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The first week is already different, says the latest ICES Cambodia’s Exchange Student

The first week is already different, says the latest ICES Cambodia’s Exchange Student

On Friday of last week, Sonalen Saing, an 11th grader from New Generation School, was waving goodbye to her family just before boarding a plane heading to a place 14,075 km from home. She was nervous but at same time feeling a surge of excitement from an upcoming adventure which she always dreamt about.

As one the four high school students who signed up for the Second Generation of High School Exchange Program through ICES Cambodia, Sonalen was flying to Oklahoma, the Sooner Sate of the United States. She will be attending Santa Fe High School, an educational institution recognized as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by No Child Left Behind as well as the alma mater of many athletes in the U.S. 

“The journey was quite tiring as this is my first solo flight and it was very long,” Sonalen said. “I went on three different flights from Phnom Penh to Korea, Korea to Chicago and Chicago to Oklahoma. I got jet-lagged which was not pleasant and I learned to be careful.”

“When travelling to the USA, I didn’t notice much differences between the airport in Cambodia and airport in the USA. It’s just that there were lots of people at the U.S. airport, and it is enormous.”

From her first flight without her family to the U.S., the main thing Sonalen learned is that one must not “be afraid to look dump”.  

“If you don’t know where to go at the airport or need help, don’t be scared to ask people. Most people I met on the plane and airport were friendly and helpful,” she added.   

Later at Will Rogers Airport, Sonalen was welcomed by her host parents Jay and Amanda, who have volunteered to look after her during her exchange year. When they brought her to their house in town, she met two other members of the families Finn and Aspen, the adorable pet dogs whom she soon befriended. 

The combination of fatigue and jet lag soon put her into a sound and restful sleep, without noticing any difference. But, the next day, she felt as if she was in another world.  

“Some are small and unnoticeable yet so big and there is so much to learn from this experience,” she said.  “There are many highways; food portions are much bigger than Cambodia, Americans have a special bond with pets, and they use all sorts of kitchen gadgets”. 

There is so much to learn and experience, and Sonalen, as a new girl in town, is committed to get the most out of it and at the same time trying to adjust herself to the new environment. 

“My host family has been helping me since Day 1 to adapt here,” she said with a smile. 

“This is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to learn about the bigger, outside world, but at the same time, I also want to share many things about Khmer culture with my host family and soon-to-be friends.”  ​


To those who wants to follow her and get on an exchange program in the U.S. or other countries, Sonalen wants to share some tips during travelling to the study destinations. Here they are:  

  1. Get your documents (passport, visa, COVID-19 test result, I-20) ready and put it a folder or pocket that is easy to find and take out.
  2. Be extra careful (look where you are going) and check your documents. You don’t want to lose your boarding pass, miss a flight, or fall down the stairs.
  3. Pack light. Don’t pack too much or bring many luggage especially if it’s your first long overseas flight. 
  4. Get good sleep before the flight. Being tired will make your jetlag worse. 
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to other travelers when you are lost.
  6. Make sure to inform your host family, parents, and ICES about everything that happened so you can get help.
  7. Have fun and enjoy the trip! It’s part of the experience.


Sonalen has shared her first experience in the U.S., and now should be your turn to go on the thrilling adventure! Sign up for next year’s USA High School Exchange Program and pay deposit by August 31, 2021 to receive special early bird promotion of $9,900!

To be eligible, you must pass the English Proficiency Test provided by ICES Cambodia and have a good academic record (Average “C” in main subjects for the past 3 years). Register now to take the English Test: https://forms.gle/3qifKLu79f4hx5uB7.