ICES Cambodia’s Sonalen Speaks on American Experience Upon Completing Half of their Exchange Year
It has been five months since Sonalen Saing, an ICES high school exchange student left Cambodia to embark on an exciting adventure in the United States of America. Attending Santa Fe High School, Oklahoma, Sonalen has been enjoying her exchange year and is no longer the new girl in town. Without being told, she may have forgotten that the exchange now has reached its halfway.
ICES Cambodia this week conducts an in-depth interview with Sonalen to learn about her exchange year in the US so far and its impact.
ICES Cambodia: It’s been six months since you left Cambodia. How would you describe your exchange year and experiences so far?
Sonalen: My experience so far is great. From my host family to school, you name it. I’ve learnt a lot academically and socially during the program.
ICES Cambodia: Up till now, what are some of your favorite memories of staying and studying in the US?
Sonalen: My favorite memory so far is winter break which includes both Christmas and New Year. I’ve received a lot of gifts from my host family as well as their relatives which I’m beyond grateful for. I also got to spend a lot of time with them as well as enjoying (probably) America’s biggest holidays. It was also my first snow on New Year’s Day which adds beauty to the New Year’s dinner and I got to play in the snow with my host family’s dog, Finn.
ICES Cambodia: What part of the exchange program do you like the most?
Sonalen: My favorite part of the program is the time I spend with my host family as well as the lessons I’ve learnt. I love talking to my host parents as well as playing with the dogs. I’m sure this is what I’ll miss so much when I return to Cambodia.
ICES Cambodia: What has been the most difficult challenge you have run into during your stay in the US? How did you overcome it?
Sonalen: One difficulty I’ve faced in the US, in the beginning was feeling like I don’t fit in with everyone else. I tried to socialize with different people such as my local coordinator and my friends at school. Other than that, I talk/vent to my personal therapist/emotional support dog aka Finn because he can’t talk back and he’ll just listen (laughs). I’ve also learnt that most Americans are very open and accepting.
ICES Cambodia: What do you miss most about home? What do you do when you get homesick?
Sonalen: What I miss most about home are the people and food. When I get homesick, I call my parents just to check up and order Asian food so I at least feel connected.
ICES Cambodia: How do you compare your life in the US right now with your life in Cambodia?
Sonalen: I’ve changed a lot since I came to the US and I’ve heard other people comment about it as well. I’m much bubblier and more talkative now. I’m no longer afraid of dogs and I’ve grown to love dogs so much. I’m less afraid to voice out my opinion and I speak whatever’s on my mind.
ICES Cambodia: Do you have any comments or advice for the next generation of ICES Cambodia exchange students?
Sonalen: To the Generation 3 students who will depart in August, I want to say that you will make a lot of mistakes but they will shape who you are. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask questions. There are a lot of small and big cultural differences or just the way Americans live such as food and even household appliances!
To students who are interested in the exchange program but hesitant to join, I’d like to share that you will receive a lot of help with even the smallest things and you’ll learn a lot during your exchange year. If you’re someone who’s trying to learn about different cultures or become more mature, you should definitely join the ICES Cambodia high school exchange program.
Sonalen’s exchange year will be over in less than six months, but the experiences and knowledge she has gained from it will remain with her forever. And you can also be the next ones! Don’t wait until college to go study abroad. ICES Cambodia can show you the way.
For more information on how you can join ICES Cambodia, as well as the program fees and application process, please contact 098 686 901 or 061 924 141. 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