Lift profiled four students currently studying abroad to find out what life is really like in other parts of the world.
After receiving a scholarship at the end of 2009, Svay Angkeara, who is now a 20-year-old studying engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of France, expects to graduate in 2013 after finishing both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He says he is confident that he will make it to graduation, but when he first arrived, he encountered many struggles.
“I had many difficulties in both my daily life and my studies,” he said. “French food, cold weather and different time schedules were all difficult to adapt to.
“I am the only Cambodian in my year here,” he added, “so I have to become friends with people of other nationalities, especially French students. Friendship is the most important thing. I cannot live without it.”
Besides a new lifestyle, the university system in France is quite different from Cambodia. However, within a month, Svay Angkeara said he had adapted to the new environment.
He explained that in the French university system there are many courses and subjects that he has never encountered before, while most of his classmates are already familiar with many of the concepts being taught. Therefore, he has to work twice as hard as other students.
Svay Angkeara is still years from his ultimate goal of getting his master’s degree, but he is doing well in almost all of his courses and is receiving well-deserved admiration from friends and professors.
Ouk Longdy, 24, is in the midst of a one-year programme at the University of Minho in the Portuguese city of Guimar?es, where he is writing his thesis for his civil engineering degree.
Although he has only been there for four months, Longdy has had a wide variety of experiences.
“The biggest difficulty has been that I don’t speak Portuguese, so I can’t really communicate with people in the region,” he explained. “Actually, I study in English, but students hardly ever use English when they are talking in a social setting.”
The language hasn’t been the only thing he has had to get used to. “Furthermore, I do not smoke and drink as much alcohol as people here, so it has been hard for me to adapt to this new environment,” he said.
Another strange behavioural change has been physical interactions. He has learned to greet people in public and places or parties in proper Portuguese style by kissing, hugging or shaking hands. “I think I feel more familiar with the environment. I have learned how to work with the people and to be tolerant and responsible,” he said. “But I am not yet independent; I still often need help from someone before I make a decision.”
As far as his opinion of the experience, he said: “I need to wait and see because now I have only made it halfway. My achievement will come when I finish working on this project and defend my thesis successfully in December 2010 at this university.”
Teng Oudam, 21, is one year through a five-year scholarship to study architecture at Syusei Technical College in Tokyo, Japan. He received the scholarship in 2008 through the Japanese embassy.
While studying and living in Japan, Teng Oudam has not faced many of the hardships that his peers in European and North American universities have come up against. “The most difficult thing has been the language since English is not widely used here,” he said.
Before going to college in Japan, Teng Oudam had to study the Japanese language for a year in Cambodia. In his daily interactions, both at school and outside the classroom, Teng Oudam has put his Japanese skills to the test.
In his time abroad he has been required to represent Cambodia by giving presentations about culture and traditions in the Kingdom. In this capacity Teng Oudam has had many chances to join international festivals organised by the school.
“Since I am here alone, I couldn’t perform any traditional dances, but I could sing instead,” Teng Oudam said.
He applied for the scholarship at the Department of Scholarships in Phnom Penh. After passing a written and spoken test, he had to get a medical checkup and provide other documents, including his academic transcript, references from high school and a foundation year certificate showing that he finished one year of university. It was all worth it when he was selected to head to Japan.
After receiving a Fulbright scholarship in 2009, Suon Ratana is now working towards her master’s degree in landscape architecture at the University of Oregon in the United States. The fact that it rains for 10 months a year in that part of America has been one of many obstacles that Suon Ratana said she has had to overcome.
“A great challenge for me has been staying strong in a cold and wet climate,” she said. Due to the nature of her major, she says “there are many classes which require me to work outside regardless of the weather conditions”.
Another challenge has been staying healthy, both physically and mentally, despite a tight and stressful academic schedule. “I had some really bad experiences with my American classmates in the first quarter of school. We had different ways of working and thinking,” she said, adding that “I met some American students who had very little knowledge about the world outside America and they were too full of themselves so they discriminated against me, an Asian student.”
Despite the difficulties and struggles, she has also had many positive experiences and gained a lot of knowledge from her studies. “My best experiences have been making friends with the people from other cultures and h---aving many nice American friends,” she said.
As a member of the International Cultural Service Program, Suon Ratana has to do presentations about Cambodian culture for communities in the US. She said the events have not only taught her about the culture of others, but also forced her to learn more about her own culture.
But ultimately it is in the classroom where she has benefitted the most. “The greatest experience has been studying at a real design school, where I meet professors who wrote the books I used to read,” Suon Ratana said. “I simply learn a lot of things, like new ways of analysing projects critically.”