How I Navigate Study Abroad as An International Cambodian Student

Why I Go Abroad?

Despite the cancellation of my previous program and the fact that I am in the middle of a pandemic, I did not give up on study abroad. I got asked “why Ireland? Why study abroad when you are already abroad? Why leave a community you have become familiar with and go put yourself through the same struggle you tried so hard to overcome? Why not just forget about the idea of abroad and stay in America?” by family, friends, and relatives. As people kept questioning my decision, a part of me was also scared and nervous. I knew that these questions came out of concerns and it was all for me, but I trust and believe in myself, just like what I did when I got the opportunity to pursue my education in America. I remember delivering the news of my acceptance to an American high school to my mom. I saw the concerns and the hesitancy in her eyes as she continued to cook our dinner. She asked, “America? How will you survive there while not knowing anyone? What would you eat? Will you be okay being away from home, from us?…” I was also hesitant to leave home, my parents, and friends to go to an  unfamiliar place. When my mom asked “ what’s my decision?,” I said yes without any idea what I was really saying yes to. All I knew was that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was not going to let it slip through my fingers. Back then and now I continue to stick to my own belief and push forward, for I knew that going to America or Ireland is worth the struggles. I always want to see and learn something new. I have learned a lot about America, now I want to experience and learn about Europe. Meeting different people and living in a new place with different lifestyles and culture is stressful, but thrilling. I want to make friends with people from Europe and learn about their culture. I want to see Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher, and more. I want to get expose to all the different perspectives out there. I want to keep growing through these experiences. The achievements and personal growth through those struggles are what push me to go beyond my comfort zone.

My Cultural Struggles

My first week in Galway was a struggle. I had no clues as to where things are or who to ask. I did not have another Cambodian with me as I am again the only Cambodian here. I identified as Cambodian, as Asian. As the only international Cambodian student here, I do find comfort in the fact that NUIG is very international. However, my comfort does not go far because a large number of  NUIG international students are those from Europe. Just like how I felt out of place with my Asian identity back in America, I felt out of place as an international student here. I have close to nothing in common with this group of international students. I am thrilled to be here, but also lost, anxious, and scared. While everyone has their own “group”, I felt like I was all alone. I am an international student. I am Asian. I am also Cambodian. I am also a daughter of a farmer who came here because of financial aids. My identity as Cambodian draw a line between me and every other Asians/international students. I did not feel like I belong. I was the only Cambodian. I was different; different native tongue, different culture, different childhood, and more. The homesickness, the feeling of not belonging, the loneliness, and the fear of not making friends, I knew them well and I also knew that it is temporary. I know what it takes to survive and thrived because I have done it before.

Taking Advantage of My Past Experiences

I did not panic because I knew I am not starting from scratch. My experiences in America and how I got myself through the struggles there become my most valuable assets as I look forward adjusting to my new school, new everything.  I am well equipped with my coping mechanisms. Instead of feeling distraught for being the only Cambodian, I have learned to embrace it. My difference is not a line separating me, but it is a value I have to add to the group. My experience back in America taught me that people love to learn about other countries and cultures. So I went out my way to talk to people and make friends. Some of the people I met in Galway were curious about my Cambodian identity, and my time in America as an international student. I realized I was the one separating myself from the rest. During my first few weeks in Ireland, I enjoyed sharing with my friends, and flat mates about my identity. We all share music from each of our country. I talked about my hometown, my 6+ years of being an American school. I don’t feel as lonely because I knew that I am not the only one going through this, I am not the only one that’s different, and definitely not the only one that want to make friends and to feel like we belong. My past experience also taught me to put myself out there, go out there and immerse in the community. I did and will do just that. I talked to people that are different from me, and tasted the Irish food. I went to Asian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, Japanese restaurants, and other Asian places. I make friends with a student I met the first day and my flat mates. We enjoyed conversing with each other and went sightseeing on weekends. I have found my friends, my community, and slowly but surely am making the most out of my time here!

Kimyan Moeun is a Business Major at Franklin & Marshall College. She is currently studying with IFSA at the National University of Ireland, Galway for the Fall of 2021. She is a recipient of the IFSA First Generation College Student Scholarship