In July, Somongkol Teng will leave Cambodia for the United States to pursue a master's degree in Higher Education Administration. Under the US State Department's Fulbright grant Somongkol plans to earn his graduate degree from Boston College of Massachusetts. Formerly an undergraduate of Royal University of Phnom Penh, he later became a lecturer for the English Department within the Institute of Foreign Languages.
The 23-year-old speaks English crafted with an American accent cultivated from his first English lessons in 1993. After the 1993 UNTAC-organized national election in Cambodia, English literacy has enabled greater international job and scholarship opportunities. Only 10 percent of Cambodians who speak English are sufficiently fluent to use computers. According to estimates by the International Telecommunication Union as of 2003, only 25 in 10000 Cambodians accessed the internet.
Not many Cambodians, especially so young, have travelled to foreign countries- the outside world. Somongkol also is a happy traveller and amateur photographer.
Q: You are leaving Cambodia soon for the U.S., how do you feel now?
A: Well, I'm extremely happy and excited about the upcoming departure. It was my second time applying for Fulbright Scholarship and I've finally achieved it. I believe you can imagine how one feels when his dream is finally realized. At the same time, I am also rather nervous. This is going to be my first time away from home for such a long time. Unlike the previous exchange programs in which I took part as a contingent, this time, I will be all alone in a completely new world of unfamiliar faces and experience. For sure, I am going to miss a lot of things here. Despite all these anxieties, I still believe these two years away will enrich my knowledge and experience, and most important of all, make me a more independent person. I really can't wait for the day to come.
Q: Can you describe what have you done so far (both education and work)?
A: I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Education (TEFL) from the Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL), Royal University of Phnom Penh, in 2003. Upon graduation, I was recruited to be a lecturer of English for this same institute. Last year, I was chosen as a full-time staff for the Higher Education Department of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. During my free time, I also work as an online-based translator for proz.com and Pasarawee Translation Service in Bangkok, Thailand.
Adding to these professional activities, in the past four years, I've also taken part in several international exchange programs and volunteer work. In September 2002, I was part of the Cambodian delegation for the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program (SSEAYP), at the end of which I was chosen to present the results of the onboard SSEAYP discussion to the World Youth Meeting in Singapore. Since then, I have been a member of SSEAYP International Cambodia (SIC), an alumni association of the SSEAYP program in Cambodia. I am now its Head of Information and Webmaster. As part of SIC's activities, I, along with other members, have run several book donation and penpal projects with several schools in Phnom Penh and Kandal Province. We are seeking possibilities into getting more support and moving other charity projects further into other provinces. If you have any used books and are interested in donating to our projects, please feel free to contact us anytime via email@example.com. Your kind support and cooperation are highly appreciated.
Q: Following the graduate degree and time abroad, how do you see yourself?
A: Since I'll be earning a Master's in Higher Educational Administration, at the end of the studies, I aspire to produce a strong research paper that will use the skills and knowledge gained during my course to participate in Cambodia's higher education sector. I wish to continue working for the Department of Higher Education. I look forward to becoming an active advocate and policy maker in tertiary educational affairs while working with team members in my department. I feel a strong sense of civic responsibility and hope to share what I will learn and invest myself with my homeland. Like everyone, my vision for Cambodia is as a country that is able to support itself and its people—A country free from poverty, with adequate human resources and sustained economic growth. One way to accomplish this goal is through education. I really hope I can play a role in this process.
Q: What do you see as the future for your generation of Cambodia?
A: Having been a student, educator and youth activist myself, I've noticed tremendous changes in our young people. Our youth now are highly enthusiastic in broadening their knowledge and experience. Instead of being passive listeners waiting to be spoon-fed by their teachers, students today actively learn, discuss, research, and the like. Given the widening access to internet resources, education, mass media and opportunities to study abroad, I would say without hesitation, that positive things are happening.
Recently I've been very proud of several local high school students bringing home medals from the International Junior Science Competition in Indonesia. Our country may be poor, but our spirit, pride, enthusiasm and aspirations are never poverty-stricken. I am told that Cambodia's future is getting brighter and everyday, more evidence of these accomplishments surrounds me. We are turning the pages from history toward modernization, progress and development.
Q: What do your usually write on your online journal/weblog? And will you continue to share with your friends and others at home?
A: I've been blogging since late 2004. Initially, my posts were mainly pictures chronicling my daily activities and trips to various places. It was then more like a travel photo blog (and it is still so, even now) than an online journal. I guess most of my blog visitors know quite well that photography is a major hobby of mine.
Only lately did I start posting some writing. I really wish to write more when time allows and if possible, make this little blog of mine a more useful place where I can share my viewpoints, experience and knowledge with others. Thanks everyone for your supports so far. I might be away from Cambodia, but I will always be here with you in cyberspace.