Student Spotlight: Cambodia

Global UGRAD students are incredibly adaptable and curious. For the past two months, they have enthusiastically pursued the opportunities brought about by new environments, peers, languages, and experiences. Every so often, however, they find solace in a “home away from home.” Music, food, and people from students’ home countries offer a special type of comfort in a new setting.

On some very lucky occasions, that “home away from home” can look and feel authentic and magical.

In this month’s Student Spotlight, World Learning is excited to feature reflections and photos from several members of the fall 2023 Cambodian cohort who recently attended the Cambodian Heritage Festival in Minnesota.

Pictured from left to right: Sothearith Sok (Wayne State University), Sovichea Saron (Georgia College & State University), Muylin Saing (Grand Valley State University), Piseth Morn (University of Central Missouri), and Sopanha Sin (University of South Dakota) outside the Watt Munisotaram

As Muylin Saing from Grand Valley State University explained, “Five of the Cambodian Global UGRAD students were invited to ‘Cambodian Heritage Day’ in Saint Paul, Minnesota in late September. We were touched by the hospitality of the Cambodian community there. The hosts were very kind and friendly, and they were overjoyed to see Cambodian students being able to study in the United States.

Sovichea Saron and Muylin Saing at the Minnesota History Center

“‘Cambodian Heritage Day’ was conducted in the Minnesota History Center. There were booths showcasing traditional clothes, food, dance, arts, and so much more. We were able to cover 6 topics during the event:

  1. Cambodian Food, Dessert, & Nutrition
  2. Youth Environmentalism
  3. Khmer Heritage
  4. Kroma (traditional garment with various uses)
  5. “Bokator” (Khmer Martial Art)
  6. Modern Angkor Empire

We also visited Watt Munisotaram, the largest Cambodian-owned Buddhist Temple in the United States. It felt just like home and the pagoda was absolutely stunning. I hope more people can go visit this beautiful place.”

Sothearith Sok, Sopanha Sin, and Piseth Morn attending Cambodian Heritage Day events at the Minnesota History Center

Piseth Morn from the University of Central Missouri saw this adventure as a point of national pride. “It was a great honor to be a part of the ‘Cambodia Heritage Day’ event in Minnesota. We had the opportunity to represent our country’s beautiful and unique culture to a diverse range of people from numerous backgrounds and communities. It was a proud moment to be Cambodian and to bring my country’s national prestige to the international level.”

Sovichea Saron of Georgia College and State University shared this excitement. “Minnesota was an amazing trip for myself as well as my peers. In many ways, it was like taking a brief trip home, even though we were a thousand kilometers away from it. We were received by families of Cambodia who moved here in the 1980s. Many aunts and uncles treated us as warmly as their own children. We had a BBQ in their backyard, discussed our journeys, and listened to the stories of our community here.

Sopanha Sin, Sovichea Saron, Piseth Morn, Muylin Saing, and Sothearith Sok outside the Minnesota State Capitol

“It is a bit melancholic for me to reflect on this because it’s one of those experiences that you know won’t just happen again any time soon. But truly, no amount of description could justify how heartfelt the journey was. My peers and I are grateful to our community, and to World Learning along with the U.S. Department of State for making any of this possible.”