Australian Alumni Association director Kieng Rotana tells Education & Careers about his time spent studying in the land down under and reminds students about their duty to their country
Eleanor Ainge Roy
Australian Alumni Association director Kieng Rotana.
Kieng Rotana earned a master's degree in health education from Sydney's New South Wales University in 1998. He was 28 when he left for Australia, and had a bachelor's degree in pharmacology. He is now the director of the Australian Alumni Association, and vice president of university relations and student affairs at Pannasastra University of Cambodia.
Why did you go to Australia to study?
In 1998, there were few scholarships available to Cambodians, and AusAid scholarships were the biggest at the time - 25 per year. You had to work for the government to apply for the scholarships, and I was employed by the Ministry of Health at the Svay Rieng Provincial Hospital.
Tell us about your experiences studying in Australia.
At the beginning I knew nothing about Australia. In Cambodia at that time we didn't have master's degrees at all, so I had no idea what it was. The first week in Australia I had orientation, and I didn't even know how to use a bank card, how to open a bank account, how to catch a bus or a train, how to use the library, how to rent a house. I had to be taught everything.
At the beginning I stayed on campus, where I met a Cambodian family who owned a restaurant called Mekong Restaurant, and they told me to stay in Cabramatta if I wanted Asian or Cambodian food. But it was too far away, and dangerous at night, so I lived in Fairfield and just spent my weekends at Cabramatta.
Uni life was fantastic. I learned a lot from Australia, not just in university but outside - culture, lifestyle. I did experience culture shock. I used to be an English teacher before I got a scholarship, but the first few weeks and days in Australia it was hard for me to understand what people were saying. It was easier in the professional environment of university, but the outside spoken language was difficult.
I learned a lot from Australia, not just in
university but outside - culture, lifestyle.
The study was very challenging. I had no experience of using a referencing system when I wrote my assignments because we don't use one in Cambodia, but in Australia if you don't reference its called cheating, a serious problem.
How did studying in Australia help your career today?
When I graduated, I came back to Cambodia and started working at Pannasastra University, back when it had just begun. There were only a few hundred students then, so Pannasastra is my baby.
I think, firstly, I gained knowledge of working in a multicultural environment in Australia because all my classmates there were from everywhere, Bangladesh, India, Canada and Thailand, and my teachers were American.
Secondly, I gained self-confidence. I feel more comfortable working with foreigners because of my Australian degree. And, thirdly, I feel proud to use my knowledge to help Cambodia develop, and particularly Pannasastra. If you look at the leaders of Pannasastra and many of the other universities in Cambodia, we all have degrees from foreign countries.
What does the Australian Alumni Association do?
We meet each other two or three times a year and we are sponsored by AusAid, IDP and the Australian Embassy. When we meet we talk, network, share information about job opportunities and give lectures on our specialised fields.
Do you have any advice for Cambodian students leaving to study in Australia?
You have to study very hard because English is our second language. My classmates spent one or two hours reading an article, and I had to spend double or triple. But also be aware of not just studying in university but learning from outside the classroom as well. In terms of culture, history and classmates that come from different countries - you benefit a lot from other students. And then bring your knowledge back to help the Cambodian nation.