ICES Cambodia’s First Generation Student Speaks on Life after the Exchange Year
In Room 1401 of the American Intercon School, a group of students in Grade 12, the final year before university, are attending a lecture on Khmer literature. As the teacher has just finished sharing about the upcoming national examination, the bell rings, and students start preparing to go home.
Among those students, one male student stands out. He is big and muscular for a teenager while his voice is clear and deep, yet he still appears to be modest, as he threw playful punches with his classmate as they are leaving the class.
The 17-year-old 12th grader is Chihok Gauy, the first-generation international exchange student of ICES Cambodia.
Last year, Chihok boarded the flight to Edmond, Oklahoma, where he would spend the next academic year living with a host family and studying as an exchange student at Deer Creek High School, a Blue Ribbon* School in the States.
During his exchange year, Chihok proved himself to be an exemplary exchange student who worked and participated in all kinds of school and social activities. He was also loved by his new friends and his host family the Evans, who brought him to many places as well as introduced him to American culture.
“They brought me to the places that only exist in America… which I used to see only on YouTube and social media,” he says. “It was like a dream comes true to see and be in those places for the first time. For me, seeing the McDonald’s drive-through and In-and-Out burger joint for the first time was so cool.”
Chihok’s favorite memory is his ski trip with the Evans to Colorado last winter.
“It was my second time seeing snow and I was skiing from the top of a mountain,” he adds. “It was like an all-in-one package where I felt the excitement at most.”
The best of Chihok’s exchange year in the U.S. came at the end when he was announced the winner of the ICES Student of the Year Award, a prestigious recognition of the exchange student who has shown outstanding participation and enthusiasm in the exchange program. However, as he received the award, Chihok also felt sad that his exchange year in the U.S. has come to an end, although he had expected it from the beginning. He flew back to Cambodia in July this year.
“I cried at the airport as I was saying goodbye to my host family, and Tricia, my host mom, cried too,” Chihok recalled. “I just tried to accept that the exchange year ended, and there was nothing to be sad about it.”
Back in the Kingdom, Chihok resumed his classes at AIS, and all his classmates and friends have noticed differences in him. Apart from the strong muscles he has gained, thanks to the American school’s focus on athleticism, they understand that he is now more mature, confident, and open-minded.
“I have a lot of changes in my characteristics; I’m more open and extroverted,” Chihok says.
“Before I went to America, I was very introverted; I could barely say anything to anyone, and whenever I went places, I could not help thinking what an introvert thinks; about what people think about me. When I came back to Cambodia, all those things disappeared.”
Even his mother, Mrs. Saygech Ung, who had been initially nervous about her son’s trip to the U.S. changed her mind after seeing all the attention Chihok received from ICES and his host family.
“Chihok has become an open and confident speaker now,” she says. “He also transformed himself into an excellent thinker, something which has been shown in the high level of maturity in his speech.”
Despite the academic differences between American and Cambodian high schools, Chihok is rapidly re-adjusting to his school life in Cambodia.
“I just talked to my friends like normal, although they keep saying that I have changed a lot,” Chihok says. “Yet, I don’t find it hard to adjust. For my studies, I simply have to work hard and will catch up.”
Despite being in his senior year, Chihok has not decided which major he wants to pursue in college yet, but he dreams of studying abroad again one day.
“For the short-term plan, I am in the interviewing stage for the AIS’s Journalism Club, which is very popular right now,” Chihok reveals. “I hope to create something new, like informational videos to share my knowledge or other people’s knowledge fellow Cambodian youth.”
As a pioneer of this program in his country, he has worked hard to help promote the exchange program in Cambodia and encourage other teens to pursue this life-changing experience.
“I definitely recommend everyone in high school to take this opportunity,” he says. “For me, there is nothing more enjoyable than going abroad when you are still a teenager.”
“It means opening your eyes to see a lot of things, to emerging yourself into the English-speaking environment, and inventing your better self.”
It’s not too late for you to follow Chihok’s footsteps and go on a thrilling adventure abroad! Sign up for an exchange program with ICES Cambodia right now! Remember, you are only young once!
For more information on how you can high school abroad with ICES Cambodia, as well as the program fees and application process, please contact 077 777 244 or 098 686 901. 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