By Andrea Felker, Middle School EAL teacher, East Campus
"They say your life begins at the end of your comfort zone, so thanks to this scholarship I get to experience the true value of life.” - Khantey, Grade 12 Cambodian scholar, East Campus
Since its inception in 2008, UWCSEA’s 5-year Cambodian Scholarship Programme has offered 25 students a UWCSEA education, attending the College as a boarder from Grades 8–12. While life-changing for these young Cambodians, their presence enriches our school community in so many ways.
In the most recent selection process, 150 students from across Cambodia participated in Round 1 assessments in February 2018. Twenty-four students were then invited to attend Round 2 in March 2018, with only two being awarded the UWCSEA scholarship at the end of an emotional 36 hour weekend at Northbridge International School in Phnom Penh.
I was part of the team that selected our two newest 5-year UWCSEA Cambodian Scholars. UWCSEA’s Cambodia Scholarship Coordinator Chris Davies and Will Walker, both from Dover Middle School, as well as our Grade 12 Cambodian scholars, Chanreaksmey and Sreylin, joined Penhleak Chan, UWC Red Cross Nordic alumna and UWC Cambodia National Committee member in adding invaluable perspectives. Philosophically, we went into the weekend believing in opportunity for all, and we were confident that the scholarship would best suit two students who would probably not otherwise get a similar opportunity.
Here are my reflections on the process that resulted in Dararasmey (pictured above with the author) and Chantrea (pictured below) joining the College in August 2018:
Saturday: Round 2
All 24 candidates were waiting in silence under a canopy as we arrived at the selection venue. Most came with a parent or two, some brought younger siblings, and a couple made the trip on their own. Among them were familiar faces; two students who made it to this point in the process last year were back again.
Candidates began the day with a written English assessment followed by a group challenge. Teams collaborated to make the highest structure possible using one marshmallow, a short strip of masking tape, and 10 strands of raw spaghetti. Some students were quiet collaborators, others confident and chatty. Almost all looked to one another for guidance and approval.
Students then participated in two interviews, one conducted in English and the other in Khmer. In these conversations we learnt which students enjoy reading books and writing stories and who loves Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. We got to know who is an only child and who has nine siblings. We learnt that one girl’s father works for the Cambodian Mine Action Centre; this conversation became real when the very next candidate told us that her father is an amputee due to a landmine. We always learn more about the students than we expect.
After the interviews, Chanreaksmey and Sreylin gave a presentation to the candidates and their families about UWCSEA and Singapore. The session gave students an opportunity to ask questions about the scholarship, studying at College, and living in Singapore. Meanwhile, we were deciding which nine students would be invited back on Sunday.
Sunday: Final Round
In the Final Round, students participated in two more interviews, which were longer and more personal. It’s not easy for a teenager to sit in an interview with two adults, with different accents, and converse in a language other than their mother tongue. Our goal was to get to know each student as well as possible so that we could make an informed decision.
We learnt that most everyone wants the scholarship so they can eventually return home and help improve the lives of their families and communities. We also learnt that these students are thirsty for what our school can provide; they want to study science in a laboratory, to meet new friends from around the world, to participate in a drama production—and a few who had researched UWCSEA well, got giddy asking if all Grade 8 students really travel to Chiang Mai to go whitewater rafting and sleep under the stars.
As a team, we discussed and deliberated until we agreed which two candidates would be invited to UWCSEA. Making the final decision is never easy; even more harrowing is watching families huddle in disappointment when their child’s name is not announced. One might expect the scholarship recipients to jump for joy and cry tears of delight; Dararasmey and Chantrea, our next 5-year UWCSEA scholars, smiled quietly and then hugged their families in silence.