Sok Sokhita, 19, arrived in New York City after her mother remarried a man who has lived in the United States for 12 years. She works part time as a barista and cashier at a coffee shop that pays $7.50 an hour while she pursues her degree.
While most teenagers get support from their family to pay for daily living expenses, Sokhita wants to be financially independent in “the land of the free”. She said it is fairly common for teenagers to work because there are a lot of job opportunities for teenagers who meet the requirements.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Cambodian or not,” said Sokhita.
Born in a middle-class family in Phnom Penh, Sokhita said that she is proud of her work because she can pay for some of her living expenses.
“I like my job because I can go shopping for myself when I get paid,” she said.
Furthermore, Sokhita said that working does not really affect her studies because it relates to the major that she is taking, which is industrial design. She said that her family is happy for their daughter to work.
“Indeed, my family acknowledges my position. They are really supportive.”
In her workplace, most staff are middle-aged African American and Hispanic men, with many workers from Mexico. Sokhita and her cousin are the only workers who speak Khmer, so there is not much to talk about with the other staff. However, she said that she has managed to build good relationships with them, although some of them are moody.
She said that she does not always enjoy her work because dealing with customers can be very frustrating. However, she also said that it can be fun when the customers are nice.
Overall, Sokhita said she is happy to be working and studying in the US.
“Working here is good because the ‘American dream’ is a real deal. As long as you work hard and smart toward your dream, everything is possible,” said Sokhita.
“However, working in Cambodia is also good because our country is developing now.”
She is planning to visit Cambodia next year during her winter vacation, and she wants to work in Cambodia for awhile after she graduates college.
Sokhita offered some advice for people pursuing their dreams:
“For those who have their heart set on doing some things, they should not be afraid of changes. Be open to new ideas and perspectives. Do not be afraid of danger because it is the only way to understand who you are, and learn to improve yourself. Do not take anything for granted, especially your family, and always practise self-love by doing the things you love.”