Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC), Phnom Penh
May 3, 2015
His Excellency Youk Ngoy, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport.
Sopha Ratana, President of the Fulbright and Undergraduate State Alumni Association of Cambodia, and other members of FUSAAC.
Rectors and other representatives from public and private universities. Students and parents, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you, and welcome to the 2015 FUSAAC Major and Career Fair. On behalf of Ambassador William Todd and the entire U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, we are delighted once again to support this fair, which is now in its sixth year and bigger and better than ever.
As many of you know, FUSAAC is a volunteer organization formed by alumni of U.S. government sponsored exchange programs, including the Fulbright program, the Global UGRAD program, and many more. Although they come from various backgrounds, the members of FUSAAC have all participated in exchanges to the United States that are managed by my office at the Embassy, the Public Affairs Section.
The Fulbright program is the U.S. government’s oldest and best-known exchange program, with students, academics, and researchers moving in both directions. Foreign Fulbright students have wide latitude to study where and what they want, but there is one important condition that is attached to every scholarship: the two-year home residency requirement. On completing the Fulbright, scholarship recipients are required to return to their home countries for at least two years. We don’t do this as punishment, or because we are lonely and want to see them. We do this because we believe very strongly that a core element of the Fulbright program is about giving back to the community. With great opportunity comes great responsibility. The same is true for our other exchanges as well. Here in Cambodia, we expect all our scholarship recipients to come back to Cambodia ready and willing to share something from what they have learned in the United States.
That is one of the reasons that I am so thrilled to be here today to support the Major and Career Fair. This is an excellent example of our Fulbright and undergraduate alumni using their experience to give back to the next generation of students and to help them prepare for the road ahead.
I once read the obituary of a WWII hero in the French resistance who said: “In life… there are only three or four fundamental decisions to make. The rest is a matter of luck.” Well, I don’t want to put too much pressure on you, but picking a major and a career is one of those three or four decisions. Picking what to study is not only one of the most important academic choices you will ever make, it is one of the most important life choices that you will make. And in a way it isn’t fair, since most of you are still young and inexperienced, or at least I was at your age.
It is important to know that you are not alone. Consult with your parents. With your friends. With your educational advisors and mentors. Go online and do research. Draw on as much wisdom and experience as you can. But at the end of the day, go with what your heart tells you, and not necessarily what someone else thinks is best for you. You are the one who has to live with your decision, and you are the one who should make it. That’s a big part of becoming an adult.
And if, down the road, you find that you’d like to pursue another major, or another career, do it and don’t look back. I had a career as a lawyer before becoming a diplomat. I understand that the Minister was an economist before focusing on education. We reinvent ourselves all the time, and you should feel free to do so as well. But by making the best possible choice early on in your academic careers, you will be setting yourself up for success in all stages of life.
As you move forward with your studies, I encourage you to continue to study English. It will open so many doors for you, both personally and professionally. And if you can, think hard about applying to study abroad, even if just for a short while. Whether you go to the United States – which I hope – or somewhere else, it will open your eyes and your minds. And then come back here and give back, whether you are required to or not.
Thank you to FUSAAC for organizing this advising fair and for making it an annual tradition. Thanks to all of the sponsors who made it possible. Thanks in particular to the Institute of Technology of Cambodia for serving as the host. I was here in this room just a couple of months ago for the CamTESOL English-language conference, which was a fantastic event. The Minister was also here and gave some inspiring remarks. I applaud him for his profound commitment to promoting education in Cambodia.