Fulbright scholarship: A tough, achievable journey

Studying abroad has always been a dream I have ever wished to realize. I remember driving back and forth to the scholarship office behind Beoun Keng Korng High School. I had done that for more than three years. Filling out countless forms and taking countless exams. Yet my hard work had never paid off. It’s quite disappointing to actually keep trying and trying, but no rewarding results were achieved. In 2009, I decided to take a break from that “frustrating task” and considered applying for a part-time job.

That dream, the dream of getting paid to study abroad, has never been removed from my stubborn mind. Encouraged by senior colleagues, I started to resume my energy and concentration to apply for scholarships again. After working for three years at Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL), this ambitious mind remains fierce. I decided to apply for the Fulbright Scholarship while I was preparing for the Endeavor Award. Applying for one scholarship is tough enough, let alone doing two at the same time. It’s the first time ever that I’ve been diagnosed with stress. I suffered sleepless nights and writer’s block. However, the strong support from family, lecturers, boss, and friends helped me stay motivated and keep the wheels moving.

Below is my story told in a chronological order about my journey to wining the Fulbright scholarship. I hope it will inspire more Cambodians to apply for this opportunity.

May 21: During my conversation with my senior colleague I had a chance to ask him about his successful story in winning the Fulbright Scholarship. Although, this seemed not to be the best time as it was so close to the deadline I determined to give myself a chance to take the challenge.

June 1: After talking to several more people and browsing through many schools’ websites, I had finally found what I really wanted to do and started outlining my study objectives and personal statements.

June 4: My first draft was ready for critics. It was not what I really planned and I didn’t think I could finish those big questions for just three or four days yet talking to the right people and reading the right articles could open up my mind and enabled me to foresee what I would do upon returning home. I think I like an idea from Steve Job here. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards.” Because I had placed myself somewhere in the future and looked back at what I will be achieving, I could really put the right words together for my study objectives and personal statement.

June 14: My final drafts were polished. I still didn’t really like them but it was true that some pressure kept me productive. It was only a day before the deadline that I could finally submit all the required documents.

Dropping my signature form at the US Embassy, I had confirmed with myself that this time I had a purpose in applying. Passing or failing would not matter much because at last I loved what I had written on my application. Because I had finally found the subject that reactivated my curiosity mode. I was definitely ready to be a student again.

August 21: I received a phone call from Embassy and I knew immediately that I had taken another step closer to my dream. Of course, the voice of a young lady being trained at the embassy informed me about the interview process as I was shortlisted for the first round. Without any delay, I called one of my senior colleagues and asked him to discuss about my interview on the 23rd of August.

August 23, 3:45 PM: Waiting patiently outside the interview room, I felt something inside. This time was different from any other interviews. I did not have that nervousness I used to have but felt my inner self was so willing to sit in front of the committee in that room and defense the plan that I had. I was excited because it knew I was given a chance to best sell myself so that those people could give me the ticket to realize my dream. After 15 minutes, I finally got out of the interview room and felt so satisfied of what I had done.

Hard work did pay off this time. Although, I could not make it for the Endeavor Award, my initial attempt to win a scholarship, it was so overwhelming for me to instead win the Fulbright, one of the most prestigious scholarships that almost every student dreams to get.

Winning a scholarship is a pride I wanted to give to my parents. They were the first people I rushed to share this wonderful moment. Seeing them smile with the brimming tears of joy was just beyond any words used to describe my feelings. Yet, I knew clearly that my most important journey had just begun.

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