SHE-CAN: How did you hear about SHE-CAN?
Peggy: My friend Julie Abrams invited me to a SHE-CAN event last summer where several scholars spoke about their experiences. I was wowed by the young women and by Barb’s vision for the organization. At one point Barb put me in front of LeeAnn Bissell and said, “She’s going to Cambodia. You should come!” LeeAnn was probably just being polite when she said, “You should!” But I said yes on the spot. A few people have since placed me by saying, “Oh, you’re the woman who said yes!” I think that’s a good way to be known.
SHE-CAN: Why did you want to join the recruitment trip to Phnom Penh? Had you ever been to Cambodia before this year?
Peggy: I had never been to Cambodia and knew that seeing the recruitment process up close would deepen my understanding of SHE-CAN. And in a selfish sense, I knew that this would be a purposeful trip and not at all touristy—which is the way I like to travel.
SHE-CAN: What was it like to be a part of the interview process? How would you describe the Cambodian candidates you interviewed?
Peggy: Our interviews took place in teams over a couple of days as we winnowed down candidates. I paired up with Madison and we asked a series of screening questions, some personal and some hypothetical; then we invited groups of 6-7 to a café for more informal chats, to see how the girls interacted with one another. We were looking for facility with English, commitment to something greater than themselves, and a willingness to think differently. Even the girls we didn’t end up choosing impressed me. They were so sincere and serious about their educations and their dreams for their country as well as themselves.
SHE-CAN: Can you describe what it was like to bond with our 2018 scholarship winners (Mouy An, Nich Vunn, Chamnan Suon, Rosie Ith & Sinet Kroch)?
Peggy: I fell in love with those girls. We spent a weekend at a resort in Kampot with them and that was really special—they had all gotten into their chosen colleges and were so relaxed and happy. We had an enormous feast of crab and shrimp on the beach at Rabbit Island—those girls can eat! And we had a lot of conversations about what they should expect in America. Mostly they seem worried about access to fish sauce.
SHE-CAN: Can you share any fun or memorable stories from your trip?
Peggy: On our first night in Phnom Penh we had a party for the girls and their parents on a riverboat on the Mekong. Most of the parents didn’t speak English, but they didn’t need to – their pride in their daughters and their gratitude to SHE-CAN was obvious. Each of the girls gave a little speech thanking their parents for the sacrifices they had made to get them to this juncture. Everybody cried. I now feel a very personal sense of responsibility to the parents to make sure their girls are supported and loved while they’re here.
I’m thankful I didn’t have to go through this transition by myself. I was welcomed by a great mentor team including: Donna Fleetwood, Sarah Noorbaksh, Katherine McFarland, Alice Bedard-Voorhees and Melanie Walderon. They helped make my transition to college smooth and I never feel alone because I know I have a great support system. I’m lucky to have a mentor team only a few miles away from my school. Many of my mentors live in Mechanicsburg or Carlisle which are roughly 30 miles from my campus.
Sometimes on the weekends my mentors come to visit me on campus and we share a meal or I spend time at their homes. I always look forward to spending time with them because I consider them my family away from home. Staying with them is always fun. I get to try different activities that are a part of American culture. One of my favorite activities is riding a horse. My mentor Donna Fleetwood owns a horse named River. I’ll always remember my first time sitting on River’s back. I was worried because I remember thinking to myself what if he doesn’t like me and throws me off like the horses I had watched at a rodeo show a few days earlier. Luckily, that didn’t happen and I had a great first horseback riding experience!
Besides my mentors, my SHE-CAN sisterhood has helped make my college transition smooth. When I got to campus, I couldn’t wait to meet my SHE-CAN sister Vuochnear Ly. She helped by familiarizing me with all the resources I can utilize on campus to be successful. She’s helped me learn how to get books at a cheap cost, showed me the best studying corners and suggested good clubs to join. She helped me with all the things that normally take freshmen students a long time to realize. I always thank her for being a role model. When I arrived on campus she had already created a good name for SHE-CAN and that inspired me to work hard like her and be involved like she is.
During my first semester, stepping out of my comfort zone helped me realize the most amazing experiences and opportunities. I pushed myself beyond what I thought I couldn’t do and started realizing what I’m most passionate about.
Currently, I’m in the Gettysburg College Leadership Certificate yearlong program. I have a leadership coach at school and we have leadership trainings every month that help me personally and professionally. During my first semester in the program, I gained a deep understanding about who I am and how I want to be perceived in the world. The program has been a good opportunity to network with like-minded professionals. Additionally, I’m involved in a variety of clubs such as the International Club, where I’m club treasure, and the Gettysburg African Student Association. My favorite activity in the association is discussing African politics and learning about the experiences of other African students on campus. I joined these organizations as a way to strengthen and practice my leadership skills.
My first semester of college was a great experience, and I’ve grown so much as a person. It’s still unbelievable how much I’ve learned in the five months I’ve been here. I’m happy to be back for my second semester, and I look forward to learning more, getting involved more and excelling in my studies and in the leadership roles I pursue.
I would describe my 30 day winter break as the most incredible time of the year. On December 20, I flew to San Francisco to meet my mentor Terri Lyders and her husband Mark Reynolds, and I got to spend my first American Christmas with them. I remember waking up in the morning asking them “I’ve got presents?!” just like Harry Potter. I’ve never received so many presents in my life. On the same day, they took me sightseeing around the city. We visited the life-sized Gingerbread House at the Fairmont Hotel and the huge Christmas tree in Union Square. In the evening, we came back home to have a traditional Christmas dinner. The feast was just like something I’ve seen in movies when I was young. There was a big turkey, cranberries, stuffing and lots of cookies and chocolate for dessert. It was a really wonderful Christmas dinner.
We also went to an Ethiopian restaurant, and I learned Ethiopian food is eaten by using your hands. Ethiopian cuisine is a combination of meats and vegetables arranged on big flat plates. The main highlight of the food is the sourdough flat bread that’s used to wrap with meat and vegetables. My mentor Terri told me it’s impolite not to finish all the food, so I ended up finishing everything. It was my first time having Ethiopian food but I was a pro at it. It was very delicious. Eating food with my hands reminded me of home because some of the Cambodian food we eat also requires using your hands.
After Christmas, Terri took me to see the elephant seals in Año Nuevo. The elephant seals are really big just like fatty mermaids sunbathing on the beach. On New Year’s Eve, I went to see the Sing-Along “Sound of Music” at the Castro Theatre with another one of my mentors, Angela Chien, and we headed to a New Year’s Party afterward. During my time in the Bay Area, I also explored with my mentors Mylene Caplan and Tammy Tompkins. Between the two of them, I visited the Exploratorium, Golden Gate Observatory, the California Academy of Sciences, the Mission District, the Painted Ladies, and even took a trip to the Aquarium in Monterey with Angela.
This winter break was a great opportunity for me to get to know my mentors better. I enjoyed sightseeing and bonding with them in San Francisco. I even created a beautiful bond with my American friends Rosie and Henry (Mylene and Angela’s dogs). I couldn't spend much time with Debra Grassgreen during this winter break. I missed her and her smart 9-year-old son Jude so much, and I hope we can spend more time together during my next winter break. It was hard to say goodbye to the warm weather, delicious food, cool dogs and all of the fun I was having with my mentors.
I just completed my first full week back at Beloit. Now that I’m back on campus and reunited with my friends, I can’t wait to see what my second semester of college has in store!
When I entered Anne’s home, I met brilliant and wonderful women of different age ranges and backgrounds who had crossed various hurdles to reach their goals. There were also young women around my age who were college students and going through similar experiences. My nervousness increased after meeting these women but I knew once I started to share my story I’d be fine. The group was eager to hear from myself and my other SHE-CAN sisters from post-conflict countries: Chelsea, Sreileak and Sreytom.
The first question we were asked was, “Tell us about yourself?” With a smile on my face I answered first. I talked about my home and what my family is like back in Rwanda. From there, I felt confident enough to inspire the mothers and daughters that were sitting and listening to us.
We discussed our lives back home and what we like in the U.S. We all agreed that access to technology in the U.S. is great, but we find it hard to keep up with the fast-paced environment here. We even agreed keeping a calendar can be a challenge!
Additionally, we chatted about what we love about our home culture. I thought the daughters at Parlay could benefit from some of the values of Rwandan culture. I spoke about respecting your parents and elders, learning how to be creative and figuring out problems on your own. I was fascinated by how happy everyone was after hearing our stories. I learned a lot from my fellow friends on the panel and from the women in attendance who I spoke to throughout the evening.
In summary, I’d like to thank Anne Devereux-Mills who gave myself, my SHE-CAN sisters and all women who attended the opportunity to come together and have important conversations that will help build future women leaders. Additionally, I’d like to thank Kaye Foster, a SHE-CAN supporter and Spelman Trustee, and my incredible SHE-CAN mentors that were with me that night for their moral support: Catherine Jaeger, Paik Swan Low and Barbara Reiter. While I'm away from my family in Rwanda, I think of my mentors support. It gives me the courage to achieve anything I set my mind to, and I know I can become who I want to be in the future.
Before I started at Bucknell University, I used to think I knew enough about college but it turns out I was wrong. My first semester in college was a mix of anxiety, surprise and homesickness, but every moment was also filled with joy.
The first time I stepped on the campus with two of my mentors, Diane Kohler and Miranda Holmes, I was excited! Excited to meet new people and excited to learn and grow as a person. During the international orientation, I made some of my closest friends at school, and it was fun getting to know people who were experiencing college for the first time just like me.
However, this excitement started to diminish as the assignments increased and I missed home. I dealt with my homesickness by getting involved on campus. I joined The TAB which is an online newspaper that operates on different universities. I became a representative for my freshmen hall and was recently elected as one of the strategic planning officers of Bucknell’s Africa Student Association (BASA).
Getting involved helped me meet more students who were or had been where I am, and I got to exercise my communication and leadership skills. I also loved getting to know all my different professors and learning from them. I know that building these connections was the reason my first semester of college was a success!
After my first semester, I spent winter break with the most amazing people - my mentors. I was in Ohio with my mentor Pam Royer days before I flew to California, and I was touched by the love and warmth she showed me. She took me to different places in Ohio including the zoo at a time when it looked really beautiful with all the Christmas decorations and snow.
I also got to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Palo Alto with my mentor Neary Ting and her beautiful family and in San Francisco with Christine Le and her family. Neary introduced me to Star Wars, and I was excited when we went to see it at the movie theater. I had the pleasure of meeting her parents and sisters, tasting their wonderful Cambodian dishes and I won’t even get started on all the Christmas gifts! I went to see plays with Christine, got to meet her family and friends and even attended the SHE-CAN Farmgirl Flowers event with her mom and my lead mentor Miranda Holmes.
Another reason why being in the Bay Area this winter break was a great experience for me was because I got together with other SHE-CAN scholars at the Leadership Summit whom I hadn’t seen for months. I loved learning from the facilitators and scholars during different workshops. I was so inspired by all the women who spoke to us and the whole experience reminded me of my purpose and that I had all these women cheering me on to fulfill it.
Overall, I’ve grown a lot of this past semester and had the most beautiful time this winter break. It was magical spending time with my mentors and being reunited with my SHE-CAN sisters.
Read stories written by our talented scholars and multiple voices across the SHE-CAN network