Education Major Explores Family’s Roots in Cambodia

For College of Charleston senior Chak Or, studying abroad in Cambodia was more than an experience to see another part of the world.

For him, it was about reconnecting with his roots, learning about his dad’s childhood, and walking the grounds of the country his parents fled nearly 50 years ago.

Student Chak Or, right, meets with an uncle during a study abroad trip to Cambodia.

In the late 1970s, Or’s parents fled the Khmer Rouge, a Communist regime that took control of Cambodia for almost four years and was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 2 million people.

In the summer of 2017, Or had the chance to visit his parents’ homeland as part of the College’s study abroad program to Cambodia and Vietnam, which offers courses in psychology and environmental studies.  

“I had the opportunity to reconnect with my culture and it’s something I don’t think most people have the opportunity to do,” he says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that without going on this trip.”

While in Cambodia the elementary education major met an uncle for the first time and worked with local children.

“It was amazing for me to see people that have so little be so happy and content with their lives,” Or says. “It made me appreciate what I have here in America and what my parents have given to me.”

Or, who is a member of the College’s Call Me MISTER program which supports minority students majoring in education, believes the experience will positively impact his future as an educator.

Chak Or visits a temple in Cambodia. (Photos provided)

“Studying abroad in a foreign country and bringing the ideas back into my classroom will help me show my students who I am, where I come from, and what I’ve learned,” says Or, who is a recipient of the Dr. Sam and Nancy Stafford Endowed Alumni Scholarship and serves on the College’s Student Alumni Associates organization. “It’s important for students to be aware of multiculturalism as well as learn the concept of cultural sensitivity because it can affect how they treat each other.”

Although he learned an incredible amount while visiting Cambodia, Or says one of the biggest takeaways was learning the importance of self-reflection and fully embracing who he is.

“My first name is Chakadasovavan and I used to hate telling people that was my first name because it was so different,” Or says. “But now I have come to realize that my name is a part of my cultural identity and I have fully embraced it.”

Braelyn Diamond is a junior from Blythewood, South Carolina, studying communication and marketing at the College of Charleston.