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.

Pech Sopha
2nd year student at Institute of Technology Cambodia, Rural Engineering

Describe your life from when you were young until now

When I was young I studied at Chey Primary School for 6 years (Grades 1-6). I also studied English and Media classes at Chey as a part of the PLF extra-curricular program. When I graduated from Grade 6 I continued onto Secondary and High School at Samdech Ouv High School. After I graduated from Grade 12 at Samdech Ouv I came to study at University in Phnom Penh. About my life from when I was young until now, I have faced challenges in my life but I have also been lucky to have success as well. 

The first challenge was that my family didn’t really have enough money for me and my siblings to study. Sometimes we lacked a lot, we had to choose either school or money. If we went to make money we couldn’t also go to class. So my mom, she would always try to find work so that we could go to school. Then when we came back from school we would try to help her with her work in return. 

When I was young it was difficult, but only in a small way. I was lucky because I am from a family that had a value for education, my parents always wanted me to study. They saw that most of the people in the countryside didn’t have the opportunity to study, that without education they lived a very difficult life. So they wanted us to get a high level of education so that later in life we would be able to find a good job. 

When I was in Grade 9, Diana (media teacher volunteer) always asked me what I wanted to study when I graduated. I always told her that I wanted to study engineering. Then she would ask what kind of engineer, and at that time I didn’t really know clearly. I didn’t know that I wanted to become a rural engineer focusing on plumbing at that time, I was only thinking about what could I do to study this topic at University. 

“The most important thing for me is to spend time with the younger generation and encourage them to continue their studies onto university just like me.”

After I graduated from Grade 12, I told Sokha and Ponheary that I wanted to study engineering. Then I had to find a school for my program and find out more information about the program. I asked a few other friends who had also studied at Techno about their experience there, the ones who went before me. Then I told Sokha what I had learned, that I wanted to study at Techno as well and that I needed to take an enrollment exam to be accepted.  

After that I went to ask my parents what they thought, and my mom didn’t allow me to come and study in Phnom Penh. In my family home there was only me left, my older brother had already dropped out in Grade 9 and wasn’t able to find consistent work in construction. He wanted me to stay in Siem Reap to study part time and work part time to help him. But for me, I really wanted to study in Phnom Penh. My mom followed my idea, but my Dad was a bit unsure. He thought that if I go to study engineering it is good, but in Siem Reap there aren’t any good schools for engineering. So when I passed the entrance exam for Techno I told my Dad that I was going to move to Phnom Penh to study, but he didn’t say anything. 

It wasn’t until the morning that I was about to leave that he asked me, “Are you really going? Do you really want to do this?” and I told him “Yes, this is what I really want.” 

When I first came to Phnom Penh I reached out to Sen to see if I could live with him, or if he had any friends he could recommend me to live with. I started my studies immediately. Actually when I took the entrance exam it wasn’t difficult, but I didn’t really know anything about studying at Techno. I knew a few techniques from Sen and Visak about how to take care of my money, which extra classes to take, etc. Each extra class was 3000r, so I would take the classes at the beginning and the end of the week and use the time in between to practice on my own. In Math class I always felt sleepy, but in Chemistry class I didn’t need to show up as often because I already knew some Chemistry from high school. 

So when it was almost the day to take the entrance exam, Sokha told all of us that we were accepted into the PLF scholarship program. This was like my energy. I knew that it would be okay even if my family couldn’t support me because PLF would support me to come and study in Phnom Penh. The day before the exam I didn’t even look at my books. I had already studied so much. I knew that I had the scholarship from PLF so I didn’t feel worried anymore. After I finished the exam, I couldn’t sleep well for two nights until I got the results, too nervous to sleep. Would I pass? I would look at the Facebook page for the school constantly searching for my name. I saw one of my friends from Siem Reap at first and then I saw my own name above his. Actually when my father found out the news he cried. It was my mom who told him, and she told me that he was so happy that he cried. He couldn’t talk to me on the phone he was too overcome, just handed the phone back to my mom. 

After I passed the exam, I was so proud of myself. My parents were happy because they knew that PLF could support me, so they encouraged me to go. They reminded me to reach out to the people around me, to make new friends and be respectful. There are 9 departments at Techno, and now I know all of them. When I walk around campus I know people, and even if we have problems we stick together. Most of my friends are the other students who come from the provinces outside of Phnom Penh so we all know about the struggle to save money. So we help each other, if one friend is stuck we all chip in and they will help us in the future. I think this is really important, when we live far away from our families the most important thing is the people around us. We need to have a good relationship with them. 

From when I was young until now, my life is very different. When I join the PLF team to cook noodles at Koh Ker school, I see myself in those children. I always think of myself, eating noodles and fried chicken at the table just like them. Now, I see myself as someone who is a role model to them. I feel so happy to do this, I never feel tired of it. The most important thing for me is to spend time with the younger generation and encourage them to continue their studies onto university just like me.

Was education always important to you?

Yes, so much. My mom always told me that if we are poor, we don’t have anything except an education that can help us. I remember that when I was in High School I spoke English really well because I had had the opportunity to study with many foreigners and practice speaking with them. The people in my village and my neighbors, they always asked me to teach their children how to speak English too. At that time my family didn’t really have any money so I decided to teach them, and they would pay me with rice or small money or whatever they could. It was like an exchange. Now when I go home, the students I used to teach always ask me. “When will you come back to teach us?” They always joke that they wished they could stop me from going back to Phnom Penh, they didn’t want to study with other teachers. 

What do you want to be in the future?

I want to be a plumbing engineer. Right now I’m in the process of reaching out to people working in the government because you have to take an exam to become a government employee. So I want to know more about their experience, what sorts of things I should focus on studying. 

Why do you want to be a plumbing engineer?
So in that Filipino movie the main character was a construction engineer, and when I saw that I felt really inspired. I wanted to study the same. But now there are so many people studying that subject that the job field is very crowded. So on second thought I remembered that there are many different departments in engineering and I should choose something else. So I thought, well you can’t construct a building without plumbing, you must involve a plumber as well. Plumbing is very closely related to construction. So if I study plumbing, I will learn about construction in addition to focusing on plumbing and I can know both. 

What about your dad, you mentioned that he’s a plumber right?

Yeah, and he is one of my role models too (he laughs). My dad knows everything, how to do electric wiring, construction, and plumbing. But he learned mostly hands-on skills, he didn’t have the opportunity to study to become an engineer like me. He learned his skills on the job step by step at the company he worked for, so now he has been able to get a good position within the company. 

Can you tell me more about when you come back to visit PLF programs for mentorship? How does that make you feel?
It’s kind of difficult to describe. The first feeling is that I feel like a role model to them, and I want the students from the countryside to become just like me. I want them to be able to study the same or better than me. I don’t want to see low levels of education or people dropping out to work a low skill job. If we do like that, we will have a difficult future. We won’t know ourselves clearly, we will have low skills and it is difficult to improve yourself. I want to encourage all of the younger students to do whatever they can to become clever and reach even higher than me. My advice to them is that they must have a goal mindset about what they want to do and think about what they can do to make sure they have role models. If we don’t have role models, it’s really difficult to know clearly what we want to be in the future. I always tell them this. Even if we don’t know a lot, we can listen to others. 

If you could say anything to the world what would it be?
If I could say something the world, I would say that anyone can do anything, but the important thing is whether we know in our hearts that we want to do that thing, and how badly we want to do it. 

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