MU student’s family fled wars in Myanmar


Thang Li’s unlikely road to Manchester began more than a decade ago when his family fled ongoing wars in their native Myanmar.

Arriving in the United States as refugees in 2011, they settled in a small Burmese community in Aurora, Colo. Only four years later, Thang’s father died of liver cancer. His mother, who spoke no English, was left with five children to raise, no formal education and no job.

“I didn’t want to finish high school. I wanted to drop out and start working so I could take care of my siblings,” says Thang, the second oldest. “I was about to make the worst decision of my life. I didn’t want to live at that point. There was so much stress at a young age. I couldn’t handle it.”

At least he thought he couldn’t. But when he recalled how far his family had come for a better life, he pressed forward. “I kept thinking about the progress we had made,” he says. “I looked at my siblings and thought, I want to set an example for them.”

So he has. As a high school junior, Thang focused not just on finishing high school but on getting a college education, too. “I will go to college,” he promised himself, “and I will set an example for my siblings so that one day they can achieve more than I did.”

Thang is achieving plenty for now. Though he speaks three languages indigenous to Myanmar, as well as Malay, Burmese and English, he says English is the hardest. He has a double major in digital media and religious studies, and double career aspirations too: He plans to become a pastor and restaurant owner.

 “Faith is a major part of my life,” says Thang, who attends a small Burmese-American church in Indianapolis when he can. “I want to continue helping other people, especially in my small Burmese community, where a lot of young people get involved with drugs and alcohol,” he says. “If they need some spiritual guidance or encouragement, that’s where I want to step in and help them – be a mentor.”

In the meantime, Thang has overcome his initial homesickness and found a home at Manchester. “I had no problem making friends,” he says. “The things that I enjoy the most at Manchester are the professors and the community where people are caring and loving toward each other.”

At Manchester, says Thang, “professors aren’t just professors. They’re like family. You really get to know them.”

Thang is grateful, too, for the financial aid that enables him to attend Manchester. “If I didn’t have the financial aid I don’t think I would be able to come here,” he says. “My family and I are extremely thankful for this kindness and generosity. I will work hard to graduate to show my gratitude.”

Wherever he goes after he graduates in 2022, Thang says, “Manchester will always be a part of me.”