For many people in the countryside, going to the city – where there’s a seemingly endless flow of people and vehicles, not to mention the intimidating tall buildings – is a scary endeavour. Much more if you’re moving out of your hometown and going into the city for education.
For the 22-year-old Sievlan Len, stepping out of the comforts of Siem Reap four years ago was one of the best decisions she has ever made. She recently earned a degree in Global Affairs at the American University of Phnom Penh and will soon be flying to the US to learn and explore more. She talks with Say Tola.
YT: Having born and raised in a rural area, what drove you to come to a city as big as Phnom Penh and pursue education?
Ms Sievlan: After graduating from high school in Siem Reap, which is seven hours away from Phnom Penh, I knew that I really wanted to get good education. I had big dreams. I was ambitious. So I talked with my parents about my plan, but they were very hesitant because they thought Phnom Penh is so big and scary.
Luckily, my sister was very supportive of my dreams. She encouraged me to take scholarship exams. With her as my motivator, I felt really determined to pursue my degree here. I chose Global Affairs as my major because I’ve always been passionate about social issues and on helping others. Everything was kind of sorted out when I passed the scholarships in AUPP and Harpswell Foundation. I felt really blessed and lucky. Having finally graduated, I think I have proven that I have successfully reached my goal despite all the hardships I had to go through. And now, I will continue my journey in the US for one year. The Harpswell is helping me get a short-course sustainable development programme at the Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia. I will be flying in August 19.
YT: What will you be doing there?
Ms Sievlan: I will have to study a variety of courses and I will be mixing the fun stuffs and the academics. I want to study Spanish and enhance my research and writing skills. Also, I will take some courses in public policy and development because these are the areas I want to focus on. It’s basically an exchange programme. I truly value this opportunity because living in a different country for one year and dealing with different people, I will be immersed into a different world and new opportunities will be opened. Through the experiences and learning, I will know more about myself and will discover what it is that I really want to achieve in life – will I be pursuing public policy development or diplomacy? As of now, I am not really sure what I want to be. I am passionate about anything, but I still have this confusion about what I really want to do. When I study in the US, I will be welcoming new ideas and thoughts and my perspective in life will widen.
YT: You graduated as the class valedictorian of AUPP. How did you do it, considering that you also have other responsibilities at the dormitory?
Ms Sievlan: I learned proper time management here in the dormitory. Whenever I had a new schedule, I always wrote it down on my calendar. I always made sure I have time for my projects and assignments, for cleaning or cooking, for self-study, for teaching and for other things I need to do. Studying was always the top priority. But also, I spared time for my social life. I hang out with friends. I think it helped that I knew how to balance my academic and social life. I just made sure that I didn’t sacrifice important things. Though there were many times that I procrastinated, I just tried to go back to my original plan. Also, I think it’s important that one knows himself well. As for me, I know that my ideas and thoughts come flowing late at night, that’s when I did my works.
At AUPP, there was an added pressure on me because the system is different from high school in Siem Reap. Sometimes, I had difficulty in understanding the style of English writing. But I never did give up. I told myself that this is what I wanted, and now that I am given the opportunity to pursue it, why should I complain? I turned those challenges into motivation. I pushed myself to go as far as I can.
YT: Were you also an achiever back in primary and high school?
Ms Sievlan: When I was in primary school, I really thought that when you’re an achiever, you will excel everywhere you go. But high school proved me wrong. I transferred to Siem Reap when I was in Grade 7, and it was there that reality slapped me hard – there are many others who are way better than I am. I didn’t know much English so I felt like I was behind everyone else. But my sister encouraged me to study hard. She said ‘if people walk, you run’. So, I strived real hard. After the first term, I slowly adapted to the education system and the life in the city.
YT: What are your plans after your year-long stay in the US?
Ms Sievlan: I plant to get a Master’s Degree first and then get some work experiences abroad. After I learn everything I need to learn, I will come back to Cambodia and serve my country. I think Cambodia needs more people, who are educated and well-experienced, to help develop this nation.