Htet Wai Yan ’24 Co-Founds School in His Native Myanmar and Will Join Morgan Stanley

Htet Wai Yan '24 stands in front of a building.

In addition to being an eager learner, inquisitive and studious, Htet Wai Yan ’24 had to be something else his first year at Pomona:


Stationed in his native Myanmar during the College’s remote 2020-21 school year, Yan’s earliest class that maiden fall semester started at 9 p.m. his time. “And the latest,” he says, “was at 4 a.m.”

“It was brutal,” the 22-year-old recalls. “But I wanted to learn.”

Just as Yan became accustomed to the 13-hour time difference between Claremont and Myanmar, Myanmar’s military staged a coup the morning of Feb. 1, 2021, in response to the country’s 2020 general election.

Yan lost internet access and electricity overnight, and while connectivity returned eventually, “the energy [in Myanmar] was never the same,” he says.

In the days that followed, Yan used VPNs and other proxy networks to hop online, and even then, the Myanmar military suppressed information and instituted nightly internet curfews that interrupted Yan’s class schedule.

“But I persisted,” he says.

Not only did Yan keep up with Pomona’s coursework amidst a coup, he started crafting coursework of his own.

Though the breadth of classes and different avenues I took at Pomona were all very rigorous, they built the foundation of what I needed to do to commit to lifelong learning.

— Htet Wai Yan '24

While still very much in danger at home, Yan co-founded an online English school and wrote 25 months of curriculum using past textbooks and online resources—as well as the language proficiency exams he took to get into Pomona—as guides.

“I wanted to help the community I was in,” Yan says. “A lot of people didn’t get the privilege I had of knowing that in a couple of months I would go to the U.S. and be safe. These people were working professionals and students from government schools and the military was starting to prosecute them.”

“There were a lot of emotions and uncertain risks for everyone.”

Yan’s for-profit school, Erudite English MM, started with 30 paying clients—the CEOs, banking professionals, pharmaceutical sales assistants, political refugees and others 10, 20, 30 years his senior that he wanted to help during crisis.

“In Burmese culture,” Yan says, “you listen to your elders, you don’t teach them. And there I was teaching people three times my age. They came to me and said, ‘I just need to learn.’”

“I felt honored to have done what I did.”

During that tumultuous year in Myanmar, Yan developed close relationships with Nicole Y. Weekes, Harry S. and L. Madge Rice Thatcher Professor of Psychological Sciences and Professor of Neuroscience, and Feng Xiao, associate professor of Asian languages and literatures.

Though on different parts of the globe, Yan says he and Weekes bonded over Zoom. As his faculty advisor, he says, “She made me feel welcome and at home when I was struggling with the time zone difference and imposter syndrome.”

Xiao, whose Advanced Chinese class Yan tested into as a first-year student, similarly went out of his way to make Yan feel comfortable in a new, albeit virtual, learning environment.

“I have a good tradition of talking to students, and not just about academics,” Xiao says. “In a liberal arts setting, we appreciate more close interactions between professors and students, and sometimes we can come up with very brilliant ideas.”

Once at Pomona, Yan wasted no time charting his career path in finance.

He joined clubs, worked on campus and accepted internships. In professional settings over the course of three years, Yan learned about commercial real estate valuations and how to analyze stocks and bonds.

As a junior, Xiao wrote Yan a letter of recommendation for the Claremont McKenna College Silicon Valley Program, where Yan learned about banking and private equity from Pomona College alumni.

At Pomona, a lot of students have this kind of creative itch, and one of the advantages of going to a liberal arts college is you can actually talk to professors who are interested in this sometimes very wild idea and then give concrete suggestions so you can realize that idea very quickly.

— Prof. Feng Xiao

Between his junior and senior years, Yan interned at Morgan Stanley in New York City, rotating across three desks in the bank resource management division. Given his experience living through a military coup, Yan took great interest that summer in learning how firms manage large sums of money—especially during times of civil unrest.

His commitment earned him a return offer at Morgan Stanley once he graduated.

Yan returned to Myanmar this past summer to build a physical campus for his school.

After starting Erudite English MM in 2021, he and his partners managed good profit margins every month. They restructured the departments and minimized fixed costs to enhance those margins and funneled 100% of the profits for about 19 months into the project.

The campus took about 60 days to build.

Erudite English MM runs classes three to four times a week for the 120 or so students who attend regularly.

Curriculum sets learners on a path to proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening in English. The school offers seven levels of learning, from elementary to advanced, and students use the ubiquitous Google tools to complete coursework.

Yan manages the student body and Erudite’s 40 employees remotely.

“Htet is very forward thinking, so this is why he can focus on different things and achieve all these things to the highest standard,” Xiao says. “These kinds of students, they know what they want. They’re born to be successful.”

Yan double majored in economics and Asian studies, and his thesis for the latter— “The Belt, Bridges, and Buddhism: A Multidimensional Lens Into China’s Footprint in Contemporary Myanmar”—came in at 147 pages and won the Chanya Charles Butts Senior Thesis Prize in Asian Studies.

“Most students would like to have Htet as a role model, especially international students,” Xiao says. “His story can inspire a lot of students here.”

After Pomona and his full-time gig with Morgan Stanley, Yan wants to return to Myanmar to pass on financial knowledge while helping create financial stability and avenues to wealth for those in his community.

“I owe everything to Pomona,” he says. “People here are very much like me, and that brought the best out of me. I’ve always been a hard worker, but so is everybody here. It’s not wrong to work hard. It’s not hard to strive for your goal.”

“Back home,” he adds, “a lot of people didn’t have that mentality. They wanted to survive. I wanted to go above and beyond, and a lot of people at Pomona wanted to do that as well.”