Emily Than has studied for 4 years in the US.

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Long seen as an unbeatable advantage for young Cambodian jobseekers, studying abroad is more possible than ever before. But what is it really like?

More than ever, education is the key to any young person’s success. The degree you hold, where you studied and what you know plays a crucial role in helping you secure the job you want. And with more and more universities around the world offering support programs for foreign students, opportunities to study abroad have never been better. Making the decision to go, however, is just the first step. Preparing properly to make the most of the experience is another. Management Insider spoke to Jay Panathong and Emily Than, Cambodians who studied in North America and Europe for some insights on the experience – good, bad and otherwise.

Jay attended both Leiden University in the Netherlands and Monash University in Melbourne and has a degree in International Studies. Emily attended the University at Albany in New York and has a degree in Business Administration.

What are the benefits of going to another country to study?

Jay – The most beneficial aspect of studying abroad for me was being able to engage with a different culture and lifestyle; and from this, I have been able to meet some incredible people. Being exposed to a new culture and environment has allowed me to expand my comfort bubble and enrich my experiences. I feel that this can be very valuable to many Cambodians.

Emily – Studying abroad not only gave me an opportunity at international education standards, but I was also exposed to different views, perspectives, cultures and opinions that I may not necessarily be exposed to at home. This helped build my character and allowed me to develop strong interpersonal skills. You also get to enjoy and experience vast new customs, traditions, and foods in various social settings.

What are some of the challenges of studying abroad?

Jay – As a foreign student, I faced several challenges while studying abroad. One of the challenges was the lifestyle I had to adapt to. This is inclusive of the language barrier, the daily commute, the style and system of teaching, and generally the way life was carried out.

Emily – It was easy to feel homesick.  It took some time to get accustomed to the people around me, as mentalities can vary greatly between different people, making it hard to break through social walls.

With your international exposure, what would you like to achieve in Cambodia?

Jay – I wish to further the development of many aspects of governance and society in Cambodia. The development of sports is one thing I wish to achieve, as I believe that it can help sustain peace. Another priority is to see consistent implementation of bilingual practices across the country, particularly through signage and public sector work.

How can Cambodia benefit from more students studying abroad?

Emily – Cambodia is a developing country with vast market opportunities for international businesses, and it is essential for our best and brightest to be part of the prosperity. Young graduates can bring back their experiences and knowledge to make a difference for our country, driving us forward. The Cambodian youth are really starting to become more open minded and it is reflected by the global trends that are taking hold in Cambodia.

While Cambodian have long sought an international education, the system also works in reverse, bringing foreigners here to study.

Romain Van Bloeme, 21, is a French student studying in Phnom Penh along with 25 other students from three French-speaking countries. The group was selected to join the Paris II University’s international business law master’s program, which is entirely located in Phnom Penh. The program mixes students from different backgrounds in a bid to build relations between those countries. French and Khmer language classes are compulsory during the two-year program.

Romain – The course gives students a real opportunity to stand out, which is crucial at a time where the profiles of law students are quite homogenous in France. There is a lot of concurrency on the French market, and forging links in Southeast Asia appears to be a big factor in the eyes of employers. On the other hand, the master’s program also opens opportunities for students to apply for fulltime internships, with significant responsibilities in a multicultural environment. Thus, they add to their curriculum a professional background that the students could not have acquired in France.

Words by Vivadhana Khaou