"The resources for teaching are often found embedded in Cambodian life. One must seek these resources almost exclusively in Cambodia itself. I often make short video clips of Cambodian life to use in Khmer classes. I would like to thank SEAP, the department of Asian Studies and the Language Resource Center for their support in making this possible. The rewarding part of my job is to see students who open their hearts and minds not only to the people, but to the ecology of the country, land, culture, and different aspects of Cambodian life."
Interviewed and edited by Deborah Membreno, Master's Student, International Development CALS
DM: What has your academic journey been like from a student to the prominent lecturer you are today?
HP: It has been a very long journey from student to senior lecturer. When I was eight years old I liked to pick tamarinds under tamarind trees. One day I realized I had to do school work and that studying was more important than having tamarinds. That realization was the beginning of my academic life. My journey started from a little girl who liked to read and felt a sense of urgency to do well in school.
DM: What initially led you to your field of study and how did that develop into your research focus today?
HP: First the journey led me to the University of Phnom Penh. Following my studies at Phnom Penh, I received a Bachelor’s degree from the Institute of Pedagogy in Russia in Russian language and literature. After completing my degree I became a language teacher. I also received additional training at the Regional Language Center in Singapore as an English language teacher. It was the first time that I studied with teachers from many Southeast Asian countries. My journey then led me to Cornell, and I graduated with a Master’s degree in International Development. I taught Khmer for the first time at Cornell in 1999. After a brief hiatus I returned to Cornell as a language teacher in 2005 and continue to work at Cornell today.
DM: What has been your experience as a language teacher that you find valuable to share?
HP: As a language teacher, the most wonderful thing to do is to expose students to a completely different world and culture, much like Cornell gives to me. My academic journey is to set forth young exciting explorers and to introduce them to a new world through language. Through my academic effort, I give them the raw materials for intellectual growth. It is like planting new seeds and hoping they will someday bear fruit. Students may study a variety of topics such as ancient Khmer art, history, economics, labor unions, ecology, and biology. The possibilities are endless, but all require knowledge of Khmer language and culture.
DM: Where have your latest travels taken you and what was that experience like?
HP: This last winter I traveled to Cambodia where I interviewed people and developed teaching materials for my classes. I interviewed people who worked at schools, at libraries, and on the streets of Phnom Penh. These interviews are part of the material development for my language classes. On this trip, I learned about the increased number of books held at the national archives, the national library, and the Center for Khmer Study’s library. One of the most exciting parts of my trip was having the opportunity to give a talk to the Cornell in Cambodia class led by Professor Kaja McGowan. In winter 2015, I also spoke to Professor Andrew Mertha’s Cornell in Cambodia class about my experience in Cambodia during Khmer Rouge time. A former classical dancer from the University of Fine Arts also joined me to talk about the definitions of basic gestures in Cambodian classical dances. The most exciting part of the meeting was that the students got to wear Cambodian folk dance costumes.
DM: What are the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of your job?
HP: In my teaching there are both challenges and rewards. One of the challenges is that the resources for teaching are often found embedded in Cambodian life. One must seek these resources almost exclusively in Cambodia itself. I often make short video clips of Cambodian life to use in Khmer classes. I would like to thank SEAP, the department of Asian Studies and the Language Resource Center for their support in making this possible. The rewarding part of my job is to see students who open their hearts and minds not only to the people, but to the ecology of the country, land, culture, and different aspects of Cambodian life. Some of them went back to Cambodia and brought their families with them. Other students came back from Cambodia and sent me emails about how much they loved the country and its people. Their travel is a lifetime experience that introduces them to the many opportunities in Cambodia for young people.
DM: How have you worked with SEAP or its resources during your time at Cornell?
I traveled to Cambodia to develop teaching materials. I would like to thank SEAP for providing funding to make this happen.
DM: Do you have any advice for current students or prospective students?
HP: I came to understand languages other than my native tongue and the wonderful opportunities that it has given me. I recommend current or prospective students understand this new language, Khmer, and discover the wonderful opportunities it will offer them.