Chhon Chhea Yudh
An integral goal of the Economic Empowerment Fellows Program is to deepen our understanding of not only American business, but also American society. To facilitate this learning the first few days of the course have been dedicated to various classes and workshops on American history, politics, and culture.
Now when I think of America, I think of a huge diversity in culture, belief, and race, as well as the opportunity and freedom to express yourself in many different ways without suppression in any forms.
I think this is what makes America unique, and a valuable place for others to learn and grow. I wish that Southeast Asian Nations/the ASEAN community could work together with the same dreams and visions for the freedom of their younger generation in terms of expressing themselves globally and politically.
While attending various classes and workshops with young leaders from around South-East Asia, I found Dr. Phyllis Ngai’s session on inter-cultural communication and negotiation particularly inspiring. Her words encouraged me to reflect on and compare the culture I was brought up in and the American culture, especially in terms of direct vs indirect communication and status conscious vs egalitarian societies.
Where I am from, Cambodia, being conscious or concerned about status is deeply rooted in the older generation’s mindset, in which there are very fixed ideas about hierarchy according to profession, age, gender, and so on. As a result there is often a lack of participation from the younger people in important community, economic, or political matters. Young people generally cannot, for example, become community leaders; even though they may be highly educated or might have had more diverse life experiences than their parents, their young appearance automatically makes them unsuitable for the role.
I think this is something that we could (and should!) work together to change; only participation from all levels of experiences can make the world a better place. In America, individualism is valued, and everyone is encouraged to be independent, self-reliant, and to act free from outside control, regardless age and status. I remember a quote from JFK, who said "Don’t ask what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country." It is every individual’s right and responsibility – particularly those of the younger generations – to stand up and make the changes they want to see, whether it is in their own life, their community, of even their country.
This is one of the messages I hope to bring back to Cambodia with me at the end of this program.