Issue Date: October 24, 2011
Fulfilling A Dream
Raksmey Suon, 24, graduated in 2010 from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, with a degree in biology. After a year of postgraduate fellowship at Bard College, north of New York City, and a teaching internship at Brookline High School, in Boston, she joined the Jay Pritzker Academy, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. She teaches chemistry and biology to high school students.
Following are excerpts from an extended conversation between Suon and C&EN.
My mom is Chinese, my Dad is Khmer. I had a very difficult life before I went to Harpswell [the Harpswell Foundation dormitory for women in Phnom Penh, where selected young Cambodian women can live and be nurtured while they attend a university].
I dreamed of going to college. Even though I got a scholarship from the government, I couldn’t go without the help of Harpswell Foundation. I had no idea where I was going to stay. My mom couldn’t afford for me to go to city. I was so sad. When I learned that I was accepted to the Harpswell dorm, oh my gosh, I just jumped and shouted to my mom: I got it, Mom!
When I moved to the dorm, I brought some books from high school, some clothes. There was a lot of joking about me, because I brought rice. I was worried; I didn’t know exactly what we’re going to eat. I had only one backpack, not even suitcase, containing reading books, some clothes, and about 5 lb of rice.
In Cambodia, before we take the high school national exam, the Ministry of Education asks students to select three majors that they really want to study, and the government will provide scholarships. I thought of being a doctor, an emotional goal, because my dad passed away from illness. He had high blood pressure. He fell unconscious. In Cambodia, when that happens, we try to help by doing a traditional coining massage. Unintentionally the massage broke his blood vessels. Once he got to hospital, they couldn’t help.
I want to be a doctor so I can cure people. So I put medical school and biology, because biology is another way to go to medical school. Then I put law.
During my postgraduate fellowship in Bard College, I chose courses related to human rights and politics. I chose writing to improve my English, a biology course called Evolution, and a course called Global Flow. I just did three, because I felt I might not handle all the reading. In the second semester, I became sure that I’m not interested in biology anymore. I am more interested in education and chose Philosophy of Education, another writing course, and Anthropology of Violence & Suffering. I learned a lot about genocide, war crimes, the ideology of war crimes, how people got tortured with modern technology.
Although I was born 10 years after the genocide [perpetrated by the dictator Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge], it affected my life. My mom is Chinese. She had relatives in Cambodia. They were rich. In the genocide, her relatives got killed. My mom stayed with my grandma at that time. And when my grandma died, she became alone. She’s alone in Cambodia. She has no relatives. She can’t go back to China.
My mom talked a lot about how she survived the genocide: She made her skin darker, she made herself look dirty, she tried not to speak Chinese, she tried to speak Khmer clearly, and she had to be nice.
During my teaching internship in Brookline High School, in Boston, I got a chance to observe how teachers teach, and what classrooms look like. I saw that they have a big library, computer lab, gym, and theater. The high school I went to didn’t have a library, only classroom. In Cambodia, teachers are not paid well, most have a second job, and they can’t concentrate on teaching. It’s important to give teachers time to learn more things. With two jobs, you get tired more.
I value education. Education is the key factor that can change, improve, and develop a lot of other things in Cambodia. In the future, I will work to better the educational system, to educate more people.
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