Interview with Chihok Gauy – 2021 ICES Student of the Year from Cambodia
Last year, Chihok Gauy realized his dream to study in the US when he signed up for the first ICES Cambodia’s High School Exchange Student and boarded a plane to Oklahoma in September 2020. After almost a year, not only did he prove himself to be a good student who is not afraid of leaving his comfort zone, but he has also been honored with the prestigious ICES Student of the Year award — the only one who had been selected out 1,700 students participating in the ICES High School Exchange Program in the United States. Now back to Cambodia, Chihok shares his experience with a local reporter.
Reporter: How do you describe your past self before going on the Student Exchange Program in the US? And how different do you think you are now?
Chihok: When I first came to America, I was very timid and shy. But, throughout the year, my host family and people around changed me. At the end of the year, when I came back, I am more confident and more willing in speaking my mind rather than keeping it inside. I can express myself more easily now. It was all possible because I wanted to get out of my house for one whole year and I wanted to do something different. I am so glad that I have gotten the opportunity when it was given by ICES because it completely changed my personality, and definitely my future career.
Reporter: What do you find about your academic experience in the American classroom? What is the most interesting aspect to you?
Chihok: I feel that American classrooms has more freedom. We can express ourselves more, and overall, the class was so much easier than classes in Cambodia. People say American classes are more difficult than those in Cambodia, but I feel the opposite. When it comes to high school, Cambodia schools are way harder because you have to memorize a lot of stuff so that you can pass the test. Students take fewer subjects in American high schools and you even get to pick your own classes.
One thing I am really interested about is that sports in American schools is a very big thing. They highly value sports because it is a common way to get the scholarships for college or university.
Reporter: What was it like living with the host family? Can you describe in detail how they were shaping your life there?
Chihok: Upon arrival in Oklahoma, I was greeted by my host mom Tricia, my host brother Landon, and my double placement exchange student Daniela from Spain. They were holding balloons and a sign welcoming me to their family. On our way home, Tricia bought me a burger from Sonic drive-through and a drink. When we arrived home I was happy to see Diesel, a Chihuahua and Bumpus, a King Charles Cavalier (name of dog breed). I was shown my room upstairs and we went outside to play a little bit of basketball. It was pitch black outside so I thought the house was in the middle of nowhere when in fact it was in a gated neighborhood with houses surrounding us everywhere. My host dad Jay got home with his big red truck and greeted me. I went to sleep right away that day.
I got along so well with them and at the same time learnt a lot from them. They brought me to many places, ask me to try different food. They have been a big part of my change. Tricia was always there when there were any problems and Jay taught me a lot about building good habits, mindset, and money. My host siblings have always shown me things that were popular in the U.S. and encouraged me to do new and sometimes weird things. My double placement exchange student Daniela taught me to take life less seriously at times. It’s truly been an eventful year.
Reporter: Did you make new friends there? Did you have any special connection with them? Since you are now back in Cambodia, how are you going to keep in touch with them?
Chihok: I met most of my friends in Track and Field class (sports) and I made a few close friends. We like hanging out with each other. And now that I am back in Cambodia, I am keeping in touch with them on social media.
Reporter: Did you run into any challenge while living in the US? If you do, did you manage to overcome them?
Chihok: The biggest challenge I faced at the beginning is the American mindset. In Cambodia, when you want to say things, you will keep it inside your head, but in America, if you think about something, you just say it. It’s very direct, and they are quite expressive. But overtime, I overcame it by becoming one of them, by learning to express myself and becoming more confident.
Reporter: How do you think this experience will affect your future, both academically and occupationally?
Chihok: I think the exchange program is like a trial of going to the U.S., and of course, I want to go back in the future if I can afford it. I don’t know whether I am lucky enough to land on a scholarship, but yes, I want to go back. I also want to work there because there are many opportunities, and you simply have to work hard to move up. I am not sure about my career path yet, but I want to travel more.
Reporter: Do you have any messages for students in Cambodia?
Chihok: I want to ask Cambodian students to try new things and not to be afraid of getting out of their comfort zone. I am not really a perfect guy to say this, but I want them to open up their mind and try new things. After all, if there are important lessons that I learned in this exchange year, it is to be open to new things and be wise about whom to trust.
Now it is your turn to experience American culture and education and find the new you. Invest in one year that will change your life. ICES Cambodia is accepting students to join the 2022-2023 High School Exchange Program. Take the English Test and see if you are eligible to become the Generation 3 ICES Cambodia Exchange Student. Contact 077 777 244/098 686 901 or Telegram message ICESCAMBODIA1 on how you can start!