Growing up in low-income households, most people would give up pursuing higher education. But, that is not the case for the boy who would grow up to be the star of his family. Ouk Sokhen, 25, is the only son in a family of four. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Japanese Studies in Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in Tokyo, Japan.
Originally from Kampong Speu, Sokhen’s family moved to Phnom Penh since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime. His father works at the Cambodia Airport Management Services, while his mother attends to the family’s needs. Because of the war and economic problems, his parents were not able to earn a college degree.
However, he drew his motivation and inspiration from his family’s love for education. His biggest idol is his uncle who went to Department of French in Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL) and got a scholarship to study in France.
“When I saw that, I wanted to do the same thing. Studying hard and going abroad were my goals,” he said.
Instead of choosing French literature for a bachelor’s degree and following the path his uncle took, Sokhen decided that he wanted to challenge himself and chose Japanese literature. He thought to himself, “Trying a new one is better.”
“Actually when I studied international history in high school, I learned a lot about Japan. And, I started thinking why Japan, as an Asian country just like Cambodia, can become a top country of the world. I wanted to know more so started learning Japanese.”
Being dependent on his parents’ money for school expenses all his life, Sokhen wanted to do something. He applied for scholarship for his bachelor’s degree in Cambodia. Because of his excellent academic performance, United Financial of Japan (UFJ) Bank offered him $270 worth of financial support every year.
“I used to think that if I have no scholarship, maybe I have long quit,” he said.
For most families who are not well off, higher education is really a challenge. In fact, students who can afford going to universities are either from middle-income families or are supported by government funds and scholarships.
The Ministry of Education acknowledges the problem and addressed that “further work and increased resources will be required to ensure that more talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds can access higher education through scholarship programmes or possibly student loan schemes.”
Sokhen, for his part, showed his potential as a talented student and a productive human resource. During his third year, he was sent to Soka University in Japan for a semester exchange.
He also worked as a scholarship adviser at the Embassy of Japan on his senior year.
After graduating, Sokhen taught Japanese language as a part-time job while simultaneously studying for a master’s scholarship.
“What made me so proud was when I won third place in the 58th International Speech Contest by Foreigners in Japan last year. I represented Cambodia on the national television of Japan.”
Seeing his parents work so hard to provide for him as well as encouraging him to reach for his goals, Sokhen gets energised to work even harder to be the best in his field.
“If you dare to take the first step, you can change the world,” are the words he lives by. And he’s has proven himself right.