The Apology Letter | College Essay

It was the high of my life, the peak of my youth, the pinnacle of my high school years. Right after the very long and stressful SAT bootcamp I had to go through, I found myself living, studying and working with eight of my friends, 300 kilometers away from school. We were embarking on an ambitious journey, shooting for one far, bright star that most people would call us, teenagers, crazy for even trying. We wanted to write, produce, film and edit a full-length, feature fantasy film. At this point, my life just did a 180-degree flip, going from hammering hard on my math and English to being in my own creative headspace, dreaming about a love story. This was all that my filmmaking inner child wanted to do, and quite frankly, that’s all that I did.


I got lost in my dream. I was like the Forrest Gump that runs and runs until the day he feels like coming back home, but before I could come back home, I tripped over, face planted onto the ground. I let all of my emotions, my adrenaline, my excitement, my manifestation for this movie take control of everything in my life. When agreed upon this internship, I was required to keep up with my school responsibilities while I was making this movie, more specifically I had to do five hours of each math and English literacy every week, and anything else would result in getting dropped from this internship. To be completely honest, I knew that this would be a tough task for myself but I couldn’t resist turning down an opportunity that would forever change my life before even giving it a try, because that’s just who I am; I take risks that I know the consequences and difficulty of. But did I?


The first seven weeks went by and I was doing the bare minimum hours of math and turned in none of my English assignments. “As I finalize all grades for this round, I noticed that these assignments are still missing and were due weeks ago. Please complete by the end of the week if you want to receive any credit,” wrote my English teacher, Cara Shelton. I ignored her. Every time I saw these messages my stomach cramped up and my body started sweating. But then I was swung into the dream that I was living. The dream had become my reality and nobody could stop me.


I had my first warning. “Hello. I have not received any communication from you about your missing assignments nor have you completed any of the work. I do not have any option but to give you the zeros for the missing assignments, which was something I really, really did not want to do,” Cara followed up three weeks later. I’ve failed my classes, but more importantly, I failed myself and my facilitators’ trust.


That was the alarm that went off; the slap in the face that woke me up from my deep daydream. I decided to write an apology letter; one that was raw, transparent, and genuine (and, unintentionally, with every apology letters, sappy). “I’m so ashamed to admit my mistake of how much I messed up, last term,” I wrote. “When it comes to academic studies, I always try to keep up with the assignments… [but] somewhere along the way I lost motivation to do the work. It sounds stupid and it is and I was and I regret what I did.” I continued, “I hope you still trust me and allow me to have my second chance.” It was one of the hardest and most humiliating pieces of literature I’ve written in my entire life, but despite all the discomfort I went through when my fingers hit the letters on the keyboard, forming emotions in the form of an email, the self-reflection I had was the gem of that letter.


The most haunting part of this episode of my beautiful, dark, twisted show of a dream-turned-nightmare was living with the guilt afterward. I felt like a failure. I felt like the filmmaking life I’ve been dreaming about wasn’t for me. I lost hope in everything I was doing because I thought I failed so miserably that I can’t achieve anything in my life. The inner filmmaking child in me started to die out because I didn’t forgive myself and instead, started beating myself up.


I struggled with self-forgiveness. I thought I should’ve just quit. “Thank you for this email. Truly. It takes courage to admit when you are wrong and to acknowledge difficult life lessons. Of course, I will give you a second chance,” Cara replied. Knowing the person I hurt and disappointed had forgiven me, made me forgive myself. With months left, a movie to make, a huge experience to learn from, I told myself that I won’t let this mistake ruin this significant chapter of my life. I asked myself why am I doing the internship? What’s the main purpose of making this movie? What’s worth all the struggles and pain? The one answer I always come back to is my love and passion for the art of filmmaking.


People think of dreams as this utopia, filled with rainbows and unicorns, which in some cases are true, but most likely, not. It’s just what people hope to happen, and nothing else, and personally, I fell into the same trap as most people. I went into this underestimating the price tag of what I swiped my card to buy. That price tag that would haunt me afterward with the bills of what I bought. To this day, I still ask myself, was it all worth it? Without all the pain, and trouble I put myself through, I don’t think I would’ve learned so much from the internship. Not just about filmmaking and the different skills that will benefit me in my careers, but most importantly, about balance, trust, perseverance, self-forgiveness and the cost of living a dream.

How I Changed Cambodia 2017-2018

My heart was pumping fast; dup-dup dup-dup. My adrenaline was high. My palms were sweaty. My legs were shaking. I raised my left hand up, holding my air inflator/deflator of my Buoyancy Control Device (BCD, or Buoyancy Compensator, BC). My instructor signaled me a thumbs down; in divers’ language, that means descend or go down. I was filled with both fear and excitement which made me breathe like I just ran a marathon. We all pressed the deflation button at the same time; fssss, the sound of the air exiting our BCD, and there I went underwater.

That was one of the most surreal moments of my life. The moment where I faced my fear- the ocean. Because of my passion for marine biology and conservation, I was committed to doing whatever it takes to help save the “dying jewel” of Cambodia.

Throughout this year, I’ve pushed myself to take risks and to do what I wouldn’t usually do. I was heavily influenced by a quote from Casey Neistat, that goes “The most dangerous thing you can do in life is play it safe.” This is the quote that I lived my year based off. This is the quote that inspired me to be a risk-taking, passionate, curious, and pioneering change agent.

Back in May 2017, the members of Liger Marine Research Team was announced, and I, pleasantly, was one. Even though I know it is a long-term research project about the Cambodian ocean, I wasn’t sure what I just got myself into. My first mission was to get dive certified so I spent my summer taking the Scuba Schools International (SSI) Open Water Diver course. I, then, went to Koh Seh to apply that knowledge into the water. We manage to cramp a course that would usually take three weeks into four intense days of training. The team, then, took courses with Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC), an organization based on Koh Seh that does conservations and research on the Kep archipelago, to learn the methodology of reef surveys, and to learn about fish, invertebrates, and substrates, and identifying them.

Fast-forward to March, right after the government establishes the Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA) in Kep, the LMRT implemented our own artificial reef block that sets off our three-year-long research project. In April, only a month after deployment, we’ve seen a tremendous growth in the fish population. We’ve surveyed and seen 14 new species in the area, which, only in a month, was a sign of success. I went from being scared of the ocean to logging in around 30 dives by the end of the year. I went from being interested in marine biology to be a marine biologist.

Another project that I’ve been involved with was about gender equity and discussing uncomfortable topics that needed to be discussed. From gender issues in advertisement and our economics to gender-based violence, my colleagues and I had been having in-depth conversations about different areas of gender equity. I got to write and publish two articles on the Change for Gender Equity website: “Boys, Cry!” and “Behind the Music: A Look at Female Musicians”. At the end of the 7 weeks project, we had a two-day student facilitated summit that was in both Khmer and English that discussed four topics– power, language usage, economics, and culture– and I was a co-session leader discussing language usage. Pause, let me be honest, I am really afraid of public speaking, and leading these discussions was very challenging. But conversations are really critical in our society, and when it comes to discussing about gender, in both languages but especially in Khmer, there’s a lack of vocabularies or misunderstandings in the language we use to discuss these sensitive topics, and that’s what made me stand up, bring a group of young people together, and discuss this issue. Discussions were had, and tears were shed. More than 100 students showed up and left with knowledge and courage. As one of the session leaders, that was a very impactful event and a satisfying success.

Approaching problems by educating people from a young age is what I believe in; that’s why I worked with seven Liger students, and a group of change agents from an organization called World Renew, to tackle the problem of drugs usage. I joined forces with my colleagues to study the issue, make an educational film, plan workshops and going to five provinces to lead interactive workshops with close to a thousand total highschool students. The workshops include sessions about general information about drugs in the country, the side effects, preventions, and solutions. The students were very engaging with the different discussions we had, and at the end of the day, they are one step farther from drugs.

To me, being a change agent was about rocking the boat, and being the black sheep in the herd. By doing these projects, I was apart of putting the spotlight on these issues, and working out how we will battle them. What I’ve done may seem like a very small fraction of helping with the problem in Cambodia or the world, but if I can make a vivid influence on one person’s life, my goal would be accomplished. If I can make one man cry when in our society, guys were strictly told not to, or make a little boy to say no to drugs when all his friends pressure him to join them, or even save a juvenile fish’s life when using the artificial reef block I deployed to try to get away from a trawler, that’s what I consider a tremendous success.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

Music & Music Video Production Week

On April 1st, I left for Battambang for a one week adventure that was nothing else, but a dream. My seven teammates and I were pleasantly involved in a music video production with Human Agency. I spent the majority of my time in the music studio in the Phare Circus facility. I used Live Ableton and worked closely with Robin, a musician, that is apart of Human Agency, and other musicians from Phare to produce a song relating to the theme of “shine your light.” The reason for that is because Phare’s name in Khmer translated to English means, “Phare, the light of art,” so we wanted to use the metaphor of “shine your light” to talk about using your talents to shine. I worked on the beats; adding certain instruments to the beats by working with the musicians from Phare. More importantly, I worked on the lyrics with the musicians and different vocalists.

Besides hours in the studio every day, I spend the rest of the time I had helping out with directing the music video. My favorite scene to direct was when we had to wake up at 4:00 AM to catch the sunrise at a river stream with a gorgeous background filled with crops at this beautiful, tiny village. We had three performers on three different boats in a certain formation. I was on the phone receiving director directions from Yoshi, the director of cinematography, so I can forward those directions in Khmer to the boat drivers and the performers while trying to keep up with the boats from shore. It was messy and was very challenging, but it showed me what it takes, and the passion required to make a film. 

My passion for music and filmmaking has always been very obvious, but being on this set, and doing it with the professionals really elevated that passion, one step higher. As I stated in the interview with Shellie Karabell from Forbes, I really want to combine my three passions, which are marine biology, filmmaking, and music, and I think this experience just brought me one step closer to persuing my passions.

Volunteering To Survey Villagers In Kompong Speu

Started in August, I was committed to taking an AP Statistic course, and this past weekend, Sunday, 4th of March 2018, I was given the opportunity to put some of the knowledge I had into reality. One of the main things I learned in the AP course is connected to producing data, and I wanted to actually do that. So on Sunday, a group of 17 students went to Kompong Speu, a province 44 kilometers west of Phnom Penh, to collect data about people’s livelihoods in three villages encompassing CamKids, an organization working to “help children in Cambodia who are either poor or whose parents are not there for them.” We collected a total of 103 surveys, which took us from around 8 AM until around 3 PM. These surveys will be used by an exploration group to do statistical analyses for CamKids. With the time we had, I finished five surveys, and some of the interviewees’ stories were really sad, and got me emotionally connected to it. Most of the families I talked to, didn’t get a high education, and that’s because of financial issues, which was either led by a death of one of the family members, or their parents didn’t get a high education, and are now, struggling financially.
Besides the different stories I heard, doing this was very intimidating to me, because approaching people as a stranger, and surveying them, is very difficult for me to do. Adding on to that, a lot of the questions were very tough to discuss in Khmer, because of our culture.
 This trip was a very productive, challenging, and at the same time, fun trip, and I’m glad I got to do something to help the community.

Behind the Music: A Look at Female Musicians

In literacy, we were studying about different issues with gender inequality. We got to do research, interviews, and dive deeper into specific topics that we are passionate about; I chose music. In my writing (link here), I got inspirations from a New York Times article, which led me to investigate about why male artists are being listened to more than female artists. I also went three days, listening to only female artists, and I documented what happened, and the effects it had on me, in my writing. Again, click on this hyperlink here if you are interested in reading my article.

Women in STEM | Sylvia Earle

In physics, from the 17th to the 25th of January, we spent time diving deeper into women in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). I was researching about a marine biologist named, Sylvia Earle, and this is a short profile I wrote about her.

Sylvia Earle is a marine biologist, adventurer, and author. She was born on August 13th, 1935 in a small called Gibbstown in New Jersey, United States. At the age of 20, Sylvia graduated from Florida State University, majored in botany and mastered it the following year. She, later on, got a Ph.D. degree in phycology in 1966. Three years later, Dr. Earle published the Phaeophyta of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, where she had to study over 20,000 samples of algae. Sylvia is most well known for her report about marine algae, her books and documentaries about ocean pollution and overfishing, and her recording breaking dive that took place in Oahu, Hawaii in 1979.

Using an atmosphere diving suit (ADS) called JIM, Sylvia set the record of the deepest untethered dive at the depth of 381 meters (1250 feet) with a whopping dive duration of 2 hours. The JIM suit was a suit built to maintain the internal pressure no matter what the external pressure is. Sylvia described what she saw as “a forest of corals that looked like giant bed springs,” and she was fascinated by all the bioluminescence down at the seabed. Besides that, Sylvia was a “pioneer” of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus gear (SCUBA) by being one of the first people to dive using SCUBA gear and she’s diving now. At the age of 82, Dr. Earle is still diving all over the world and since the record-breaking dive, she had been going back to visit that site several times. Throughout her life, she’d clocked in about 7000 hours of total dive time and still rising. That is equivalent to about 292 days of diving.

Her passion for deep dives also led her to develop deep-water submarines. Back in 1970, Sylvia led a crew of women to live in her submarine and conduct research for two weeks underwater at the depth of 15 meters (50 feet). Sylvia spent more than 1,000 hours (42 days) of research time underwater and again, she’s still out there, today, doing it.

With all the experiences she had doing research and diving, Sylvia realized that there are problems that the ocean is facing, and she took actions toward that. Sylvia founded Mission Blue, which is an organization and also a movement to get people to explore and protect the ocean. She was also involved in several documentaries like Sea of Life, México Pelágico, A Seal’s Life and Mission Blue. She gave a Ted Talk back in 2009 to get people to see the beauty of the ocean and help protect it.

Because of the great work she’d been doing for our ocean, Sylvia had been recognized for it and gotten several awards. Back in the year 2000, Sylvia was honored the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2009, after her speech called “My wish: Protect the ocean”, she was one of the three TED Award winners.

SCUBA diving is a sport, and most sports are dominated by men. Sylvia Earle was one of the few pioneers of sports, and that broke the gender barrier of “sports aren’t for women.” Besides that, Sylvia was, and still is involving in STEM, which is a field where it is dominated by men. Her braveness, passion, and work should be recognized all around the globe.

Urban and Contemporary Art in Cambodia

Following the White Building project I did, I was involved in an art exploration, but more specifically urban and contemporary art. Throughout the seven weeks, we spent time reading about contemporarry art, watch documentaries about different art projects from all over the world, and my favorite part, listen to the different types of music that my colleauges listen to. Besides that, I did a few projects like making a magazine cover, landscaping my own city,  making a flyer, and the biggest project out of all of them, a mural about any current issues. I worked with three of the Liger Marine Research Team members to come up with a mural that addresses problems like plastic pollution, climate change and how it affects the ocean. 

Trash are falling into the ocean like raindrops. Animals are dying from mistakenly eating plastic. Corals are being bleached, and eventually die. These are issues that needs everybody’s help to be solved.

Practice doing surveys! | LMRT Trip 3

From the 16th through the 19th of November, the Liger Marine Research Team (LMRT) was at Koh Seh, practicing doing fish surveys and take our substrate identification exam. On the trip, I went on four dives, all of which, we were focusing on improving our surveying skills. Personally, the most challenging skill for me to practice was the swimming position. The swimming position for doing surveys is head down, legs up at an angle about 30 degrees. To achieve this goal, I had to get a good buoyancy, which was hard already. This ensures that I won’t be all the way up on the surface or, sink to the bottom of the ocean. After achieving that, I have to get into my position, lay the transect line, come back to the start of the line, and start the survey. 

 Beside the dives and the exam, I spent my Saturday morning looking under a microscope at a zoanthid that Karen, my facilitator, picked up. I used a pair of tweezers to grab a worm to look at closely under a microscope.

 This trip was very productive since we finished our second identification exam and we also got a chance to experience what it’s like to do surveys. I, now, have a sense of how the survey goes and the skills I have to improve on my upcoming survey practices.

Fish “Game” Exam and More Dives! | LMRT Trip 2

Not even a month later and I’m back at Koh Seh! This trip was way less intense than the other one. I left Thursday the 26th, October 2017.  Our purpose of this trip was to practice diving, because we don’t want to forget everything, and take our fish identification exam, or as our instructor calls it, “The Fish Game.” Amick, one of the people from Marine Conservation Cambodia (MCC), didn’t want us to stress too much about this test, hence he named it, “The Fish Game.” He also said that this exam doesn’t really matter much; it’s just to make sure that we know the main species of the fish. What matters is when we’re underwater and being able to recognize the different species of fish. We had around 70 species to study.
Beside the “game”, I went on three dives. We were practicing navigation using our compasses and dive computers; I would say we did pretty good. We didn’t end up in Vietnam, at least. My prescription mask arrived so I got a chance to use it on this trip. They, honestly, completely changed my diving experience. I was able to see way clearer than before, and they helped me identify fishes underwater, which was pretty neat. I spotted a bunch of wrasses, snappers (one HUGE blackspot snapper, which freaked me out), groupers, and more. My favorite spot was a school of fusiliers swimming right below me, in between gigantic corals. It was so unexpected and they were beautiful. I got a chance to swim with them for a bit before my dive leader called me to reunite with my group.
This was another successful trip, that was filled with productivity. For now, I’m back at school and we’re planning to go back in mid-November. 

The White Building (Bodeng) Exploration

On August 14th this year, the White Building exploration started and I was involved in it, as well as eight other seniors. The project was about the recent demolition of the infamous White Building in Phnom Penh. We started off by learning about the history of the White Building and why it was so significant for this city; We also did research other past evictions in the city so we can compare how it had been improving. About two weeks into the exploration, we started to have trips to interview a variety of people, from the former residents to the ministry to the development company of the White Building space. From doing all those interviews, I had to somehow document the different responses to questions and different perspectives about the White Building, and this time it’s not a video that I’m making, it’s a podcast. I took that as a huge challenge because, I usually express my creativity through videos and visuals, and less of just audio. I worked with all my colleagues to write, record and edit the podcast. My teammates wrote most of the scripts and did about 70% of the recording and I finish the whole process by putting it all together and try to make it as good as possible, using my creativity, which was hard to do with only audio. I had a lot of challenges throughout with making the podcast; one of them was the time constraint, but by the skin of my teeth, I managed to finish it. We are planning a public event at Meta House for the city to come and see our final products. We believe this is the first ever documentation of any kind AFTER the demolition of the building. I’m working on making a 5-minute highlight of the podcast to premiere at the event. The exploration was super interesting and it’s such an amazing topic to investigate about. I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration, but the seven weeks are over and it’s time for me to do other projects.

You can watch the documentary that my teammates worked on, here: 

You can listen to “Many Shades – the White Building Podcast” here: