American universities are looking for bright Cambodian students tomorrow and Sunday at Diamond Island in a two-day event called the US Cambodia Education Fair.
Organiser Ruwan Hulugalle, a former employee of the US Embassy’s economic and commercial section, first had the idea in 2008 when his responsibility was to promote US trade and investment.
Now, four years later, with support from the US Embassy, Hulugalle’s original idea has come true, with more than 20 American educational institutions on display along with Pannasastra University and a language school called the American Education Center in Phnom Penh.
“At the embassy I was in charge of trying to bring more trade to Cambodia, but now it’s universities and an education system.”
Hulugalle says that during the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and the United States which was celebrated in 2011, the Royal Government of Cambodia specifically requested more educational cooperation as a way to improve the bilateral relationship.
“When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Cambodia, during a town hall meeting, she said she would like to explore more ways for Cambodians to access US educational opportunities,” he said.
“So we believe now is the time and we’re very proud to be the creator of this event and we’re very proud in our assessment that from 2012 forward American universities and educational institutions will be visiting every year.”
Hulugalle says the great thing about American educational institutions is that they offer the best opportunities.
“People can come to Diamond Island on April 7 and 8 and they can learn a lot,” he said.
“We’re having panel discussions for the whole two days. They can learn all about American education, how to prepare an application, how to apply for scholarships, how to improve your English language skills, how to be a better student and how to apply for an American student visa,” Hulugalle said.
It is recommended that good students and their families attend in order that they get the help they need to select the best place to learn.
“This is a chance for bright, high-achieving students to have a chance to meet people and learn about American universities.”
Hulugalle says the reality is that American education is expensive for many Cambodians, so the idea is to promote more partnerships as well as attracting Cambodian students.
“We want all Cambodians to have a higher level of education, so we’re trying to promote more partnerships. We’re proud to have Pannasastra University as an exhibitor. They are an example of how education can be offered to more Cambodian students.”
After his experience working at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, Hulugalle returned to the United States to visit his parents and decided to return to Cambodia.
He joined Pannasastra University and taught political science, conflict resolution and international law.
“I incorporated community service learning, getting the students to go out and work in the community with poor or marginal people, and they come back and report on that, and get a better understanding of their society.”
As for the US Cambodia Education Fair, Hulugalle believes this is the right event at the right time because as of 2011, there were 340 Cambodians studying in the United States, nine of whom were Fulbright fellows.
“If you look at neighbouring Vietnam, one out of 6,700 citizens are studying in the US right now, and in Cambodia the proportion is only one out of 38,000 in the US, so we consider both countries to be on a relatively similar level of development, so it seems the opportunity to get more students to study in the US is present in Cambodia today.”
Hulugalle himself got a degree in government and international relations from Georgetown University, an Ivy League school near Washington DC, followed by a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of San Diego.
Later, he earned a law degree from the University of Hawaii where he was a fellow at the famous East-West Center.
Today he runs a company based in Tuol Kork called RHC, a business and legal consulting company. Hulugalle says he made the decision to create the US Cambodia Education Fair because of working in Cambodia’s education sector for more than four years.
“I knew the demand was there for more American standards of education. I knew the need was here to improve the human resource base, so I took it upon myself to conceptualise, fund, and organise the US Cambodia Education Fair. The Embassy connected us with Education USA which is funded by the US department of state whose mission is to promote US higher education around the world,” he said.
“We intend to create interaction between American and Cambodian institutions to develop partnerships and raise some education standards in Cambodia and create educational opportunities for students here in Cambodia,” he said.