Inspire by Chhour Vongdarareach: challenges in academic life

By Vanly Keomuda

©Chhour Vongdarareach/2017

Choosing a specific person to write this “Inspire! Profile” was quite a challenge for me because everyone that I have met has inspired me in different aspects of my life. While I was racking my brain for the right theme and the right person for this article, the name of my beloved lecturer came to my mind. Even though I have only known my lecturer, Dara Reach, for a year, his life story and personal experiences have been inspirational for me and have motivated me in my academic life.

As I have mentioned in my first blogpost, I am currently a first year student. The changes from a high school environment to college life has been a struggle for me, especially since I am majoring in a subject that I know little about. There were many times that I wanted to give up because I did not perform well in class; however, my lecturer’s college experience have kept me going.

This interview will briefly cover my lecturer’s journey in his academic life. I hope that his experiences will inspire you just as much as they have inspired me.

  1. In order for the reader to get a little more familiar, can you briefly introduce yourself?

Hi, my name is Chhour Vongdarareach. Currently, I am a lecturer at the Department of International Studies (DIS) at Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL). I graduated in 2016 with two bachelor degrees: a degree of law from Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) and a Bachelor of Art in International Studies from IFL. During my time as a student, my two proudest extracurricular activities were probably my internships at Phnom Penh Court of First Instance and at The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) or the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

2. You mentioned that you had pursued two degrees simultaneously, what were the challenges that you encountered at that time?

So, the reasons why I decided to study two majors at the same time was in order to enhance my knowledge in the field of social sciences, specifically in international law, as well as to increase my chances in the competitive working environment. Just as others pursuing two degrees at the same time, my challenges were time-management and prioritising.

Studying two majors required a huge amount of my time, I had to be at school since seven in the morning and only able to get back home at five in the evening. At home, I had to balance my time to complete or review the assignments from both universities. The work from both universities could sometimes be overwhelming and that required me to plan carefully and arrange a clear schedule in order to complete my work before the deadlines. There was no possibility for procrastination, nor any time for leisure.

Besides having to precisely arrange my schedule, I also need to learn to sort out my priorities. Because both majors were dear to me, I needed to prioritise my work carefully in order for me to perform well at both universities. Sometimes, the work from both schools arrived simultaneously and that meant I was often drained of energy as well.

Looking back, sometimes I feel like it was a miracle that I could get through college!

3. It sounds to me like it was quite the challenge, had you ever thought of dropping out of one university back then?

To be honest, when I was in my second year, I used to think of giving up my studies at IFL. Not only was there a lot of work for me to deal with at both schools, at that time I was also falling behind in DIS classes due to the language barrier. Because I was born in a remote area in Battambong province, my access to English language education was very limited. Consequently, the technical English words that are used in international studies had become the obstacle between me and my ideal major. This small issue of language barrier almost broke my commitment and my motivation.

Because of the support that I got from my friends and family, as well as my efforts at maintaining a positive attitude, I decided to give DIS another try. I started taking English courses, finding more reading materials that was related to my field of study in order to be more accustomed to the technical terms, and seeking help from my lecturers, as well as the outstanding students in the class. After my final commitment, I had evolved from an average student to one of the outstanding students. From that moment on, I realised that I can achieve any goal as long as I keep believing in myself and putting on my best effort.

4. Moving on to your current situation, now that you are a lecturer, what are the differences between being in school and being in the working world?

To tell you the truth, the huge difference for me are probably the work-amount I have and my behaviour.

When I was a student, I used to think that the amount of work that I got from school was excessive. However, as a lecturer, I have to try ten times harder than I did in college. As you already know, this is the first time I am teaching, hence I need to be completely prepared for everything: my lecture delivery and the questions from the students. To prepare for my lectures, I have to read a lot of books and do a lot of research relating to the lessons, more than I thought I ever could. First year students can be quite inquisitive; therefore, I need to be ready to deliver them the answers.

Another difference is my behaviour, particularly my interaction with the students. When I was a student, I admit that I was a little immature and playful, some people would say it is because I am sociable, friendly, and a people person. However, now that I am an instructor, I need to build a good image for myself. I need to have good interactions and communicate well with my students, while at the same time, I have to make myself seem respectable so that my students would not regard me as one of their equals or their peers. This part is quite the challenge for me because sometimes I cannot express my individuality to my students.

5. Do you have any other plans for your future?

I do. Being a lecturer is only my short term career goal. My long term career goal has always been being a human-rights defender, particularly focusing on children’s rights because children are the future human resources of Cambodia.

I plan to pursue a masters degree abroad in order to reach my goal as a human rights defender, but before I can continue to my masters degree, I need to gain more work experience and conduct further research for my goal. Being a lecturer allows me to do both; gain the experiences and broaden my knowledge on the human rights situation in Cambodia.

6. Because we are running out of time, do you have any advice for college students regarding their study and their future?

My first advice would be for them to keep believing in themselves and remain optimistic. Just like I have mentioned above, as long as you find the right self-motivation, you can achieve anything. Also, challenge yourself and do not compare your achievement with others because every person is special in their own way.

My second advice is to work hard in school because the knowledge and practical skills that you gain in class will surely assist you in your career. The harder you work the more it would pay off.

Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.

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