Seen from below at a 45-degree angle, the sunset at Phnom Penh is simply breathtaking- the silhouette of palm trees backed with unfurling pinks on blues - all fall together like a postcard. Beneath, however, lies quite a busy city. Occupied mainly by the younger generation, the streets bustle with men and women driven by passion, and driving on motorbikes - their main means of transportation. Unlike the red dirt roads you encounter in the provinces, the streets of Phnom Penh are paved like that of Seoul. The bustling atmosphere and the numerous construction sites also remind us a little of home.
The Khmer culture imparts politeness and respect to others, dressing modestly, eating only until your full, and of course, smiling. Anyone visiting Cambodia is bound to be blessed with unending smiles or "bayon" as they call it (also the name of one of the Angkor temples). Smiling is indeed one of, if not the most, important practices in Khmer culture. It is a sign of greeting and blessing in the most altruistic way. In a sense these smiles rub away, or at least seem to mask over the immense hurt this country faced just 30 odd years ago.
The Kingdom of Cambodia is, on the whole, a country little known to Koreans, but remarkably similar in some ways in its past and presen
t. The liberation from France in 1953 after 90 years of colonization, followed by the Khmer Rouge genocide, where over 20,000 people were killed between 1975 to 1979, was a national shock similar to that of the Japanese annexation and Korean War in our country. These were different event, but with the similar effect of leaving the country deprived of both economic and emotional strengths. Korea has been given over 50 years to recuperate from these wounds, and Cambodia, though the wounds are slightly fresher, is following in a similar pattern.
One similarity the country's growing awareness of the importance of education, an importance so much a part of the Cambodian mindsets that collegians nowadays commonly study in two universities at a time.
Among the many helping hands when it comes to developing the education sector are the foreign instructors on campus, whose number includes Professor Kim Kil-hyun, one of Ewha's own. Professor Kim, former professor in the Division of Pharmacy gave up his office at Ewha last Fall to teach at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), a university which offers the highest quality education in Cambodia. There, Kim is privileged with having his own office (only three professors in the whole department have one).
Perched on the fourth floor, it is a tiny sun-soaked room with just a desk, white board and fan. It opens out onto a corridor that looks over the university's lake. Here, Kim has a dream and a mission. It is to teach good quality classes to students, and eventually establish a university for the coming generations of Cambodia. "Because good education is key to national development,"says Kim.
Kim's dream actually blossomed at Ewha, in a prayer group where professors shared the opinion that they owed a debt of love to the founders of Ewha. "Over a hundred years ago, American missionaries came to build Ewha with the hope of educating Korean women,"said Kim, smiling. "The more I thought of this the more I realized how beautiful this is, and how grateful I was, even though I wasn't even a student here!?The prayer group met for over ten years, and developed the hope that, somehow, they would be able to do the same for other countries that were also in need of education. "I wasn't thinking of Cambodia in the beginning, but everything started to point to this direction and here I am today,"said Kim, sipping on sugar cane juice with plain ice?he kind that holiday makers aren't quite immune to.
Professor Kim firmly believes that education must be shared with others. "Education means accumulating knowledge, and knowledge means power,"says Kim. "When you have power, you have two choices, you can either use it for your benefit by controlling others who have less of it, or you can use it to serve others, sharing it and thus multiplying it." He says that one does not have to leave the country to make this choice, rather it is a choice that can be made at any time or place. Kim is himself, a living example of this belief.
Kim's contribution to education in Cambodia mirrors yet again the early steps of education in Korea. His step of faith into Cambodia is full of hope to enrich the lives of Cambodians as our lives, here in Seoul, have been enriched by the establishment of Ewha, those many years ago.