Youth Today’s Srey Kumneth interviews Prou Sythan, the Cambodian lawyer who is included in this year’s “40 Under 40” of Asian Legal Business. Mr Sythan, who has more than a decade of experience in the private sector, government and academia, shares his struggles in attaining education and fulfilling goals.
YT: Where did you grow up? How was life back then?
Mr Sythan: I was born in an environment where shooting and fighting seemed part of the daily lives of the people. I lived in Takeo, a province that borders Vietnam and Cambodia, so it’s easy to comprehend why I grew up with so much fighting. There were even times when I had to run and hide from bullets and bombs.
In 1999, I finished my high school and decided to continue my education in Phnom Penh. I stayed at my uncle’s house. It was when I saw how different the life in Phnom Penh was from the life I had in the province. I was one of the outstanding students in my school in the province, but in Phnom Penh, I realised that there were better and smarter people. I didn’t even pass at a government school.
I studied Law at a private university. My uncle was the one who partially financed my tertiary education. After that, I tried to apply to a public school for a diploma in Public Administration. I was enrolled to the Royal School of Administration in 2003.
YT: How important is education to you?
Mr Sythan: My parents always pushed me to study really hard. They were willing to do everything just to send me to school, even if they had to sell their properties. I remember that even if we were not rich, my parents assured me that if I studied hard, they would do everything to get money for me. I knew by then that I had to do good in my education.
Personally, too, I really like to learn ever since I was young. I thought that only education can bring me a bright future. My ancestors were also well-educated, so I wanted to follow their footsteps.
YT: We’ve known that you studied in Japan. How was it?
Mr Sythan: I applied for a scholarship through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Japan for my master’s degree. It took me four tries to pass the scholarship. Even if I failed in my first attempts, I never lost the drive. I really wanted to go there and study so I tried again and again.
I realised that the reason I failed was because I didn’t exert effort and time to prepare my documents and learn about the scholarship programme I was applying for. So, on my fourth try, I prepared everything I needed to prepare, including myself.
I passed the scholarship in 2008. I studied Master of International and Business Law at the Yokohama National University until 2011.
When I first stepped into Japan, I saw how good and modern the environment was. I also saw how they blended culture and technology. All these things made me want to study harder.
It was tough to study in a foreign country, but I survived.
YT: You are now actively taking part in JICA activities as the organisation’s alumnus. How do you encourage other Cambodians to value education?
Mr Sythan: I am active in academic and charitable activities. I frequently speak in international conferences, lectures in Cambodia’s leading universities and I had written articles in an international publication.
Through JICA, I was able to study in Japan. So I want to use that opportunity to encourage other Cambodians to apply for scholarships and achieve their goals.
In my talks, I always tell young students that they should never quit when their first attempt fails. They need to equip themselves with hard and soft skills and use these to pass the next exam.
I never forget to tell the youth to work hard for the fulfillment of their dreams. It was not easy in my part, and it will not be easy for them, too. So, it’s really important to have a strong and determined mind.
Also, the youth of Cambodia should always align their dreams to what’s beneficial for the country and their fellow Cambodians. They should never forget their homeland when they go to other countries and succeed.
To be patriotic, we don’t need to work for the government. We just need to work in noble ways.