At Gettysburg College, our students are given the opportunity to explore new subjects and perspectives and tap into experiences that challenge them to think critically and reflexively. International student Srey Nich Vunn ’22 who flew to the U.S. from her home country, Cambodia, to pursue higher education in 2018, has experienced this firsthand, as Gettysburg has given her many opportunities to further pursue her passion for social change.
“Coming to Gettysburg, I didn’t just want to go to class and listen to a lecture, but I wanted to be actively involved,” said Vunn, an international affairs and economics double major. “I met many people from different backgrounds, especially from joining different clubs through the Center for Public Service (CPS). For example, eRace’s gender and social justice dialogues. I was able to educate myself better about issues my peers are going through here, and I was also able to share with them about Cambodia.”
Vunn first learned of Gettysburg College through SHE-CAN, an organization that provides support for female leaders from post-conflict countries to pursue college education in the U.S.
Growing up in a small community in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia, Vunn was surrounded by a community that shared a common background and mindset. She learned early on that her family, neighbors, and millions of other Cambodians had lived through a horrible Khmer Rouge genocide and decades of civil war. All of this heart-wrenching history has inspired her to be resilient and take on any challenge and opportunity given to her.
“I’ve developed my passion for social justice because of my upbringing. I grew up with survivors of the worst genocide, and they taught me to appreciate everything given to me,” Vunn said.
On campus, Vunn is an student information presenter for Admissions, an office assistant at the Center for Career Engagement, and a program coordinator for CPS immersion projects. In her first year on campus, she was awarded an opportunity to complete a summer fellowship in Namibia for eight weeks, which focused on education and youth development.
During her time in Namibia, she assisted with teaching in a primary and a secondary school in a small town called Omaruru by preparing lesson plans and teaching subjects such as economics, mathematics, and life skills. Vunn also worked to empower girls by leading discussion in a girl’s club in both schools—facilitating conversations about topics such as about dating, menstruation, and applying to college.
In her sophomore year at Gettysburg, Vunn took on a leadership position as a program coordinator to lead a group of students on a week-long trip to Alabama, where they learned about the civil rights movement during the ’60s. Before the trip, she coordinated a meeting with all participants, during which they learned the history of the civil rights era through documentary films, group discussion, and lectures from guest speakers. They further explored this in Alabama, particularly in Selma and Montgomery, by visiting museums and interviewing locals.
“It was challenging, but I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect, or be an expert,” Vunn said. “I just need to have the courage to find ways to educate my [peers] and learn together.”
These experiences at Gettysburg prepared Vunn for an internship with the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on women empowerment in the areas of human rights, economics, and political participation. During her remote internship this past summer, she participated in a research project that focused on U.S. foreign policy and gender-based violence in Southeast Asia.
Her involvements, both on and off campus, have allowed Vunn to not only better educate herself hands-on, about different global issues such as gender-based violence, poverty, gender inequality and beyond, but they have also sparked her passion to give back to her community and the world, as a global citizen.
“I think we all have the responsibility to give back to the community and be a part of solution,” Vunn said.
The liberal arts education at Gettysburg College has afforded her the freedom of opportunity, which she has fully taken advantage of through thoughtful action.
Embracing her passion for social change and helping to make the world a better place, Vunn plans to go to law school after graduation, pursuing international human rights law. Her ultimate goal is to work in an international organization, where she can continue fighting for social change and human rights in Cambodia and across the world.
“Get out there, listen, and participate,” Vunn advises her peers. “The ability to find yourself in a space where you can think critically, in a room of people from different backgrounds, different stories, will challenge you to think about your identity and privilege, and that will allow you to help solve issues.”
Learn about immersion projects at Gettysburg College and other opportunities for students to create change in local and global communities through the Center for Public Service.
By Sokuntheary Heang ’24
Photos courtesy of Srey Nich Vunn ’22