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From the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United States of America

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.
From Cambodia to the United States: Somongkol Teng
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 sseaypcambodia@yahoo.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.

12 comments

  • Nice job, Tharum! :) I’ve been looking forward to this. :)

  • […] By Tharum, Global Voices Online […]

  • Keun Im

    Wow!!!

    It is so great, I believe. I absolutely appreciate that one of our generation have expresses such an impressive commitment so. This is another great window for the shine of Cambodia in the soon future.

    Great luck to Mongkol!

  • Love this interview! Mongkol, if you get home sick for some Cambodian food while in Boston … I’ll feed you! Looking forward to meeting you face-to-face and let me know if you need any more help with housing,etc.

  • Sokhak Chouem

    Congratulations to all Khmer students whose are working hard to achieve the scholarships to study abroad in the U.S. Welcome to America my fellow Khmer students.

  • Thanks a lot, Beth.. I also look forward to meeting you in person.. You have been a great help to me. I really appreciate your generosity and everything you’ve done for me. :)

    Thanks too to Sokhak. :) WHich state are you in now?

  • Chhan D. Touch

    Dear Mr. Teng,

    Congratulation for your wonderful achievement. The Royal University of Phnom Penh was my play ground in 1980, especially sliding through the steep projected doom near the main street. Of course, it was abandoned then. Anyway, I am living in NH but working in Lowell, MA, where I am one of medical practitioners at Lowell Community Health Center/Metta Health Center. Presently, I am in the process of finishing my Ph.D. in nursing. Be proud to be a Cambodian. Hope that I will see you sometimes in the future. My office’s e-mail: chhanto@lchealth.org

    Best regard,

    Chhan D. Touch

  • Yem SamOrn

    I am a Cambodian scholarship student in Vietnam, After my graudating of Bachelor Degree, I would like to continue for postgrate of Fulbright Scholarship Program in USA; So how could I do? What condtion does Fulbright want? Please describe to me

    Tanks

  • […] The Cambodian Fulbright scholar talks a lot about his student life in the United States as well as Cambodia affair in the news. “Somehow the charismatic force that holds this fantastic band together is a famous Cambodian singer, Chhom Nimol, whom the band recruited after scouring the scene in Long Beach , which is home to the largest Cambodian population outside Cambodia, for a front woman to interpret the Khmer-language songs that so compelled them.” […]

  • polys chim

    Dear Mr. Somongkol,
    I am very proud of you that u have a great achivement in your life. So i want you to give me some recomments about becomming sucessful candidate to the US ;especially, in the Fulbright program.
    I hope you will give me a good advice about taking this.May u have great and great works.

    very lovely,
    polys

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