Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP)
  Institute of Foreign Languages, RUPP

| Federick Ngo | Courtney Work | Denny Khuon | Chhou Nu Ou | Sophanet Nhoung |

I had been to Cambodia several times before but never really took the time to learn how to read and write Khmer. During my previous visits my speaking and listening improved dramatically, but without dedicated time in school, I was never going to be able to read Khmer well enough to do research in Khmer or sing all those karaoke songs I’ve always wanted to join my parents in! After just two months of formal training at the Royal University of Phnom Penh with ASK, I am proud to say that my Khmer is exponentially better (and I can sing along too).I heard about ASK while searching for Khmer language programs and it was one of the best discoveries of my life. I had an incredible time in Cambodia, and a uniquely different experience from my previous travels there. My Khmer has improved dramatically. I went from reading basic children’s books to being able to read the newspaper. I progressed from sloppy Khmer handwriting to beautifully written sentences. Growing up I spoke basic Khmer with my parents, but now I have a much more advanced vocabulary. What you learn in ASK is not what you learn around the house – it is formal education that prepares you for scholarly work and communication. I did have to work though. A lot. With a program like ASK – an immersion experience in a place full of excitement and distractions like Phnom Penh – you only get out what you put in. If you do all of the readings, write all of your journal entries, study all the new vocabulary, and go out of your way to speak Khmer all of the time, your proficiency will grow by leaps and bounds. I experienced this and several of my classmates did as well. Everything about the program was fantastic. Nak Kru Sisotha did a marvelous job arranging visits to various NGOs and community organizations. We got a chance to network with Khmer nationals who are working in all the fields of development, government and culture. Our field trips and homestays complemented our academic work, and memories from those parts of the program will stay with me forever. Nak Kru Chhany maintained the academic nature of the program – pushing us to do research and taking us to various scholarly and cultural events. The two Khmer instructors from RUPP were very helpful and encouraging.

Thank you, ASK, all of our teachers, and the Fulbright Group Projects Program for funding and supporting such a wonderful opportunity. For those of you considering applying, learning Khmer is definitely worth the time and effort!

Federick Ngo
Stanford University


To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is to express the profound impact that the Advanced Study of Khmer (ASK) program had on me. As an anthropologist specializing in Khmer culture and Cambodian history, language acquisition is crucial for my scholarship. During my time with the knowledgeable Khmer language instructors and program facilitators working with the ASK program, my Khmer fluency and flexibility increased greatly.

Prof. Sak-Humphry does an excellent job of offering a variety of experiences for students interested in Khmer language and culture. These range from reading and executing delicious local recipes to visiting local NGOs involved in the necessary work of developing this small nation. Further, historic, political, and cultural events were part of the program. During my time in the ASK program we visited the ECCC and witnessed first-hand the trials bringing the leaders of the Khmer Rouge to justice; we also visited with and met the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia and toured the U.S. embassy; further, we visited the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and learned about the deep history of Cambodia.

I learned far more than language fluency with Dr. Sak-Humphry and her team in Cambodia. I learned about current efforts to find justice and to ameliorate suffering, and about the historic legacy of the Khmer kings. I also came to understand home life with a Cambodian family through a weekend homestay and the relationship that I forged with my host family has lasted through my subsequent research visits. My adopted family was very helpful offering local contacts and deepening my understandings of the local religious processes that are the subject of my research. In addition to my work as an anthropologist, I am involved in a program with the Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester, Minnesota (RCTC). This program brings college students from Minnesota to Cambodia each year during the winter break. The contacts that Dr. Sak-Humphry forged for me with NGOs, with cultural centers, and with the U.S. embassy have helped me to guide students participating in the RCTC courses in cultural competency and service learning as they explore their interests and learn about Cambodia.

Overall, my participation in the ASK program with Dr. Sak-Humphry helped me gain language proficiency, but more importantly, has had a lasting impact on my work as a scholar of Khmer culture and history. I strongly recommend that students interested in Cambodia participate in this program.

Courtney Work
PhD Candidate
Department of Anthropology
Cornell University


To Whom it May Concern:

My name is Denny Khuon and I was a participant in the ASK program during the summer of 2009. As a student of the program I studied the Khmer language every morning and took trips to myriad NGOs and cultural events during the afternoon. These experiences expanded my worldview and allowed me to be a more productive citizen upon my return to America.

International Criminal Courts were no longer an abstract idea I read about in textbooks and newspapers but something I witnessed firsthand. I saw an effort towards serving justice against war criminals and the shortfalls that also came with it. I got to meet with mental health professionals in Cambodia that were caring for neglected PTSD victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide. The vision of their work and the challenges that came with it were not contained in a report, but presented to me with a human face.

In my study of the Khmer language both inside and outside of the classroom I was able to connect closely to the Khmer culture, which built my understanding towards the country on a deeper level.

The ASK program is a valuable resource that allows its students to not only establish a deep connection with the country of Cambodia, but also get a first hand account on world aid issues. The connection with these issues produces more enlightened citizens of America, and better representatives of the country when abroad.

Denny Khuon

California State University, Long Beach


My name is Chhou Nu Ou and I was an Advanced Study of Khmer Participant in the summer of 2009. My experiences as a student in the advanced Study of Khmer have not only better shaped myself as a person, but it has also increased my knowledge of the Khmer language and culture. Being in Cambodia for almost two months and only studying Khmer helped me focus on what I was doing an better understand what I have learned in my Khmer Class at California State University of Long Beach. I felt that I benefited a lot by being in the country of the language that I was studying because I was not limited to just learning inside the classroom. The daily visits to local NGOs and national monuments; weekend visits to the countryside, one-week homestay, and the final fieldwork project, and just going around the city of Phnom Pehn have forced me to use what I learned in in the classroom and put it into practice in the real world. Being forced to communicate in Khmer helped me retained what I learned. I felt that this was essential in improving my knowledge of the language because while taking Khmer classes at California State University of Long Beach, the two days out of the week were the only days where I was in a room where Khmer was the essential language to communicate in. When I stepped out of the classroom, English would be the predominate language I would hear. Even though I was learning Khmer, I did not have the chance to use it in the real world besides speaking to my parents. It was very important for me to be in an environment where Khmer was the predominate language because it gave me a reason to practiced what I learned instead of just leaning out of a book and forgetting it once I stepped out of the classroom.

What I learned and practiced in the program did not stop in Cambodia. After the program I found that it was easier for me to properly communicate with my parents because I was so used to having everyday conversations the people in Cambodia. It has also helped me with my job at the afterschool program at Whittier Elementary in Long Beach and at my clinical internship at St, Mary’s Medical in Long Beach. After the program I feel more comfortable communicating with parents and patients who do not speak English. Although in the past I have communicated with my parents in Khmer, I was still insecure and lack the confidence to communicate in Khmer to complete strangers because I was afraid that I would not have the correct sentence structure or pronunciation. The program has helped me gain the confidence to speak to strangers in Khmer without worrying if I have made a mistake or not since the only way for me to go navigate around the Cambodia in those two months was to communicate in Khmer and risk any fears I had about speaking in Khmer to people I did not know. I am now able to confidently communicate with Khmer speaking patients at the hospital and answer questions they have regarding their hospital visit and illness. At my job at the afterschool program, many parents do not speak or read English. The ASK program has help me better inform Khmer speaking parents about their children’s work and behavior so they can become more involved in their children’s education. I remember as a kid, my parents did not speak or read English and no one at the school spoke Khmer so it was really hard for my parents be involved at my school and communicate with my teachers. Now I feel that I am the person that parents like my parents needed while I was in school because I am able to update them on their children’s education in Khmer thus helping them become more involved in their children’s school. The ASK program have help gained both the skills and confidence to speak and read Khmer and have help me give back to residents in Long Beach who’s primary language is Khmer.

Chhou Nu Ou

California State University, Long Beach


My name is Sophanet Nhoung and I was one of the few students selected to receive the study abroad scholarship from the Advanced Study of Khmer (A.S.K) program. I went to Cambodia in the summer of 2009 for a period of eight weeks. Born in Cambodian and raised in America, I was only aware of the basic hardships that most American children are familiar with such as social acceptances and materialistic needs. Because I came to America at such a young age, I hardly remember my native country and its customs. As a result, I failed to notice how fortunate I am to have all these basic needs such as schooling. I took my education for granted under the impression that I would have financial support from my parents and Financial Aid. My only responsibility was attend school and make good grades. My ignorant view of the world changed after I was given an opportunity of a lifetime from A.S.K. program to study abroad in Cambodia.

One of the most enlightening experienced I had during this program was living with the host family for period of seven days. I caught a glimpse of living without electricity, a flushable toilet, running hot showers, the Internet, a cell phone, and living the busy city lifestyle. It was difficult adapting to the changes during the first few nights. I cried because I wasn’t used to sleeping in a mosquito net and not having electronic devices to connect to outside world. During the day, I went to the rice field to help harvest the crops. I helped family cook and clean, make noodle from scratch, and ride on the ox wagon. It was different from what I was used to, but I learned to enjoy the simple life of living on the farm. The family goes to work early in the morning and they have dinner together in the evening, something most people in America take for granted. The people in this village didn’t need fancy gadgets to survive, they adapt to whatever they could find. This experience puts me in different perspective of how I should be living my life.

This program not only provided an educational insight to young individuals such as myself, but I came back to America as new person. I came back to the states with a different attitude and a greater appreciation towards life. I was thankful for having shoes to wear, a bed to sleep on, a quality education, my car, food, etc. Living in Long Beach, home of 2nd largest Cambodian population outside of Southeast Asia, cannot compare to the experienced I’ve received while living Cambodia for two months. During my eight weeks stayed, I relearned my native language through everyday interactions with my professors and the people there. I went to the market and I learned to bargain using everyday common street languages. This is something I would have never practiced if I were in a classroom setting reading books and taking notes. I gained a better understanding of the Cambodian culture and discovered the amazing history of this country. It was a life changing experience for myself and I wish that every young adults could experience what I encountered while I was in Cambodia.

Below is a brief journal reflection of my experience in Cambodia…

So here I am in the city of Phnom Pehn, Cambodia where every soul is struggling to survive in any means possible. My first night in Cambodia was very challenging and difficult, accepting the fact that I am actually in Cambodia. Here I am, visiting my birth country for the very first time in 15 years. I’m not used to seeing a city with such a chaotic infrastructure. Sitting on the Tuk-Tuk, on the way to my apartment I began to feel homesick. I miss the street lights and stop signs in America, I miss seeing people stop at a red light, I miss having the right of way as a pedestrian, I miss seeing public trash cans, the clean streets, the sound of police sirens, and parking lots, I miss feeling safe...

Visiting the Genocide Museum in Cheoung Ike has helped me understand the pain my parents and grandparents must have endured during the last 30 plus years. I was wrenched with anger and sadness when I saw the pile of skulls, bones, and clothes of victims who had died under the Khmer Rouge Regime. There was a tree there called the Killing Tree. This tree was used for smashing babies and hanging prisoners. As I explored this museum, I saw clothes budding from the dirt. It made me think about the victims who must have worn these clothes and the fear that was running through their body before they were brutally murdered for no apparent reasons. It was sickening to be there, I could almost hear the cries and the terror of these prisoners. Cambodia and its people have gone through so much pain during the last 34 years. I was very surprised at how much Cambodia has recovered and developed after the war. I feel sad for my people and my country every time I think about how advanced and beautiful our country once was before the war and what it could have been if the genocide never occurred.

On this trip I also visited the Mountain of Trash in Province of Steung Mean Chey. The children go to this place to dig for recycle goods to support their family. I visited the children at school and was very surprised at how much life they have. They sang, they danced, they were not shy children, and these kids have so much talents and ambitions. Regardless of the life they live in, they all have the desire to learn and grow as intellectual individuals. They were the happiest children I've ever met.

Before I arrived to Cambodia, I thought my life was challenging and all hopes were gone because my bills were stacking over my head or just because I have issues with my boyfriend or simply because my parents took away my car. It's funny how spoiled and unappreciative most of us are. We are so used to living the materialistic and opportunistic life that we forget what it means to be happy. We forget how great our lives are and we take what we have for granted. I met a little boy in Kos Dach; he was about 10 years old. He told me he had to sell Krama (silk scarf) and silk skirt everyday to pay for his schooling. His parents were unable to financially support his education so he had to make money on his own. He attended a regular Cambodian school and also an NGO funded English school. Everyday he would walk 3 miles to go to this English school and another 2 miles to go to the Cambodian school. For the first time in my life I realized how blessed and fortunate I am to have given so much opportunities in life. Never again would I complain about how difficult my life is.

My first experience in Cambodia has totally opened my eyes to see a broader view on life. I have learned so much about my culture, my people, and my country. It has made me sad, happy, angry, and confused, but most importantly it has made me proud to be apart of this great culture.

Sophanet Nhoung

California State University, Long Beach





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