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Emails from Vermont, USA

Now I am studying at Middlebury College in Vermont in the United States. I am a senior and a philosophy major. In the past five years I’ve travelled to several places, mostly for educational reasons. After I left Sisophon, I went to Norway and did a two-year IB Diploma programme for high school education. My high school in Norway was the Red Cross Nordic United World College, or RCNUWC.

Life in Norway was one of my biggest challenges. I was shocked both culturally and by the education system. Back then, I knew very little English. Cambodian high schools offer about 10 to 12 subjects, unlike the IB programme, where we study only six subjects. I was taken aback when I saw my peers going to classes in shorts and vests and calling teachers by their first names.

When I was in Cambodia I was really good at physics and I wanted to continue with physics in Norway. In Cambodia our teacher would draw pictures of objects and explain the experiment to us in words. In RCNUWC, I had to do the work and write lab reports. I remember struggling to write my first lab report. I had no idea what to do and how to explain the experiment, despite my teacher’s help. I struggled with physics, but did better with philosophy, maths, English and human rights. In the IB programme native languages are self taught, meaning students learn on their own.

Don’t get carried away with the difference between a foreign education and a Cambodian one

In 2007 I graduated from RCNUWC and continued my journey to Middlebury College in the United States. It was another shock, as it was much buisier than high school. There were more assignments, reading and demands of my time.
Middlebury College is ranked the fourth  best liberal arts college in the us. It is a tough and competitive school. Students are allowed to major in any department. I came to Middlebury College to major in computer science, but I found it challenging so I changed to philosophy in my sophomore year. Liberal arts education is distinctly different from university; students can make their major and study whatever they want. On top of that, it allows students to explore new things and inspires and motivates them more.

I have learned a lot since I left Cambodia, but it does not mean that I didn’t learn anything there. Cambodia is limited by financial resources and its economic situation. However, I do not believe that I am better than those who are studying in Cambodia. Without my education in Cambodia, I would never have had my scholarship abroad. Even though students in Norway and the US have more access to labs and equipment, one thing I learned is that students must also be responsible and attentive.

So don’t get carried away with the difference between a foreign education and a Cambodian one. It is not about where you are, it is about your passion, energy, motivation, attention, responsibility, will-power and a desire to learn new things.

If you think a Cambodian education in Cambodia is useless and regret failing to have the opportunity to study abroad, that idea will hurt your career and your ability to impact our country’s future. If we all work hard, continue learning, and value what we have rather than wish for what we don’t have, we can change our country’s education system and the  whole country. As the Greek philosopher  Plato said: “Each single piece of knowledge has the same fate.”

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