With advancements in technology leading to more lines of communication opening between cities and countries that used to be worlds apart, people can now exchange ideas and thoughts with each other, creating a global platform for discussions, debates and cultural exchange. Due to the availability of TV, radio and the internet, people are being influenced by foreign cultures like never before. Besides the internet and the media, many foreigners have come to Cambodia in the last two decades, further spreading the influence of Western dress, speech and behaviour.
Having spent his high school years in France and now enrolled at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, Sin Lina said interacting with foreigners made him better understand other cultures. “It was a new experience and I started to expand my ideas and thoughts. I have become more open-minded.” Despite his many years of staying abroad, Sin Lina said, “I’m still somewhere in between. I don’t want to take in all the foreign cultures.” He added that some people take in so much of other cultures that sometimes they lose their identity. “We have to know what part of foreign culture can benefit us and what part doesn’t.”
When asked if he is afraid of others thinking he is not Khmer, he simply said, “I know how to behave with whom and when. If I’m talking with elderly, I try not to sound too open. If I meet someone who is willing to share ideas with me, then I’ll share back.”
Cheang Sreypich, also a student at Limkokwing, shared her views with Lift. “As I get to know more foreigners, I start to know their culture. I also wonder if Khmer culture could develop to the extent of foreign cultures.” She said that in the past girls from good families were not allowed to go to clubs, as it was seen as something vulgar. When foreigners came in, the idea of going to a club changed. “It is for friends having fun and it is nothing bad,” she said.
She added that dying one’s hair or dressing up in a modern style may be unacceptable to some more conservative families, but many families understand that the new generation is changing. “I think dressing up or adapting foreign styles is fine. But some people take it way too far and make other people resent them.” Being a modern-thinking woman, Cheang Sreypich said that the colour of one’s hair doesn’t determine a person’s behaviour or attitude. “We adapt to the society. Dressing up is not a big deal; it is just to make us look good. If your attitude is good, it’s good; if it’s bad, then it’s bad.” She added that some people take it as a compliment when others think they are a foreigner. “Some know I’m Khmer, but others think I’m Chinese. Personally, I don’t think it matters.”
Bun Srey Moch, a fourth-year student at the Royal University of Law and Economics and a team leader at Friendship Club, which was designed to facilitate communication between Cambodians and foreigners, said “Foreigners are not critical of physical touch between men and women or women and women. After hanging out with foreigners, I started to hug my friends and tell them I love them. Most people think I act similar to foreigners.” But Bun Srey Moch said she doesn’t care what others think of her because she has analysed her actions closely and knows that she is doing no harm.
“Before, I didn’t dare to show my feelings to my family or friends. Now I start encouraging them and showing them that I care.” Having interacted with foreigners for more than five years, Bun Srey Moch said she started to expand her knowledge of the world around her.
“It was new. ... I saw the world differently, especially regarding beliefs and religion. I see more opportunities and hope because I can look further and wider.”
However, while many young Cambodians see no danger in being exposed to foreign ideas and culture, the older generation is seemingly taking a different approach towards this gradual change. Sin Sitha, a 63-year-old housewife, said she doesn’t like the behaviour of youths today.
“I see many boys with long hair and a bunch of 15-year-olds guys and girls hanging out together. In the past, we behaved morally. Some parents go too easy on their children and let them have whatever they want.”
Leung Set, a middle-aged man who also subscribes to a more traditional set of beliefs, said that “youth today are developing and adapting to society. I don’t think it’s good that high school students have started dying their hair or painting their nails. I think it’s up to parents to be stricter and not allow their children to wear revealing clothes”.
There are still some differences in ideas and thoughts between the old and new generations. However, the fact remains that Cambodian youths are transforming to adjust to the fast-growing and globalising world. It’s up to them to take the good and leave the bad.