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Studying abroad in Hawaii

Studying abroad in Hawaii

Un Vicheka shares the cultural insight and intellectual enrichment of a well-rounded overseas education



  • Hawaii is a string of tropical islands at the centre of the Pacific Rim. Formed by a long series of volcanic eruptions, the Hawaiian chain of islands includes Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui and Hawaii.
  • As one of the most diverse states in the US, Hawaii is a living laboratory for racial harmony. Eighty percent of the population is formed by Pacific Islanders (Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Marshall Islands), Asians (Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino), African Americans and Hispanics.
  • Hawaii is a geological and environmental wonder where you can experience landscapes ranging from lush, tropical rainforests, to barren lava fields, to the only barrier reef found in the US.
  • Industries of Hawaii include tourism, diversified agriculture, research and development (oceanography, astrophysics, geophysics, and biomedicine).
  • Famous Hawaiian attractions include Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbour, the North Shore, Polynesian Cultural Centre, Volcanoes National Park, Haleakala National Park, Waimea Canyon and Iolani Palace.

Un Vicheka is enthusiastic in describing student life at Brigham County University in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is yet to turn 21 and has spent two years of her university education abroad.

Having little sleep and preparing for class early in the morning is something to which Vicheka has grown accustomed. She has a hectic schedule and is used to the breakneck pace of rushing to work after her classes end. Her last class wraps up around 3:30pm, after which she rushes to her part-time shift beginning at 4pm. Despite working more than five hours each afternoon, she manages her time well with daily self-study and receiving additional coaching in theoretical knowledge and practicum from her lab instructor.

“I have to have my homework done before class the next morning,” she said. “So it’s pretty intense and gets stressful sometimes, and those backbreaking days make you think that you don’t have a life.”

No luxury for students
Vicheka said that a college student’s life is not one of luxury or laziness – she tries her best to excel in her studies and fulfill her responsibilities as a hardworking student and child.

Un Vicheka was awarded a prestigious scholarship that came in the form of a loan for Cambodian students who wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree abroad. The scholarship is conditional and requires the students to work, in turn reducing fees, accommodation and living expenses.

“I discovered I was not alone in bearing the burden of academics and juggling responsibilities in everyday student life,” she said.“I have to be independent and learn to do everything by myself – cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, and most importantly, having the motivation and concentration in studying hard,” she said.

Though it has been challenging for her to get by without the company of family and friends, she feels she has developed holistically and learned from the strengths and weaknesses of others.

Having been immersed in both the Cambodian and American way of education, Un Vicheka is able to explain the similarities and differences of both education systems. She is presently in her third year of her four-year course in Information Systems.

“The differences are the responsibilities that students need to do outside class. Students need to go to lab or see tutors in order to learn more about the lessons,” she said.

“I have to spend at least 3 hours a day on self-study to ensure I understand enough material needed to pass the test. Besides, I must avoid repeating or failing class or I will be dismissed from school for failing to meet the average grade,” she said.

Cultural diversity
Un Vicheka also relishes the diversity that the multicultural fabric of the island provides. She said that students in her university come from over 100 countries.

“I’ve learned about their beliefs, values and attitudes more than just about studies, and discovered so much about their rich cultures. It’s a wonderful feeling to share my experiences about my culture and heritage to people from all over the world,” she said. “It’s amazing how people of such diversity on a small island are eager to make a difference to the world.”

Un Vicheka is also passionate about performing traditional Cambodian dances and songs to Hawaiian communities during occasions such as the university’s cultural night and school festival. “I’m proud of being one of the few Cambodians here able to represent my country and identify its beauty,” she said.

She added: “Cultural activities, events, museums and organisations enrich the experience of Hawaii and reflect Honolulu’s cosmopolitan environment.”

Despite having to adapt to student life and learning about Hawaiian culture in a short time frame, Un Vicheka said she is eager to make the most out of her enriching experience of pursuing an overseas education in the US.


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