Professor Do-Yong Park of the College of Education traveled to Cambodia on a Fulbright award in 2017-2018. To celebrate Fulbright alumni at Illinois State, he recounts his days in the program and the impact it made. #Fulbright@ISU #FulbrightPrgrm

Students working on STEM projects in Cambodia during a Fulbright with Park Do-Yong

Students working on STEM projects in Cambodia.

Describe your Fulbright project
The goal of my Fulbright project, from December of 2017 to May of 2018, was two-fold. First, I helped lay a foundation of STEM education using a systematic approach across 25 provinces in Cambodia. My approach was to provide a consultation to university professors through teaching so that they teach it in their class in each field. As an outcome, seven professors successfully completed the training and were all certified as STEM Education Expert by the Minister of Education, Youth and Sport.

At the same time, I helped senior government officials within the Ministry to establish a ‘Five-Year Action Plan’ with tasks and budget for implementing STEM education at K-12 schools across the nation. Second, I conducted research on how STEM Education was implemented by educators in the context of Cambodia. Data were collected through more than 20 workshops I provided for around 3,000 participants including teachers, students, administrators, university professors, and senior government officials and numerous lectures, talks, personal conversations with the secretariat of state, under-secretariats, directors of education within the Ministry and Regional Offices of Education.

How do you believe your Fulbright experience changed your work after you returned?
I changed the horizon of my perspective of STEM Education around the world. In the past, my idea focused on the American society and culture in which STEM materials tend to be taken for granted in our daily life. However, in Cambodia STEM teaching materials were not readily available, and the learning environment and culture were different. Students’ needs and level of understanding were different. The need of STEM Education was desperate and specific due to the different problems faced by Cambodians. Due to the lack of infrastructure, the scope and depth of STEM Education tends to be limited.  Because of students’ little science background, I had to try different methods of experiments and explanations, which changed my STEM work. However, gladly I learned the full of joy and zeal that Cambodian students, teachers, and professors showed toward STEM Education.

People standing in front of a University

STEM education experts in Cambodia.

Travel can be referred to as the gift of the unexpected. What was the most unexpected thing you saw or experienced?
I received two kinds of gifts. One, I lost my backpack by a thief. I lost everything including passport, laptop computer, research notes, cash, perfume, sunglasses, and smartphone accessories. I felt completely lost and frustrated especially by loss of my research notes. Although it took a while, I learned how to get it over which was a mental gift. Second, one professor among the trainees of STEM Education gave me a painting of Ankor Wat, which is one of the seven wonderments in the world. His uncle drew it for me for 5 months. I felt so rewarded. Theft and Painting were unforgettable experiences and gifts, which I call “a contrasting gift.”

Have you returned to the country where you served your Fulbright award? Had it changed? Had you changed?
Not yet. But I am still in contact with the people that I worked with and promote to spread out STEM education across the country, even to the neighbor countries including Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand.

What do you most wish people could understand about the Fulbright experience?
One, the Fulbright experience would impact your life more than you can imagine.
Two, submerging in different culture and climate requires a great deal of endurance and patience. But it comes back to you with a significant reward and insights of your work.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying for Fulbright?
Fulbright experience should be an inevitable desire if you want to change your work with the whole new horizon of thoughts and perspectives. Seek and you will find a way.