Amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, I was so glad that my mother, brothers, relatives, and friends were able to say goodbye to me at the airport as I departed for my higher education and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the United States of America. Like many other young women, leaving family and loved ones behind is one of the most courageous decisions I’ve ever made. I knew I was making the right decision, not only for myself and my family but for my country, Cambodia. It did not hit me that I would be leaving all these priceless realities behind until the moment I packed my bags and got ready for my departure in the middle of the night on August 5th, 2021. As the plane flew further and further away from home, the fact that I was leaving all my beloved people and all the beautiful memories behind appeared to be more and more real to me, and that made me burst into tears for hours.
My flight to the U.S. was my second flight so far but was the first flight I took to get out of Asia. My arrival and life in the U.S. was something I had always looked forward to after I learned that I got accepted to the University of Portland. After a more than 20-hour plane ride and feeling sick along the way, I suddenly felt relaxed to have met all my mentors in person for the first time at the San Francisco Airport. Before coming to the U.S., I had a lot of conversations with my mentors through Zoom, and although it was all virtual, I felt their warm and caring hearts. Those feelings remained the same when I finally got to meet them in person. All my mentors and some of their families came and gave me a very warm and big welcome at the airport. That meant so much to me, and it will always be held so close to my heart.
I spent time with my mentors and their families and experienced San Francisco for the first time before I went off to college in Portland, Oregon. I got to see some beautiful sites in the city such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Crissy Field. With my mentors and their families, I rode the cable cars and went kayaking, which was a lot of fun. It was so great that I got to spend some time with my mentors and get to know them and their families a lot more.
Before coming to America, I never realized how moving into college in the U.S. would be such a big deal. When I arrived at the University of Portland, I saw a lot of parents helping their kids to move in. After seeing that, I realized how much it meant that my mentors flew from San Francisco with me and helped me move to the University of Portland. Having my mentors with me during the move-in days and the move-in process overall made me feel like I also have a family here like everyone else. My mentor took me shopping for all the stuff that I needed for the dorm, settled me in, helped to decorate my room, and made sure that I am living a clean and healthy life on campus. I am so glad to personally have been matched with my mentors, Ida, Daina, Cynthia, and Liz. On top of the SHE-CAN staff, my mentors have been and will be a huge part of my journey here in the U.S. and beyond.
In the middle of the Covid-19 outbreak, I was glad that my freshman year was held in person although I had to go to classes wearing masks for the entire school year. Freshman year is a challenging year for many college students, and I guess it must have been so much more challenging during the pandemic. My experiences as a first-year student were not all exciting. It took me quite a good amount of time to get used to a new educational style, language, and culture. However, I realized I am very fortunate to have been accepted to a school like the University of Portland (UP), and I have fallen in love with its beautiful campus on the bluff. I love the small-knit community of UP and the small class size it has to offer, as they make it less difficult to get closer to the community here. Making friends was not easy, especially during the pandemic when everyone’s face was always covered in masks. However, I learned that the challenges that I experienced do get better over time.
This summer, I am participating in the Intern For Justice Program at my school. Through the program, I had the great honor of interning at the Research Justice Institute at the Coalition of Communities of Color (CCC) in Portland, OR. In my role as a research intern, I am supporting a multi-year research justice study project that seeks to have a clear understanding of the lived experiences, needs, and desires of communities of color in Clackamas County, Oregon. My work consists of conducting secondary research in culturally-specific organizations, events, and websites that serve Southeast Asian Communities in the county. I reach out to learn about their engagements, studies, or reports regarding the Southeast Asian communities and to disseminate the information about this project to more community members.
As part of the project, I also do primary research – for instance, meeting and building relationships with Southeast Asians, mainly Cambodian-Americans, and interviewing the community members about their experiences of living and/or working in the county. This internship has allowed me the privilege to learn about the lived realities, needs, and desires of the Southeast Asian communities in the county and build connections with some of the community members that I met, specifically Cambodian-Americans.
Besides work, this summer I have greatly enjoyed exploring Portland and other places in the state of Oregon. I really love how the weather here in Oregon is mild so it would not be too hard for someone coming from a tropical climate with warm temperatures like me to get adjusted. I am falling in love with Oregon and the natural wonders that it has to offer more and more each day. I look forward to the rest of the summer to explore Portland and other places in this state even more before starting my exciting next school year at the University of Portland this fall of 2022.