Kolia San Thabue, one of the first students from Burma to the United States
room United States
people Kolia San Thabue
This photograph depicts Kolia San Thabue, a Pwo Karen from Bassein, who became one of the first students from Burma to the United States. He arrived in the US sometime in the later 1870s and studied at Chicago University and Kalamazoo College before going on to Michigan State College (now University).
Apparently, he ran into financial trouble in his sophomore year at Chicago and this photograph is from an appeal on his behalf for donations so that he could continue his studies; he requested 25 cents from potential patrons.
Kolia San Thabue ended up living on-and-off in the US for 18 years, including in Detroit and Massachusetts. He eventually made a home back in Burma in Wakema (Thayagon village), tending a small farm, complaining that his fellow villagers did not understand why a man with American degrees would want to farm and not be a lawyer or civil servant instead ("You crazy good-for-nothing! they said"), and asking his old Michigan friends for seeds for his "American garden" to grow lettuce and 'sweet corn'. He is listed in a 1911 Michigan catalogue of graduates as the only Michigan graduate living in British India and described himself as an "Agriculturalist, Horticulturist, Landscape Gardner, Photographer, [and] Importer of American Agricultural Goods."
Later he ordained as a Baptist minister and went on to become the principal of the mission school in Bassein.