a.m., squeeze into a taxi and drive expectantly to the U.S. embassy, where they learned how to live in the United States.

In 2013, after three long years of waiting, Lam Tung and her family received the news they would be moving to a new home in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Lam Tung stepped foot in a U.S. public school for the first time to begin her sixth-grade year. She felt lost as she wandered through the hallways, not knowing how U.S. classrooms functioned and not understanding the language of her classmates.

“You walk in, and everything is new,” said Lam Tung. “Then you’re just scared of people even talking to you. It sounded like the hallways were full of bees buzzing around me.”

She worked with a tutor daily to learn English, and her new life at school began to make sense.

Her family moved to Tulsa in 2014 and Lam Tung decided to go to college at ORU.

“Whatever college you go to, God is going to be with you,” said Lam Tung. “But what’s so special about ORU is the atmosphere, the environment and the spirituality. I can never imagine myself going to a different university.”

Representing more than 120 different countries, 19% of ORU students are international. And many endure a lengthy process to attend the university.

“For international students to get to the United States, it’s not easy. It’s a long process,” said Anxhela Rama, manager of the International Student Center. “They can get the degree anywhere else, but they will not get the spiritual power.”

Lam Tung will graduate in the spring but already works full-time at Jenks High School as an English language development student mentor, advising young Burmese and Afghan refugees on how to adapt to American culture.

And in March 2022, Lam Tung gained U.S. citizenship, which she believes will help her fulfill a calling to spread the Gospel all around the world. She will soon begin a year-long mission trip to the Middle East.