“Don’t worry: There is no opportunity, but this is how you can get it,” a student in Sweden shares how she managed this

Sophany Chandara posed at Wayne State University during her exchange program in the USA. Photo provided

PHNOM PENH–Spending time wisely has led Sophany Chandara to be awarded a full scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in Sweden. Akin to the saying of Napoleon Hill “Don’t wait. The time will never be just right,” she views extra activities as a drive to international education.

Born in 1999, Chandara holds a bachelor’s degree in law from the National University of Management and a bachelor’s degree in Education in Teaching English as a Second Language from the Institute of Foreign Languages in Phnom Penh.

A year after finishing her undergraduate studies, she obtained a scholarship to study International Human Rights Law at Lund University in Sweden.

Throughout her undergraduate journey, she focused on immersing herself in diverse social work, volunteering and competition in addition to maintaining her academic performance at a certain level.

“Looking back, what makes me proud is that I had done a lot during my bachelor year,” she said.

Chandara was involved in a debate competition held by Perspective Cambodia–a platform where young people debate and express their thoughts on social issues.

She also participated in the 46th Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Program. Held in 2019, this annual event brought together 29 representatives from each of the 11 participating countries who spent time together on a ship, the goal being to promote mutual understanding and cultural exchange in the region.

Besides that, Chandara was awarded a one-semester scholarship to study in the United States as part of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program.

In early 2023, she went to Albania for a Moot Court Competition–simulating a real-life courtroom setting to allow law students to apply what they have learned. Her focus was on international criminal law or international humanitarian law.

Chandara was also an intern at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law where she learned about the scholarship on international human rights law and decided to give it a go. She made the cut after one try only.

“The institute works on integrating human rights in education, making me more interested in human rights,” Chandara said. “So, I decided to apply for the master's after I finished my internship.”

Chandara in Albania for the Moot Court Competition. Photo provided

The Scholarship and Application 

International Human Rights Law is a broad field, consisting of different rights such as women’s rights, children’s rights, immigration rights and so on, she explained.

In the first semester of her master's degree, the course will be focused on International Law or International Humanitarian Law while in the second semester, she will touch on Human Rights or Human Rights and Remedy that cover various rights. There also are elective courses on Immigration Law, Business and Human Rights Law.

Chandara had to submit two applications simultaneously: one for admission to Lund University and the other for a scholarship at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute. She was admitted in March 2023 and granted a full scholarship in April. And so, she left for Sweden in August 2023.

Writing a motivational letter and passing the required IELTS (International English Language Testing System) challenged her. 

“For me, it was a bit difficult, although I have studied English for many years and use English on a daily basis,” she said. “I had never taken an IELTS test before. They have criteria for judgment. So for me, it was hard.”

Charadara achieved a 7.5 band score while the application required at least a 6.5 band score.

The tip for an outstanding motivational letter is being yourself, she stressed, adding that the letter shows the uniqueness and story of each candidate with examples and hands-on experience.

“Telling our story is better than writing something in general, such as showing your commitment,” Chandara said. “All of the candidates have the commitment to study. So why should you be chosen?

“You may not want to cover a lot of things in the motivational letter as there are word limits,” she said. “Therefore, find your standout points. Sharing your real experience is more touching.”

Chandara has her uniqueness. “With all my experiences, I think these create the uniqueness, that I used my time wisely during the pursuit of my bachelor’s degree. I spent my time not only on studying but on extra activities. Although I was active in extra activity, I could still maintain my GPA [grade point average].​ So, it guaranteed that I could catch up with the study pace and graduate.”

In some scholarships, work experience is not required, but these can be extra points to compete with other candidates, Chandara said. It shows that the candidate has a strong sense of responsibility and commitment, she said.

In developed countries, education is more student-oriented, and students, thus, must take responsibility for their own actions and study, Chandara said.

She encourages the best use of the four years at university for the bachelor's degree. “If we study hard, it’s four years,” she said. “But if we don’t study hard, it’s also four years. I encourage you to study from school as well as society, meet new people and make connections.”

Opportunities are offered to those who seek them, Chandara said, urging young people to manage their studies and at the same time grow who they are by joining various activities so that they can give back to society and the nation.

“Don’t fear that there is no opportunity but fear whether we have the fullest ability to catch that opportunity,” said Chandara. “Wherever we go, we can contribute to social development.”

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