Six months at Chulalongkorn: The story of a Cambodian exchange student

In January this year, Oeung Hangbou, a junior at the Department of Media and Communication (DMC), Royal University of Phnom Penh, got off a plane in Bangkok, Thailand, with his heart full of excitement.

He had visited Thailand once before during a holiday, but now he was going to study at the prestigious Chulalongkorn University as an exchange student. He planned to get the most out of it in the next six months.

“Every year, Chulalongkorn University provides an exchange programme scholarship to DMC,” Hangbou, 21, told Khmer Times about the public university renowned for its autonomous research.

“When it was announced that I was to be one of the recipients in November 2018, I was very excited. It is my dream to experience studying in a foreign nation,” he said.

Oeung Hangbou at Chulalongkorn University earlier this year. Supplied

Hangbou was surprised by the size of the university campus, which was originally founded in 1899 during King Chulalongkorn’s reign as a school for training royal pages and civil servants at the Grand Palace of Thailand.

“Chulalongkorn is so much bigger than my university in Phnom Penh, with more than 10 faculties and a research centre,” he said.

The second thing that impressed Hangbou was the curricula, especially the level of freedom which students have regarding their education.

“At Chulalongkorn, students can choose the subjects which allows me to study my favourite subjects such as filmmaking and so on,” Hangbou said. “A wide range of facilities such as studios on the massive campus also helps us learn better and improve our skills.”

Despite not speaking Thai, Hanbou could attend lectures because he was in the international programme, which means that the classes are conducted in English. At the same time, he also befriended Thai students as well as students from other countries, which allows them to learn about their countries and culture, something which he describes as a priceless experience.

Meanwhile, he also got the chance to share the insights about Cambodia and its cultures with them.

“During my conversations with Thai classmates, I found they were surprised when I told them about some part of Cambodian culture,” Hanbou said. “I, myself, was also surprised by this given that our countries are neighbours and share so many similarities.”

“It was at that time that I realised there are so many things that we have to learn from one another,” he said.

The semester which Hangbou spent at Chulalongkorn University also trained him to be more independent and communicative and he was able to learn some Thai.

Hangbou with his classmates at Chulalongkorn. Supplied

Living in a dormitory near the campus, he acquired an important lesson of money management, as he was dealing with his scholarship allowance.

Eating was not difficult since Thai food is very similar to that from his home country. Yet, the most memorable thing was the time he spent with his multi-national friends there.

“When the pandemic struck in March, all classes were moved online, and I was spending most of my time with [friends] in my dorm room,” he said. “My friends were great moral support for me during this difficult time.”

After his return to Cambodia in July, Hangbou has been keeping in touch with those people, who have given him one of the best times in his life.

“I’m very thankful to Chulalongkorn University for giving me this opportunity,” Hangbou said. “If I have this opportunity again, I want  to pursue my studies or work in Thailand.”

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