In a new series about the international community at SUSTech, we put a call out to our international students. William Vong, a Cambodian junior, responded to the call. He was one of our first international students, and the Newshub sat down with him early in the 2018 academic year to find out more about him.
About Our International Student
William is from Banteay Meachey Province in north-western Cambodia, a high populous province on the border with Thailand.
We asked William what brought him to SUSTech, and he was open about achieving his dreams, based on his goals in high school. Like many students, he spoke about the importance of getting good grades at school and in his high school graduation. He then wanted to get scholarships to get into universities in Cambodia as well as abroad, to study wherever he could.
At first, he didn’t even know that he was interviewing for SUSTech, he was applying for a scholarship for China. However, once he started to do some research for universities in China, one thing that came abundantly important for him was that SUSTech would teach students in English.
“If I chose another university, I have to study in Chinese. So, we have to study Chinese for the first year, so in total it would be five years. However, because SUSTech teaches in English, we don’t need to add that extra year, so we only need four years to complete our bachelor’s degrees.”
Achievements so far and plans for the future
We asked about his achievements so far, and it’s clear that William is more ambivalent about this. Culturally and educationally, there were differences that forced him to work a lot harder to keep up with his classmates.
“The gap between Cambodia and China is quite big. We know that China is more developed than Cambodia. The stuff that we studied in high school is not as deep compared to the Chinese students. It was a little bit tougher at first.”
He also found it interesting that the professors tend to deliver the content very quickly, given that the Chinese students have often covered the material in high school. This is particularly true in the first half of the first semester, resulting in the international students needing to deal with this different perspective. With some professors also teaching in a bilingual manner, it also added different challenges for the international students.
As a junior student, this year required William to declare his major. He has opted to major in Materials Sciences and Engineering, despite having a clear interest in Biomedical Engineering. He explained his reasoning.
“Biomedical Engineering is a part of Materials Science and Engineering. If I want to do my degree or Ph.D. in Materials Science after majoring in Biomedical Science, it would be impossible. However, if I was to major in Materials Science, and then wanted to specialize in Biomedical Engineering, I would have the flexibility to do so.”
William had already taken courses in Biomedical Engineering during his sophomore year, under SUSTech’s opportunities for students to take courses from any major at any time.
In terms of his future achievements, he wants to get a higher GPA before applying for scholarships to universities in the US or Europe for further studies. William believes that going abroad for his continued higher education provides numerous benefits, not just in terms of his education, but cultural benefits as well.
How have things changed?
In 2016, William was one of the first six international students on campus, as a small group of Cambodian students descended on SUSTech. We asked him how things have changed since then.
He laughed, acknowledging that the small group of Cambodians were somewhat alone and that there weren’t many international researchers on campus at that point. At the time, the facilities weren’t particularly attuned to international standards, as they were all in Mandarin when William arrived.
However, now things are vastly different. A lot more content is provided in English for the international students, so it is more convenient and comfortable. William is also working with all the international students to develop an International Student Club, to help them deal with their problems.
“You know that you are not in your home country anymore, you are in China. We will all face the same problems abroad, so we can help each other.”
The Regional Culture Fair is one area that William has gotten involved in as a student, encouraging his fellow international students to display their culture to others. While the domestic students will often show things from their hometowns, the international students will take the opportunity to display the food and culture from their own countries.
He has also gotten involved in the annual Sports Festival, as well as a few speech competitions. William did comment that it was hard to get involved in many activities in the first year or so, as his academic needs far outweighed the time he had left for extracurricular activities.
We discussed missing food from home, something that has been a consistent trend for our international students. William said that Thai food is somewhat similar but admitted that it’s not the same as Cambodian food.
“Not All Asians Are the Same”
We ask all our international students about the challenges they have faced, outside of the language barrier. William talked about communication, and we had already removed language as an issue. He spoke about how there were cultural differences that he had not anticipated between Chinese and Cambodian students, and how there are stereotypes that exist that he did not expect to experience.
William also talked about the friendliness of the two cultures, and how certain groups of people smile in different ways, and the fact that Cambodian people tend to look like Chinese people, just a bit darker.
He hoped that more social activities organized by SUSTech and student groups would be opened up to the international students. Due to the language barrier, he found that it was hard to get included into certain activities, like social welfare activities.
Message for his countrymen and countrywomen
This would be a great opportunity for us because we will change more of everything. When we step outside our country’s border, we experience more things. At SUSTech, it is a great opportunity and chance for us to get more fame because everyone is a little bit different. If you can study better or more deeply, you can get outside Cambodia and have more friends, different friends of different nationalities.
I’m trying to figure what is the difference between the guy in Cambodia and the guy in another country. Normally when we are outside, it is quite easy to apply for the scholarships for a master’s degree or a Ph.D. From my experience, the seniors that leave Cambodia to study outside the country have a better chance to gain scholarships to other countries than those that stay in the country.
Translated and Adapted By SUSTech Newshub