MEET OUR STUDENTS: Pichthyda Ninth of Cambodia

“I’m not a traditional Cambodian nor am I like an American. I’m a strange combination of both,” said Pichthyda Ninth, 19, an international student majoring in management.

Ninth speaks both her native Khmer and English fluently. The latter she learned at an international high school in Cambodia where all of her teachers were either American or Canadian. Her classmates also came from all over the world – Europe, China, Australia the Middle East. It was like growing up in the United Nations, she said.

On the other hand, her home life has been “very traditional.” One of three children in an affluent family of business owners, Ninth said, “In my culture, I will always be a child to my parents. Cambodian parents are particularly protective of their daughters. It took a lot of consideration for them to let me come to America. But the U.S. is a very powerful country with excellent schools. Though Canada and some European countries have excellent schools, the cost of college in America is reasonable.”

Along with Ninth, who is majoring in management, her 18-year-old brother Narong is also attending Rhode Island College as a computer science major. They both live with a cousin in Providence. 

In her free time, Ninth engages in art, and her eyes light up at the mere mention of drawing and painting. Yet despite her love of art, it could never be a career option for her, she said. “In Cambodia art is undervalued. The major industries are business, accounting, finance and banking. I will be returning to my country as soon as I graduate, and I need to have a career like management that I can use,” she said. To satisfy her love for aesthetics, Ninth is considering a minor in studio art.

Looking back on her two years in America, Ninth said that whereas adapting to an American school has not been difficult, adjusting to life in America has come with a few culture shocks. One shock was the sight of homeless people. “I know that my country is very undeveloped and that it’s very normal to see beggars on the streets, but when I came here, I asked my cousin, ‘Why are there beggars here?’ America is such a powerful country. I was very shocked,” she said.

Yet America has also brought wonders to this young woman’s life and many firsts, such as her first ice-skating experience at Kennedy Plaza, her first New England snow and, most of all, her first taste of personal freedom, she said. “In Cambodia it’s important to conform, but in America you are free to be yourself. You can express your own uniqueness and share your own opinion without being afraid of being criticized for your beliefs.”

Her advice to future international students: “Be willing to learn, be willing to be inspired by the things around you and have fun exploring America.”

Painting of her homeland by Pichthyda Ninth