A few years ago, Meach Sithyka Jessica became the very first Cambodian woman to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and since then her courage and determination have inspired other Cambodian women.
Likewise, Ly Chansocheata became the first Cambodian woman to graduate from the Japan National Defense Academy (NDA) with a bachelor’s degree in international relations, and she is now a military officer for the Cambodian Ministry of National Defense.
Along with her military doctor father and military officer brother, Chansocheata was following in her family’s footsteps when she sat the entrance exam for the National Defense University of Cambodia in 2015 after graduating from Chea Sim High School. Santormok.
“As a child, I loved playing soldier, and especially with my father and my brother who served in the army, it also inspired me to join,” she said.
In 2017, Chansocheata passed the scholarship exam at the NDA, which made her the first Cambodian woman ever admitted to university.
“I was in the 13th class of Cambodian students to study there, but only two Cambodian students are allowed to receive a military scholarship per group,” the 25-year-old told The Post. “And overall, I was an NDA 66th class student in Japan.”
Because her father went to college in Japan for two years in 2009, she became interested in Japan and learned about its history and culture and has been studying in a Japanese school since kindergarten.
She continued to study Japanese after arriving in Japan, and even if she had a scholarship, failed classes, or committed serious disciplinary offenses, she could be expelled and sent home at any time.
“Everything there is judged on sheer ability alone. We lived at the school and studied at the school. Accommodation and food are free, as are uniforms, and we received a monthly stipend for personal expenses” , she said.
Five years of discipline
Chansocheata said the most important trait required to succeed in the NDA is discipline, as every aspect of daily life there requires constant discipline.
“When you fold your mattress, you have to do it perfectly and if it’s not perfect the commander will take it out and make us start over. Everything is like that. If the commander orders us to attend a meeting in five minutes, there is no choice but to arrive on time. If you are late, you will be penalized,” she said.
“Although my curriculum is focused on international relations, the NDA requires all students to also undergo military training,” she said. “After we graduate, we get a bachelor’s degree in an academic subject, but we also have a lot of additional military knowledge that we learned as well.”
“When classes are held, we only train for two hours a week, but there is also a full-time military training period that we have to complete every year.
“Full-time training is from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. There is no free time. There is very little time for oneself or for rest. The Japanese are energetic and industrious and it is normal that many people with regular careers outside the military never have free time either,” she observed.
Japanese is a very difficult language for many people to learn and at NDA students are required to use Japanese at an advanced level.
“To get to the diploma, we have to devote a lot of time to the language. The language is the biggest challenge because we only do one year of Japanese lessons at NDA when we arrive in Japan.
“But for our classes, we really needed two or three times that level of fluency, so without extra instruction, study, and help from Japanese, we wouldn’t graduate,” she said. .
“And there are even many Japanese students who cannot manage both studies and training and drop out of school,” Chansocheata said. “It happens every year.”
First-year students have to complete an eight-kilometer swim in the sea, which is a difficult task for almost anyone because it takes hours of non-stop swimming. If they tried it without prior training, most students would probably be saved from drowning.
Instead, they gradually learn to swim long distances by developing their endurance and technique by starting with repeated one-kilometre swims in a pool, then over time swimming one, four and finally eight kilometers in the sea.
“When we reach our goal after swimming for six hours, then our struggle to overcome that challenge becomes an achievement that we are proud of and that part is really fun,” she said. “When we got to land, teachers and parents were waiting for us and we were all very happy.”
In the second year, each student must climb the three kilometers to the summit of Mount Fuji, walking up the trail around the mountain starting at 4:30 a.m. early in the morning and taking at least until noon to reach the top of the mountain. .
“When we reached the top at noon, the teacher waved to us with applause and we had to immediately start the hike back down without any rest time, as part of the practice,” Chansocheata said. “We came back down from the mountain at 5pm and by then it had been 12 hours of steady hiking in mountainous terrain.”
“I really felt like giving up sometimes. In terms of fitness level and strength compared to men, women have it much harder. But you can’t give up just because you want to. That doesn’t solve never anybody’s problems.And if you give up now, there’s no turning back later.
“The most important thing is the image of our country. We don’t just represent ourselves, we represent Cambodia and we represent women,” she says. “If we left, I think Cambodia would stop sending female students and Japan would stop accepting female students from Cambodia. Resigning was not an option.
One of the students’ most memorable experiences during their five years studying in Japan at the NDA is the four-day jungle survival training that takes place in their third year.
Chansocheata says she spent four days in the jungle with a Japanese guide – shoulder to shoulder, overcoming obstacles in the cold under constantly falling rain while covering herself in leeches.
“He told me to dig the ground and I dug. He told me to do what he did, I just followed him whether he was running or walking. Four days with no bath or bathroom and nothing at all for comfort was an intense workout. It was a very difficult time and I was really scared. It rained for ages and I had no change of clothes,” she recalls.
Preparing for graduation is also an experience that all students remember because of the week of training leading up to the official ceremony. They had to train for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening doing sit-ups all the time without a break.
“During the sit-up sessions, I kept imagining what it would be like to finally graduate from college so I could continue, but I also knew that after graduation it would be time to go home. home,” she said.
Many women would never join the military, Chansocheata says, because they fear it will somehow diminish their beauty.
“For me, there is nothing more beautiful than serving the nation and sacrificing oneself for one’s country. We have to ask ourselves what we did today and if it was right for ourselves or for our families and for our society. Was it enough? Everyone should ask themselves this question every day. Then we can achieve our goals,” she said.
Chansocheata said that as a woman, she would like to encourage other young women to consider joining the military and abandon outdated notions such as military service is only a last resort for those who have no no other option.
“The military these days is well trained and well educated and many of us can study abroad at internationally recognized schools.
“They need to understand that if they join the military and study hard, they can go study abroad, sometimes for free, and come back and help develop our country. This job is not just a job for men, women can do it too,” she said.
Chansocheata noted that when someone studies in a foreign country, they can learn about other cultures and broaden their knowledge of the world, allowing them to better understand what makes Cambodia special, but also what needs to be improved for Cambodia to fully modernize. .
“And it allows you to get out of your family’s house and live on your own without your parents – without needing to get married first – and you will become confident knowing that you can certainly live on your own.
“I want more Cambodian women to join the army and participate in national development by becoming peacekeepers in the Kingdom,” she said in conclusion.