Hour Sreileak, 21, is living embodiment of the proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” She is currently an economics major at Scripps College, in the US state of California, thanks to the support of the SHE CAN Foundation, whose mission is to support the education of girls and young women from post-conflict societies.
To qualify for the foundation’s support, Ms. Sreileak had to clear many hurdles, including written exams and face-to-face interviews. After making the shortlist of six candidates in late 2014, she was required to take the TOEFL iBT, an English proficiency test, and the ACT, a standardized US college admissions test designed to measure what a student has learned in high school.
To satisfy all of the US college’s requirements, Ms. Sreileak ended up having to take the TOEFL three times, a process that took almost two years. She finally left for California in August last year.
Each of the scholarship recipients is expected to demonstrate some unique quality. Ms. Sreileak believes she was chosen because of her self-confidence, which she said made her less nervous during the interview, and – in the end – because her English was at an acceptable level.
She added that, “leadership skills are also an important criteria to consider. This doesn’t necessarily mean the experience you have in leading other people; it could be the ability to guide yourself to achieving a certain goal.”
Recalling her first time in Phnom Penh, Ms. Sreileak admitted that, as with many students coming from the provinces to study, her English was very limited and colored with an accent.
Ms. Sreileak, who hails from Kampong Cham province, told of an experience she now sees as a turning point. “I remember one time, when I was taking a preparation class at IFL [the Institute of Foreign Languages], one teacher mocked my English pronunciation, and the whole class laughed at me. I was furious, but the experience helped to shape me into who I am today.”
She learned to harness the laughter and turn it into motivation to study harder, to the point where she fulfilled her dream of winning a scholarship to study in the US. There, Ms. Sreileak also attends leadership-training courses provided by the SHE CAN Foundation with scholarship recipients from other post-conflict societies such as Rwanda. All of these students share a passion for increasing the role of women in their societies.
Many Americans have heard their stories, and these scholars have been held up as examples of the results of women’s empowerment and promoting women’s right to receive a proper education, and as proof that women can play just as important a role in society as men.
Ms. Sreileak is thankful for the opportunities she has received. At university in the US, she is required to read more books and take on a bigger workload, and the work is more difficult than she experienced in Cambodia. To deal with the pressure requires good time management, including making a “to-do list” every day.
Additionally, she told Youth Today, “I have more freedom here without family constraints. Back in Cambodia, my family is so strict that I couldn’t socialize much and was unable to participate in certain other extracurricular activities. This was another motivation to strive hard for a scholarship. I wanted my independence. I’ve tried to turn challenges into strengths.”
The young scholar reminded other scholarship aspirants that English-language skills are essential to winning a scholarship such as hers, because most of the application/qualification process was conducted in the language.
“Those who are interested in this scholarship should improve their English proficiency and try to define their own passion more clearly. They must also know what it is they want to learn in the United States and how they will contribute to their home country when they return.”
Upon completing her bachelor’s degree, Ms. Sreileak plans to return to Cambodia and apply for a position at the Ministry of Economics or an NGO that works in the field of women’s empowerment.