Education is a path to many things: knowledge, prosperity, a career path. For many Cambodians, studying abroad is a way to further their studies and learn more about the world. It can be a path to better universities and more diverse subjects of study.
At the same time, studying abroad can present many challenges for young people away from home for the first time. Students must adjust to new cultural expectations and new levels of freedom. It can be easy to lose one’s way in a foreign country; there have even been a few cases of students studying abroad who lose their scholarships and are sent back to Cambodia.
Heng Vichit, 27, said that as a student in Australia, he encountered many Cambodians studying abroad who failed to take advantage of the opportunities around them.
“There are some people who don’t spend their time studying and instead just go out and have fun,” he noted, adding that not everyone adjusted well to a new environment.
Cheachean Soryya, 22, has a friend studying abroad who often calls him to relate the trials and tribulations of living in a foreign country. People stay out later and the environment is very different, Soryya said, adding, “Sometimes my friend thinks that it is maybe not right to choose to study abroad because it is really hard. But if he comes back home [early], he will bring shame to his family. So he just chooses to stay there.”
But for other students, studying abroad is too exciting an opportunity to pass up. See Tola, 22, received a scholarship to continue his studies abroad. “Going to study abroad can bring new knowledge that differs from what is taught in Cambodia,” he said. “The university system is far stronger in many countries.” He added that he intends to persevere amid whatever difficulties he encounters.
Kon Sothea, a 53-year-old mother, said her son had received a scholarship to study in South Korea. She said that as a parent, she knew all her son could take with him on his journey were her words of advice and she spoke to him at length before he went abroad.
At the same time, Sothea said, she is not overly concerned about her son, as she believes people must encounter challenges before reaching their goals in life. “Difficult first, then comfort,” she said, citing a Khmer proverb.
Lecturer Kan Cheanda, 32, who received his master’s degree in Singapore, said that students studying abroad must ultimately take responsibility for their own learning. The most important thing students can do, he said, is take care of themselves and be diligent in their studies.
He advices youth that “to avoid the pitfalls of a new country, a person should have strong self-management skills and a sense of responsibility.”