Sorn Leza is a student at the Liger leadership Academy who is currently preparing to depart for the US, where she has earned a full four-year scholarship to Union College in New York.
The 17-year-old will depart in July, but this is not the first time the talented teenager has travelled long distances to pursue her studies.
“No matter what subject I study, and where I study it, I will not forget the place where I was born. My time at the Liger Academy has motivated me to think about the issues my community – and my country – face. There is a lack of talented engineers in Cambodia, so that is what I will study,” she told The Post.
She was awarded an undergraduate mechanical engineering scholarship after completing an exhausting application process.
“To get a scholarship in this subject was not like passing the entrance exams of local universities. My written application had to encompass all aspects of my life, and my view of the world, as well as my academic experience and grades,” said Leza.
In 2016, when she completed primary school in Khemarak Phoumin town, Koh Kong Province, Leza passed a Liger Academy scholarship exam. At the time, she was not even sure what the exam was for.
She was expecting to return to her school in Koh Kong for seventh grade when her teacher – who arranged for her to sit the scholarship exam – told her she had been offered a place at the prestigious Phnom Penh school.
Both she and her parents were surprised by the news.
“The exam had many stages, with the first part completed in Koh Kong and the second at the school, in Phnom Penh. Once I was selected, it was up to my parents to decide if they would allow me to take the opportunity and move to the capital. In the end, they agreed,” she said.
Caroline Bell, principal of Liger Academy, expressed her pride in Leza, and her confidence that her dedication to her studies would ensure her success in the US.
“She has been a diligent student every year he has studied here, and her efforts have yielded excellent results,” she told The Post.
“Leza is well-suited to studying in the US not just because of her academic excellence, but because of her soft skills. She is passionate about engineering and is prepared to work hard,” she said.
Bell said it was difficult to access higher education in the US and even harder to win a scholarship.
“We are very grateful to our school council for their efforts in helping Lesa and 11 other Liger students earn scholarships to study in the US,” she added.
Leza said her parents had only just come to terms with her decision to move even further from home in pursuit of her education.
“I am slightly concerned about how difficult I will find it – mostly because I will be a second language student. I will have to focus on learning the specific vocabulary of mechanical engineering,” she added.
She admitted that she was also a little worried about her new accommodation, and the weather. She will be living in a dormitory for four years, and New York City is far, far colder than she is used to. Although the scholarship will pay most of her costs, she will also have to manage her own discretionary spending.
“I moved to Phnom Penh when I was 11, so I know how to look after my own money. With that being said, New York will be totally new experience,” she said.
Despite having to travel so far away, her parents have expressed their pleasure that she has achieved her dream of studying her favourite subject at a prestigious university.
“They may have some concerns of course, as any parent would, but they have confidence in my ability to do the right thing and make wise decisions. After all, I have been living away from home for six years already,” she explained.
She has always had a strong interest in how things work – and how they are made – citing a remote control car that she owned as a young child.
“I could play with that car for hours. I was always taking it apart just to see how it worked, and I ciuld repair it when I needed to,” she said.
She has not yet settled on what field of mechanical engineering she would like to specialise in.
“Mechanical engineering is a broad subject, and I won’t specialise until I start my Master’s Degree. I do have a passion for automotive parts, and am very interested in aircraft engines,” she said.
She believed it is important for people to identify their passion and find the best way to focus on it.
“When we decide to acquire a skill, we should be prepared to pursue it for our whole lives. I am focusing on engineering, so don’t expect to see my in the business or teaching industries,” she said.
“I want to send a message to all of the young men and women of the Kingdom. Whenever you see an opportunity, you should grab it with both hands. We don’t know what the outcome will be, but at least we will know that we have tried our very best and given it everything,” she added.