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.

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.

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.

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:

ISPP Model United Nations 2017

Model United Nations! You didn’t think I would miss this year, did you? I just spent my past weekend attending my THIRD ISPPMUN! I was the delegate of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria and I had a blast! I had about a month to prepare, but I had to do it with my own time because my schedule was full of other classes. Long story short, I was prepared for the event and the wait was finally over. Did I mention that this was my first time being on a committee that wasn’t Junior General Assembly? Yeah, it’s my first time attending the General Assembly. This year, the topics were, regulating small arms and light weapons proliferation, the use of private military and security companies, and the role of resilient healthcare in global security. I was focusing on the first question, the question of regulating small arms and light weapons proliferation. The previous years’ MUNs had been very scary for me. This third MUN was really exciting to me and since I know what I’m doing, I got to work with other students, network with them, make a pretty good resolution that later on passed, and had a lot of fun. It was my first time making an amendment but sadly, it didn’t pass. The resolution I worked on was controversial, especially the clause that says, “Strongly recommends strict gun license requirements and regulations such as; a valid reason for the ownership of the license, Self-defense isn’t a valid reason.” People tried striking the clause, which was very understandable. Because of that one clause, the house was really divided. It was my pleasure attending this event for the third time and like I said in my About Me, I will keep attending more MUN events as I have the chance to.

 

Look Through My Lens | Coming of Age

In literacy this year, we started things off by doing a chapter about coming of age. I wrote my coming of age story about my glasses and how I evolve from loving them to hating them, then later on in my life, I just had to accept it. This was a touchy topic to write about, personally, because it was a struggle I had to go through and I’ve always kept it a secret. I think now is a good time to release the story out there for the world to see, and not just keep it to myself, so if you want to read the entire paper, you can do so by clicking this link here

The Liger Marine Research Team | LMRT Trip 1

As you might’ve seen in my other posts, I’ve been talking quite a bit about the Liger Marine Research Team, in short, LMRT. The LMRT is a group of eight students from the Liger Leadership Academy that will be doing research on the marine biology in Cambodia, more specifically, Koh Seh. Koh Seh is an island off the coast of Kep, Cambodia. 

Ariel view of the island

We had our first trip to the island on the 28th of September, 2017. The purpose of that trip was to get us all certified as open water divers. I took the SSI Open Diver course in my summer so I was ready to get in the water and practice the skills. We consisted of about one dive per day (excluding the “pool sessions”). It was weird staying underwater for that long. I had to get up at 6 AM and get ready for my “classes” that take place underwater at around 7 in the morning. It was also very scary to practice all those skills and stay underwater for a long period of time. The scariest and hardest skills I had to practice were, taking off my buoyancy compensator (BC) underwater and putting it back on, and performing an ascend when I’m out of air; my instructor would come behind my BC and turn off my tanks. I then, have to give her the “out of air” sign and ascend to the surface, inflate my BC with my own mouth; usually, I would use the built-in system in the BC to inflate itself but since I’m out of air, I have to inflate it myself. I got a chance to go to an island nearby to dive at around six meters depth with HUGE corals and other organisms. The morning following the day I got certified, I went diving with my buddy, Nilroth. We went seahorse hunting, and no, we weren’t catching them. We spotted a seahorse, living with a lot of seagrasses. 

 

That was one of the best weeks of my life, filled with mixed emotions. It was one of the scariest, the weirdest, the most dangerous, the most tiring, and one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my life.

Living and Learning with Another Culture

              Learning and Living with Another Culture

      I am Suon Kimseng. When I was young I always dreamed about learning about other languages and cultures without paying money because my family is poor. I also dreamed about going to other countries. When I was nine years old my first dream came true. Liger existed. Liger had the scholarship for the smart children.

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   In front of my house.                The first year at Liger. We are making                                                                                  the Khmer king 7 out of clay.

Mary, the social worker in Liger, called to my mom and said, “Congratulations your son has passed the test!” At that time I was not at home, I was at school. When I knew that I passed I shouted uncontrollably. My first day at Liger I thought it was like my new life because Liger gave me many things and every opportunity that I wanted for free.

When I came to Liger I said to myself, “I need to learn a lot of English and about other cultures because in Liger they have a lot of foreigners and their culture is different from me.” When I got to Liger I saw lots of different things between my new teacher’s culture and my culture. One thing that was different was  the western teacher’s behavior.  For example, they eat with the fork, they wear mostly jeans with T-shirts, and the food that they eat is very different from me. For example, my new western teachers liked to eat bread but cambodian people eat mostly rice.  I needed to learn all of these things to adapt to living with all of my western teachers. At that time I knew how to speak English just: “what your name” and “how are you today?”

One day to one day I learned more and more English, like how to pronounce the words and listening. I also needed to remember all of my new friend’s names and make more friends. One month later I could speak more English and I recognized my friends very well. My first friend at Liger was Samnang.

One day at the end of the second year my teacher, JoJo, called my name: “Kimseng, Malika, Souyeth and Thiny, can you come here for a second?! I have very good news for all of you. You will go to Singapore next year!!” she said. All of us shouted, “Ya ya!”

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Eating breakfast, which is noodles,          In the forest at Koh Kong.

when I was in the forest with Jojo,

my western teacher.

The first day of the third year came. I went to Singapore on the third week of August, 2014. When I got to the airport I was so excited. The smell of the cookies and BBQ filled the front of the airport. At that time my mom said, “Good bye! Good luck! Also have fun Kimseng,” with her big grin.

“Wow! That is a very big plane,” I said when I was at the airport and looking at the plane. “No, it is the small plane. The big one can carry about 300 people,” said Max my teacher. “Max! What about this airplane, how many people can it carry?“ “It can carry just about 150-200 people,” he answered.

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Waiting for the flight to Singapore!!!

The airplane was very quiet inside. That made me feel surprised because before that I thought that in the plane it is so loud with its machines. My ears popped when the airplane took off the land. The plane started to go higher and higher by going up straight. I looked at the huge, white, foggy clouds. Then it seemed like all the clouds were coming to me.

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The foggy cloud!

“Hello every body!!! I am your captain speaking. We have arrived at Singapore!” said the loud sound from the speaker from our captain. I was surprised when I heard that sound because that made me know that I had arrived at Singapore. When I heard that sound I was so excited because at that same period I was looking out of the window. Then I saw the view of Singapore. I also saw the view of Malaysia.

After we landed in Singapore we ask the captain to go  in the cockpit of the plane and they said “yes sure”. Then we went in there and ask him some questions. After I went to checked out, I went on a taxi to United World College South East Asia (UWCSEA), which is the school that I would be working with. When I arrived at UWCSEA I used the skills that I had learned when I was at Liger. I knew about western culture so I could adapt to the people at Singapore and while I was there it showed me that Singapore’s culture is not so different from western culture. For example, they both use forks to eat and wear mostly jeans and T-shirts.

“Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!” came the sound from my watch. It was nine p.m. I waited for my host brother’s parents with my host brother. Five minutes later my host brother said, “Hey Kimseng! These are my parents.” I used my English to communicate with my host family. I was a little bit nervous to speak with my host family because I never knew them before, but about five minutes later I knew them, so I was not nervous to speak with them or live with them anymore.

My host family came from India. My host mom had long hair, and was a bit taller than my mom in Cambodia . She was also very friendly like my mom. I stayed with my host family. I ate and went to school with them every day. The last night that I stayed with my host family, we went and had dinner together. We ordered some Mexican food, Indian food and also one pizza . We ate all of that food together. On that night I had a very great time because I did a video call alone with my friends at Liger. I showed them the apartment and how it looked like at night. At that night I gave my host family a gift. That gift was the scarf. They said, “Thanks Kimseng! This is very nice.”

My host family and I went to United World College. “Bye Bye!” I said to my host family. “Bye Bye! Good luck and be safe. I will go to Cambodia one day and then I’ll visit all of you,” my host brother’s mom said. The last day of school ended. Our group that worked together had a huge lunch and dinner together. We had pizza for lunch. Our dinner was chicken and hot dogs. I felt so devastated because we needed to leave each other.

The next day I went to the Science Center for the whole day. On the last day at Singapore I was very excited because I went to Google’s office. Google’s office was interesting for me because it is the famous company that lots of people use. Also, their office is so amazing because they have the place for their staff to relax and to eat. The other two trips on that day were to the Garden by the Bay and Chinatown. I flew back to Cambodia the next day and here is where my story ends.


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     Garden by the bay.                   At the Science Center.

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China town