About Student Chats:
We know how inspiring our Students are and we thought it was about time you, our friends and donors, could get to know them for yourselves. Throughout this series, you will hear directly from the students about their lives, their struggles, their dreams, and passions.

Soy Sen
4th year studying at University of Health Sciences Cambodia, General Medicine 

Can you tell us about your story from when you were young until now? 

 I come from a life of being an orphan, the child of farmers. My birthplace is in Kampong Thom province, but after that my parents migrated to Battambang province to become laborers/sharecroppers. After that we moved around a lot while my parents were looking for work that was more reliable. At that time my mother divorced with my father, and after my father died my mom left me and my siblings when we were still young. I didn’t have anywhere to stay or someone taking care of me. In Battambang, after my father died, I became a street child, an orphan. I didn’t have someone to take care of us I had only my older brother and sister. Then my older sister left us too, she went to Siem Reap province. She later called my older brother to tell us to come live in Siem Reap with her so that I could study. In Battambang I was living in farmland there wasn’t a school within walking distance. So my sister thought that she wanted me to continue my studies and for my brother to support me to study in Siem Reap. 

I came to live in Siem Reap around 2001. I started Grade 1 in 2002 at Chey Primary School. After I started school, I had support from my older siblings to help me find money to buy my school uniform and supplies so that I could study. But it still wasn’t enough to have everything we needed like school supplies and food. Sometimes I would do small work for my neighbors so that I could take money to help myself and help my sister. At that time my older sister used to make cakes and bread to sell at the market. I would always help her in my free time when I finished my studies. But the money that we could get, it wasn’t enough. We needed to buy food, rice, and other daily needs but often we had to choose only one thing. 

When times were tough like this, I wanted to give up my studies. But my older brother always inspired me to keep studying. He wouldn’t let me drop out. He wanted to see me get a high level of education so that I could help myself in the future, so that I wouldn’t have to struggle like him and my father

“When I came to Siem Reap I dreamed of graduating high school and studying at medical school”

After a while I was a child who loved to study. I didn’t give it up, I showed up to school almost every day even though I was very old for my grade. When I was around 12 years old and I still didn’t know how to read. I entered Chey school not knowing anything at all. When I was in Grade 2, I didn’t know how to read because I hadn’t studied much before and it was difficult for me. When I was in Grade 3 I was lucky to have good teachers who helped me and introduced me to the Ponheary Ly Foundation. So I became a PLF student in Grade 3. Since then PLF has supported me, provided my school supplies and uniform all the way through Grade 6. 

After that, I had a good education. PLF always helped inspire, encourage, and support me. After I graduated from Grade 6 I moved onto Secondary School and continued to do well in my studies. Even though before I was a child who didn’t really have any knowledge, when I worked hard I was able to develop myself to become a good person, step by step, until I had received a good education and reached the end of High School (Grade 12). 

About my dream since I was young, even before I was able to start school, when I came to Siem Reap I dreamed of graduating high school and studying at medical school. I have this dream because of my uncle, he lived in Battambang and he was a doctor at the local health center. I saw him for treatment whenever I was sick. I started to dream that if I can become a doctor in the future I could help myself and I could help my family. This dream was always in my heart until I graduated from Grade 12. When I finished Grade 12 I thought that if I can pass the national exam and if PLF can help me then I will continue on to university. 

When I came to Phnom Penh city to take the medical school entrance exam I was thinking about what could I do to pass this exam. My dream was to be successful. Nowadays, it’s exactly like how I imagined. I am happy about reaching my dream since I was young. So many people helped me to get here, to meet the success I have reached so far. 

Can you tell me about how you felt when you first got accepted to study in Phnom Penh? 

At first, when I found out I passed the exam I was extremely happy. My dream was starting to happen. I received a scholarship from PLF to continue studying and I was so happy at that time.

How about when you first arrived in Phnom Penh? 

About my feelings when I came to live in Phnom Penh, at first I felt lonely, because this was the first time to leave from my older siblings, to leave my family and go live on my own. I missed my family at first. But after being here a while I learned how to live by myself, support myself, and make new friends. When I started my classes I wasn’t very confident as well, I was afraid to make new friends because I didn’t know anyone there. I also didn’t really know the city well, so I was nervous in the beginning. 

Were you the first PLF student to come and study at UHS? 

Yes, the first. Now we have three medical students: myself, Sokhann, and Rachhan.

Can you talk about any role models that you have? 

The people I admire and look up to, the first is my uncle. After that, now I know more people who have high knowledge and experience and success, people like Kuch Mengly. He is my role model because he is a doctor that studied abroad and he came back to Cambodia to do volunteer work at first. I see his personality, he is the one who knows how to help children and citizens of Cambodia to have good health in cities such as Phnom Penh and Battambang. I know him from a conference I attended. So I became interested in his ideas, his idea is to inspire and encourage students to think about what we can do to have a plan for our life, to develop our own plans, for medical students and all students. I think that he is an important person for me, someone I hope to follow. I think he is a good person, he knows about community work and he has a really great conference for sharing ideas to Cambodian youth and future generations.

How do you feel when you are the one to go back and speak to younger students? 

I feel proud of myself, I’m so proud. If I can become a speaker in the future, become a school coordinator, or work at a hospital, of course I will be happy. I will be happy that I can share my knowledge and experience with others, that I can help teach them to improve themselves. 

What is your advice to the young students? 

The thing I want to say to my friends and the students below me is: we must have clear goals. We can set these goals step by step. When you get to university, you must make a plan to study hard. And this isn’t only about university, this is true for high school as well. If we have a goal we  must go out and do it. Don’t let your goal take you down the wrong road. Do you whatever you can do to be successful in your future. 

I also want to say to the students below me that you must study hard to get the skills that you will need for your future. For example, if you love medicine, you must study and research about medicine as much as you can. Ask yourself, how can studying medicine help the world? How can it help you? How can it help the community? If you love IT, you must find out as much as you can so that you are sure that you love that subject. And if you love languages, communication, you must focus on one language that can help you to reach your goal. If you want language skills, you must think about the skills you will get and how you can use them to make money. If you love vocational skills, you must study hard to get a good result and be able to find income on your own. 

And the important thing is that we must know 5 things. The first we must learn our own national language. The second is that we must learn an international language so that we can develop ourselves. The third is to learn about technology and how to use it well. The fourth, we must know diplomatic/professional language. And the fifth is that we must study and learn about technical skills. If we know all of these things it will make it easier for when we reach university. If we invest in these skills then it won’t be so difficult. So we have these 5 investments that are good for students who have goals and are thinking about going to university. 

Is the PLF scholarship important to you? 

Honestly, yes. If I didn’t have this scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to continue my studies because that’s what poverty is. It means we can’t support ourselves. It costs a lot of money to study, have a place to stay, enough to eat. It’s so important that the scholarship gives us all of these things, not everyone is lucky to have all of those things taken care of. 

What is the most important thing for you that you have learned or received from PLF?

The most important thing in my life that has come from this scholarship is that I see the work of PLF and all of the students it helps. PLF helps students to be able to study, to make their dreams come true, and always takes care of students living in poverty, students without parents, students without someone to take care of them, just like me.  I hope that in the future Cambodian youth can have the same opportunity as me to study in University so that they can escape from poverty in their future. 

In your future, when you graduate from university, what career do you want to pursue? 

In the future, I have decided that I am most interested in specializing in dermatology. So the important thing for me is that I need to make my plan and go and do it. Why? Because in my studies, even though it’s difficult, we love the things we love. We like to do what we do best, and even if it’s difficult at first it will become easier in the future. If we choose a difficult field that we don’t enjoy, it’s not so motivating. So the first thing for me is that I love this field, dermatology. I think that it’s not too difficult to learn, and I think that in the future I can get a good income in this field. I can also become more than just a dermatologist, we can study course like basic surgery techniques and also plastic surgery. Why do I love it so much? Because I think that this skill can give me medical skills and it involves surgery as well. So it means we have two skills, we can treat illness, perform small surgery, and we can also earn a good salary. 

Can you compare the way you see yourself now and the way you felt before you came to Phnom Penh? Or for example  when you imagine yourself in Grade 6, how do you think you are different compared to now? 

If I compare myself before to now, I see that I have received so much knowledge, that I have developed myself a lot. When I was young I didn’t really understand about community issues, health, etc. But now that I have stepped forward towards studying medicine in university I think that my knowledge is really important. For me, for me to help others in my community, for me to help my family, and for me to share my experience with the world in the future. And it’s not only that, I can develop myself from step by step through my education, through my studies, through discussion, through working in a group, through volunteering, through joining workshops and trainings. All of these things have given me good experience and knowledge. It has been good competition for me, to push myself to become an outstanding person in the future. 

If you could say anything to the world, what would you say? 

If I could say anything to the world, I would say that I am a child who used to be unable to study. I was a child without parents since I was young. I didn’t know much and until I received support and so the last thing I want to say to my friends, peers, other Cambodians and people around the world is that if there is anyone out there who faces the same challenges that I faced: don’t give up your studies. You must find a way to keep studying because education is the medicine to change from a life of poverty, struggle, and people looking down on you. We can make our own dreams. Education has been so important in my life, and I think it is the same for everyone. Especially in Cambodia, there are a lot of people who come from difficult situations like mine. It isn’t only about me, it’s about people who face similar challenges or are in even worse situations than mine. No matter what happens, I want to encourage them to study hard, learn more, do whatever you can to keep studying.  We must love ourselves, our family, and our community. 

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