Sokunthea Waring is Cambodian, but as is the American tradition, her family name, Waring, was taken from her husband. At the age of 21, she is now looking for a place to do her post-graduate studies in his hometown of Albany, in the American state of New York.
As the presence of foreigners in Cambodia has grown, the number of relationships between Cambodians and Westerners has risen.
Despite some difficulties adjusting to each other, the couples Lift talked to have been able to negotiate their differences and make sacrifices so that they can both benefit from the partnership.
Talking to Lift earlier this year, Mu Sochua, the well-known opposition parliamentarian, said her success as a politician had been helped by the flexibility of her foreign husband. “He understands that I want to be a great mother but also pursue my political career,” she said.
While Mu Sochua had the benefit of prior exposure to the West before meeting her husband – she lived and studied for many years in the American state of California – relationships with Western men are often a jarring experience for many Cambodian women who choose to plunge into a different way of life.
After Sokunthea Waring and her husband decided to move to the US, she said that she was often surprised in her new surroundings.
“America really is the land of freedom,” she said “People here do whatever they feel like doing. They talk freely about everything, including politics and social issues. Kids even talk openly with their parents.”
In adapting to her new home, she has not forgotten where she came from.
“I was taught to treat people with a lot of respect and learned to only talk about or do certain things,” she said. So sometimes it’s difficult to open up and speak my mind.”
Lis Valin, a 31 year-old owner of a hair salon in Siem Reap, has been dating her foreign boyfriend for nearly a decade.
“At first we were just friends, then we started to hang out, discussing and understanding each other’s culture,” she said.
“I think he has a lot of respect and he never tries to push me to do something I don’t want to do.”
Soa Sopheak is another Cambodian woman who said she had found love with a foreign man.
“Sometimes I find it hard to adjust to him,” she said. “Fortunately, both of are us are well-educated and negotiate our problems reasonably.”
“At first, I didn’t think he loved me because he was my boss,” she said, adding, however, that their mutual passion for filmmaking brought them closer together.
Despite her relationship with a Western man, Soa Sopheak said she was often surprised by the behaviour of Cambodian teenagers.
“They try to adapt Western ways of showing affection,” she said. “I see lots of them sit in public places and kiss or hug, which is against Khmer culture and tradition.”
Lis Valin said she refrained from public displays of affection with her longtime boyfriend. “My boyfriend is fine with it and appreciates my actions.”