Great teachers are a priceless gift. They expose us to new ways of thinking and inspire us to learn. That is why the U.S. Embassy supports Cambodian teachers to participate in a teaching exchange program in the United States each year. The program, called Teaching Excellence and Achievement, brings outstanding secondary school teachers from around the world to the U.S. to further develop their expertise, enhance their teaching skills, and increase their knowledge about the United States. I believe that teachers are some of the most important people in a young person’s life, and even as an adult I am thankful for the lessons that my teachers taught me.
Prior to my arrival in Cambodia, I was given such a gift in Lok Kru Samphy, my Khmer language and culture teacher. Lok Kru Samphy works at the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute which is located just outside of Washington, DC. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the United States Government’s primary training institution for officers and support personnel of the U.S. foreign affairs community, preparing American diplomats and other professionals to advance U.S. foreign affairs interests overseas and in Washington. At the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center, the FSI provides more than 600 courses—including some 70 foreign languages—to more than 100,000 enrollees a year from the State Department and more than 40 other government agencies and the military service branches.
Lok Kru Samphy, who is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, provided me with great insight into Cambodian culture and helped me to understand and appreciate the many nuances of the Khmer language. Unlike English, Cambodians have separate vocabularies for speaking in formal, informal, and religious contexts. While I still haven’t mastered all three, I find the variety to be both beautiful and fascinating. When I was preparing to live and work in Cambodia, I felt it important to not only understand the language, but also the Khmer culture. From Samphy, I learned of Cambodians’ calm manners; how you respect and care for your elders, and how you value time with family; as well as the importance you place on education and having a strong individual work ethic. I am a richer person for having had the opportunity to learn from Lok Kru Samphy prior to my arrival in Cambodia.
Next week, I will visit “Cambodia Town” in Long Beach, California. Cambodia Town is home to the largest Cambodian population in the United States with 50,000 residents that can link their ethnicity to Cambodia. I look forward to meeting and talking with many of the people there who now call the United States home. Since the 1970s, Cambodian entrepreneurs have operated a wide variety of businesses in the United States. From traditional grocery stores and auto repair shops, to art galleries and jewelry stores, Long Beach supports many successful Cambodian-owned enterprises. I look forward to meeting those Cambodian-Americans whose ingenuity and hard work are affecting positively the business landscape in the United States.
After language training with Lok Kru Samphy and four months of living in Phnom Penh, I hope to engage some residents of Cambodia Town in Khmer. I’ll let you know how I do! Most of all, I look forward to hearing from the residents of this long-standing Cambodian community to hear both their impressions of the United States and Cambodia. If you have any questions you would like for me to ask the residents of Cambodia Town, please let me know, and I’ll be sure to ask them during my visit.
Do you want to know more about educational programs that the U.S. Embassy supports? Check out our other educational programs here, and watch for my next blog post about the five Cambodian Fulbright Scholarship recipients!