By Liao Bowen
“Studying abroad not only provides the opportunity to learn a foreign language and related knowledge, but also promotes cultural fusion, people-to-people exchange and mutual understanding. More importantly, studying abroad allows young people to understand the culture and national conditions first-hand,” noted Zhao Wenqi, a Chinese student who studied in Cambodia.
For Zhao Wenqi, learning the Cambodian language is key to helping her better understand the country. Overseas students have gradually become an important force advancing people-to-people bonds between China and Cambodia.
Memories of a Lifetime
“It was already midnight when I arrived at the Phnom Penh International Airport, but headlights of cars continued illuminating the streets,” recalled Zhao Wenqi, a Cambodian language major, of her arrival in the country. “I felt gusts of air caress my face.”
Although she learned the Cambodian language in China, she was still excited about the uncertainty and freshness of studying in Cambodia upon landing in the exotic country.
The “Tuk Tuk,” an important means of transportation in Cambodia, is a mechanized three-wheeled motorcycle taxi fitted with a carriage and two rows of wooden seats. Their driver wore a helmet, fixed a push-button mobile phone clipped between his helmet and ear and drove with ease and skills.
After each class, Zhao Wenqi gradually absorbed the slow pace of life in Cambodia and gained a new understanding of the people and culture of Cambodia. The climate is warm all year round, and at night when the sweltering heat brought by the suffocating sunlight fades, locals walk through the neighborhood and enjoy barbecue and lively street food stalls. They may spend 2,000 Riels (US$0.5) buying a plate of fresh-cut mango mixed with pineapple before sitting on a stone mound to relax and chat.
“A sense of zen, contentment and hospitality are my impressions of Cambodians,” Zhao Wenqi illustrated. “Cambodians are extremely respectful to monks, and every home has a Buddha to which they pray and worship. Buddhism gives the Cambodians peace of mind and happiness.”
“Whether in the capital Phnom Penh, the tourist area of Angkor Wat, or the coastal city of Sihanoukville, you will find tanned, sincere smiling faces,” she continued. “Fruit vendors sell coconuts on the street and Tuk Tuk drivers vie for business. Auto mechanics carefully repairing tires will smile and say hello when they see strangers.
“When they realized I could speak Cambodian, many were surprised and repeatedly praised my oral Cambodian. Some offered me a free bottle of Coke, a free ride or a discount on bicycle repairs. Every day we were surrounded by goodwill, and gradually integrated into the country and felt the same happiness locals do.”
When she first arrived in Phnom Penh, Zhao Wenqi felt at a loss with the new circumstance facing her, but gradually she became integrated into Cambodian life. She felt herself going with the flow and intoxicated by the unique charm of Cambodia. The night before she left, she bought all the food and beverages she could find near her home and sat on a stone mound to reflect on the short stay, coconut in hand. Of the experience, Zhao Wenqi declared: “These were the best days of my four years in college and will remain unforgettable memories for a lifetime.”
Learning and Liking
“The more I learn, the more I like Chinese language and the more attractive China becomes,” revealed Cambodian Kep Paly. After studying the Chinese language for several years, Kep answered questions confidently in Chinese. Xiamen University even offered him the opportunity to study there for a year as an exchange student.
Kep Paly studies at Confucius Institute at Royal Academy of Cambodia (CIRAC), one of the best institutions of higher education in the country. As early as December 22, 2009, Xi Jinping, then Chinese Vice President, and Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia Sok An jointly unveiled the CIRAC, which remains the only Confucius Institute in Cambodia. At the time, Chinese President Xi Jinping called the establishment of CIRAC an important achievement in educational cooperation between China and Cambodia and a milestone in the history of cultural exchange between the two countries.
Every year, based on recommendations of CIRAC, dozens of Cambodian students are awarded a scholarship offered by Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban) to come to China to study further. Before Kep, a number of outstanding Cambodian students had enjoyed similar experiences. Since returning to Cambodia, they have remained active in all walks of life, serving as a bridge between China and Cambodia.
Chea Munyrith, Cambodian director of the CIRAC, noted that before CIRAC opened, Japan and South Korea were the most popular destinations for Cambodian students to study abroad. “But with more and more Chinese people coming to Cambodia to do business or travel, an increasing number of Cambodians are recognizing the importance of learning Chinese.”
“The CIRAC collaborated with the various departments of the Cambodian government to establish a Chinese language training center, which not only provides access to Chinese language and culture for Cambodian officials, but also promotes policy coordination and unimpeded trade between the two countries,” added Chea Munyrith. “Alongside officials, more and more ordinary Cambodians are learning Chinese language because they believe that they can better introduce Cambodia to Chinese people by speaking Chinese, which will attract more Chinese investors and tourists to Cambodia.”
“Going to China has been a dream since my childhood,” revealed a Cambodian student who goes by the Chinese name Lin Heping. “If I get the chance to go to China to study, I will do everything I can to learn the Chinese language. I will also introduce the long history and culture of Cambodia to my Chinese peers.”
Lay Ngeabpheng, a classmate of Lin Heping, became well acquainted with the teachers of CIRAC while learning Chinese, which helped him gain a better understanding of Chinese culture. “I often invited my teachers to visit some places near Phnom Penh to learn more about Cambodian culture,” he added.
In August 2017, an admission notice issuing ceremony for the Chinese Government Scholarship for the 2017-2018 academic year was held in Phnom Penh. A total of 181 Cambodian students were admitted as the first batch of beneficiaries of the Chinese government’s offer of 500 scholarships for Cambodians.
Hang Chuo Naron, minister of Education Youth and Sport of Cambodia, illustrated that the Chinese government offers scholarships for Cambodian students in various fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which will greatly aid the Kingdom of Cambodia in implementing Cambodia Industrial Development Policy 2015-2025 and propelling Cambodia to become a middle and high-income country and achieve prosperity by 2030, enjoying an equal status with other countries in the region and the world at large.
After these young students finish their studies and return home, they remain active in various industries, serving as envoys for friendly exchange between the two countries and sharing their ideas and personal experiences with other people.