Growing up in the rural outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia, So Kuon (Class of 2021), the seventh child in a family of eight children, saw sheer hard work as the only way out of poverty.
“When I was young, my family was so poor,” she recalled. The family did not even have tables or chairs for school officials visiting her house to interview her siblings for scholarships. Despite these challenges, So Kuon was determined to secure scholarships to both elementary and high school. Even after securing financial aid to the best schools in Siem Reap, many challenges awaited So Kuon, one of which was the difficulty of learning English from scratch at age nine when no one spoke English at home. She and her siblings also had to walk great distances from home to school each day.
Getting accepted to study at Yale-NUS College and receiving financial aid to do so through the Alan Chan Study Award was yet another milestone in So Kuon’s journey towards overcoming hardship through sheer grit, fortitude and determination.
So Kuon’s desire to better herself and others come across in her hopes and dreams. “I come from a poor region of Cambodia and I want to give back to my community after studying at Yale-NUS and contribute by developing it.”
This desire has spurred So Kuon on in her freshman year at Yale-NUS, where she intends to major in Mathematical, Computational and Statistical Sciences (MCS). Yale-NUS’ interdisciplinary curriculum also appealed to So Kuon because of her interest in exploring Environmental Science and Economics, two seemingly disparate fields of study that she views as relevant and complementary to community development. In these first two years of college, she will take classes from the Common Curriculum, which span the fields of Humanities, Social Sciences and Science.
During Week 7, So Kuon had the opportunity to go on a Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) trip to India organised by the Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE), where she was able to witness the important role that local non-government organisations and schools played in both environmental conservation and community development, as well as the power of education first-hand.
The experience was an indelible one that resonated with her life goals, and galvanised her excitement for more international opportunities, especially those relevant to her academic interests. “I’m looking forward to more international opportunities with CIPE and being able to work on research!” So Kuon shared excitedly.
The ability to experience such a unique educational curriculum and gain international exposure, would not have been possible without the generous financial aid that was made available to her. She is the first Cambodian to enroll at Yale-NUS and a proud recipient of the Alan Chan Study Award. She recalled her excitement and disbelief on the night she opened her acceptance letter and study award package, “I was crying so hard! If not for this, I won’t be able to study here.”
Through it all, her family has remained a powerful source of inspiration and strength.
As young teenagers, both her parents lived through the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Amid the violence, her maternal grandfather was killed and her uncle, then a young boy, starved to death. She recounted, “They went through all of that. Four years of no education. Four years of physical labour and hunger. It made an impact on how they fight to live even after the Khmer Rouge.”
“I feel that strength,” she said.
Most importantly to her, So Kuon said, “My parents are happy. I don’t have to suffer the same pains that they did.”
Receiving the Alan Chan Study Award together with the opportunity to study at Yale-NUS has changed So Kuon’s life and empowered her to actualise her dreams as she looks forward to her next few years ahead at the College.
November 28, 2017 marks #GivingTuesday, a global movement to celebrate and support giving. Philanthropy has played an important part in making So Kuon’s journey to Yale-NUS a reality. Every gift makes a difference, so join our Yale-NUS community in being a part of this global movement by clicking here to find out more about #GivingTuesday @ Yale-NUS.
This story is first published on the Yale-NUS College website.