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4 December 2019

From Cambodia to Qatar: A student’s journey to realizing her university dream

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Studying at Qatar Foundation has deeply changed Khemara Chhorn’s life. Now she plans to use what she has learned to inspire others in her village to see what education makes possible.

Khemara Chhorn and her parents lived in a remote rural village in Cambodia. Her parents spent their days as simple farmers and could have never imagined that their daughter would ultimately study in a university and embark on a path much different from other young people in her village.

In that village, university education is considered a luxury, out of reach for the majority of its inhabitants for a variety of reasons, including financial issues, lack of family interest in the importance of education, as well as the long distance to the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, where most Cambodian universities are located.

“I still remember how my mother used to press me since I was 14 about working in a factory next to my village,” recalls Khemara, now a 21-year old student. “She wanted me to become productive and help the family get out the cycle of hardship that haunted us in those years,”

Khemara’s family, and many others in her village, believed that getting a job, even at an early age, is the best way to improve a person’s social standing and build the foundations for starting a family. But Khemara didn’t agree with this way of thinking, as it deprived so many Cambodian children of their right to education.

For her, it was the provisions of the country’s Labor Law, which outlawed child labor, that led to her mother’s insistences being overcome. Khemara was able to complete high school and consider the prospect of going to university far from the village – the start of a journey that would lead her to Qatar.

Ambition against the odds

Despite everything, Khemara was adamant to pursue her dream of going to university, no matter how many challenges she faced, and however much her mother objected to such “adventures.” And when she was 17, she received a government scholarship and enrolled in the University of Cambodia.

However, she faced many personal and financial problems living in Phnom Penh. She had to pay for her own housing, food, and transportation, and that meant working many hours in a library teaching English, all while trying to excel in her studies to remain eligible for her scholarship.

Ultimately, Khemara’s educational ambitions would be realized not only far from her village, but also far from her homeland, in an entirely different country that she had never heard of before—Qatar. She would soon become a student majoring in International Politics at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), a partner university of Qatar Foundation (QF).

Her international educational journey began with a university scholarship offered by Reach Out to Asia (ROTA), a Qatar-based organization that provides children affected by crisis across Asia with access to education. The scholarship allowed Khemara to study at the Academic Bridge Program (ABP), part of QF’s Pre-University Education, which cultivated her skills and abilities and made it possible for her to study at GU-Q.

“The highlight of my time in university was the visit by a delegation from ROTA as part of a project to build a school in one of Cambodia’s provinces,” she says. “I participated in a volunteer program that ROTA oversaw.”

The journey to Qatar

In 2016, ROTA invited Khemara to visit Qatar for the Youth Empowerment Conference, where she met Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of ROTA. Seeing her educational aspirations, Khemara was awarded a ROTA scholarship that enabled her to join ABP and hone her academic and language skills, after which she would continue her studies in GU-Q.

The foundational education we received at ABP builds on the knowledge and skills of every student. It has really changed my life. It was like a bridge toward my dream, as it helped me advance in my studies with essential language and computer skills.

“The foundational education we received at ABP builds on the knowledge and skills of every student. It has really changed my life. It was like a bridge toward my dream, as it helped me advance in my studies with essential language and computer skills”, the student says.

ABP was established by QF in 2001 to be a premier pre-university program for high school graduates from Qatar and other countries throughout the world. The foundation program aims to equip secondary school graduates with the skills to succeed in degree programs at leading English-language universities.

Khemara recalls how she worked diligently to succeed in, and graduate from the program. “I was able to do this through the guidance of my wonderful teachers and their belief in me,” she says.

“I think of them as more than just teachers. ABP has become a second home to me, and I have built close relations there that have not been broken even after I graduated.”

She also pointed out that the program taught at ABP was the main reason she was able to continue her studies in GU-Q.

New experiences, new perspectives

“For me, coming to this prestigious university was just another challenge that I had to face,” Khemara says.

Because of this educational environment, I have become more proactive and involved myself in many events, including those organized by my university, and the programs and initiatives of Qatar Foundation and its affiliates.

“The entire academic program here, with its curricula and corresponding activities, was like a whole new world, and I had never experienced anything quite like it. At the same time, I gladly confronted this challenge with burning enthusiasm, as this experience is most precious gift I have ever received.”

“Over the last three years in Qatar, I have learned a lot and become a completely different person from the girl I was in the first semester of ABP. Because of this educational environment, I have become more proactive and involved myself in many events, including those organized by my university, and the programs and initiatives of Qatar Foundation and its affiliates.”

Khemara believes that the unique, dynamic, and multi-dimensional ecosystem that Education City provides not only keeps its students busy, but also enables them to acquire leadership skills by opening up the chance for them to contribute to other programs and participate in a range of learning opportunities that are available throughout the year.

Khemara is currently in Washington, D.C. studying at Georgetown University’s main campus for a semester. After completing her studies, she plans to work toward bridging the gap between her community in Cambodia and the educational goals of those who live there.

“As the first person in my village to have the opportunity to study abroad, I strongly believe that investing in education is the most important thing we can do for our youth and children,” she says.

“I am passionate about higher education for everyone, not just for me. I want to encourage other children in my village to pay more attention to education and seize all of the opportunities that come their way.

“My passion for higher education is not actually epitomized simply by me pursuing my studies in a prestigious university, but in reaching out to help other children in my community have the same opportunity.”

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