When students in most western countries graduate from high school, they head out of their house to face whatever educational or professional challenge lay ahead. However, in Cambodia it is much more common for young adults to stay with their families during this time, working or going to school from their parents’ homes until they start a family of their own.
While leaving your house and starting a life of your own at the age of 18 might seem like a daunting task, there are a number of Cambodians who have gone against cultural norms to seek out personal improvement while living on their own.
Sang Samnang left his home in Battambang at the age of 20 to begin his life in Phnom Penh. “Leaving my homeland to live on my own in the city was a good decision,” he said, adding that he never doubted his ability to succeed in the city. The 26-year-old site engineer for MFone said that over the past 6 years he had been able to improve his skills in communicating with people, making friends and managing money and time. “I have learned to walk without fear and how to speak to people of all types,” he said.
While Sang Samnang’s independence and confidence is impressive, Mam Sen Leaphea’s success in starting a life on her own is even more surprising since she is a woman in a society that often encourages females to stay safe at home. Since moving out at the age of 19, the 22-year-old receptionist for Nokia said she knew more about how to live in society and did not feel like a “frog in a well”. “In the past my parents made a schedule for me, but now I manage my time and I can do whatever I want. Teenagers living with their parents don’t have the freedom that I do.”
While Mam Sen Leaphea is excited about her freedom, her mother is concerned. “I am worried about her living expenses and her safety,” she said. “I am afraid that she will have too much fun, make bad friends or skip school.” But so far none of these things has happened.
Yim Khemarak, a 24-year-old English teacher at American Intercon Institute, said that if he didn’t come to Phnom Penh after graduating high school he would not have the knowledge or opportunities that he had today. He said that he still had classmates in his master’s degree courses who didn’t have the freedom to make their own decisions because they continued to live with their parents. “I can experience the real world and go for a walk with my friends whenever I want,” he said.
Preap Kohl, who is founder and chairman of the Outstanding Youth Group of Cambodia and Ambassador for Peace of Universal Peace Federation, said that there were also many negative aspects to young people living on their own; and therefore teenagers must be realistic about their desires and goals. “They have to learn to overcome challenges and keep focusing on achieving their goals, and never give up on their hopes and dreams.”