My Last STORY at KAS Cambodia

“KAS Cambodia is a place where we don’t always need a suit to make a change.”

I first got to know KAS (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung) four years ago in 2018 through a pronounced and catchy publication, titled “Cambodia’s Foreign Relations in Regional and Global Contexts,” which was published by this Foundation, a publication that was edited by two of my proud professors at the University.

By that time, as a sophomore student of Political Science and International Relations, having a hard copy of the publication in hand was so intelligently sexy, while the contents inside were ingrained with new insights into Cambodia’s position in the world. But the name of the publisher was very new to me, personally. I then had learned that the Foundation, the publisher, was named after the founding and first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (1949–1963), Konrad Adenauer, a co-establisher of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), a party to then-Chancellor Angela Markel. Then the word “Stiftung” was learned as a German word of the “foundation.” Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, in short, is a German political think tank and foundation, align with the CDU Party, operating worldwide in more than 120 countries. I had learned all of this information more clearly when I was prepared for a job interview there after my graduation in July 2020, to be frank.

The Portrait of Chancellor Adenauer in KAS Cambodia Office | Aug. 2021

There was a Tuesday afternoon in July 2020 that a miracle did happen to change and shape a life of an ordinary boy. A few days after the completion of my fourth year at the university, I was applying for an open officer vacancy at KAS Cambodia, a place where I once had no ideas about. A few days later after interactive and friendly conservation with the interviewers (who I still remember their first fascial impressions of me on that day), I received an email of the job offer, an email that changed my life. In August 2020, I joined KAS Cambodia as a Research Officer, working on the social science research-related projects of the Foundation.

The First Team Photo | Aug. 2020

I first did not expect that it is an open and free working office I had ever known. After my first Learning Lunch presentation on “American Liberalism” at the end of my first month in office, my Country Director just came to me with a given budget to organize a public event on the upcoming 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. Without hesitation, I fearlessly took the job, simply because American politics is always my specialized topic. I did my 80-page-long thesis on the comparative American foreign policies of the last two administrations (The Obama and the Trump). The November 03 Event filled out the room. Up to around 60 people participated interactively. The program was well organized in which the initial goal of the event was reached. Besides, among other things, Research Colloquium, KAS-ASEM Youth Summit, and International Relations Synopsis were the three dominant projects of mine throughout my first year.

“The Election Night in the Morning” Event @KASCambodiaOffice | Nov. 03, 2020

2021 was the most memorable year in my life so far, professionally and personally. I happened to meet and communicate with hundreds of different participants regularly through my projects from many places within and outside the country.

I jointly organized the digital launch event of one KAS’s renounced publication — Cambodia 2040: International Relations and Governance, the first time I learned how to organize a virtual livestream event | Mar. 2021

With the hit of the pandemic worldwide, conventional ways of running the projects and hosting events were switched to digital format. I still remember how I hosted event after event, moderated discussion after discussion, with experts, students, practitioners, and partners from my cozy bedroom during the restrictive nationwide lock-down in Cambodia. I was once sitting down and moderating a virtual public event, the International Relations Synopsis, with the German Ambassador, Deputy-head of Mission of the European Union in Cambodia and an American educator to discuss the West’s Indo-Pacific Approach to the Region. It has always been a childhood dream to be sitting down with the leading diplomats and discuss the world’s topics. At the same time, I could partially support my team and other program managers from a distance, bringing the fullest of KAS Cambodia to the public during this hard time. With this flexibility, genuine support, and courage, I was able to mobilize the voices of young change-makers from many walks of life on the ground. I was more optimistic than ever before about the future of this nation.

KAS-ASEM YOUTH SUMMIT I hosted | Apr. 2021
First Series of IR Synopsis | Aug. 27, 2021

A morning in the fourth week of September 2021, in an exclusively virtual meeting with my previous Country Director, I was sadly informed about the leaving of one of my great colleagues in a month, a program manager for the digitalization program, a man who jointly recruited me one year ago. But the sad news ended with excitement and surprise that I was designated to be his successor. I got mixed feelings by that time. On one hand, I was so happy and grateful for the promotion, trust, and support. But on the other hand, I was questioning myself repeatedly whether I was the right person for this position with greater responsibility.

My first official photo as Program Manager for Digitalization | Oct. 2021

“Your personality and professional work have always proved your very suitability for this new role, Oudom. And shall be no any doubts about yourself,” said my previous Country Director.

The Last Planning Workshop with the Team | Sep. 2021

Her words calmed the fire of doubtfulness inside me down a little bit but things became eventually obscure when I was introduced to partners, some were high-ranking people, including state secretaries, association leaders, institution managers… etc. I was then a young boy of age 23, with a kiddish appearance, face, and voice, greeting the elders who I had no ideas about their inner impression and expectation of me. But every day ever since, I never let those undefined fears and doubts knock me down. I woke up every morning, heading to my office with only one purpose — to prove that age and younger appearance aren’t cynicism about my professionalism. I was doing my best to up to the job.

The Joint-Statement of the KAS-ASEM YOUTH SUMMIT | Apr. 2021

In the fourth week of September, I was the second-day Host of the three-day KAS Political Empowerment Academy Program with 30 people participating online. I then had received various positive feedback on my job. After a few weeks of hard work on finalizing two big publications of the digitalization program of the year, I had put my fullest effort to organize a virtual launch event in October 2021, aiming to kick out the most progressive virtual launch event in the history of KAS Cambodia. As a result, I received many feedbacks, quoting that the event was like “a wonderful television show” or an “Apple’s products launch.” The Minister of Education then asked for the hard copies of the publications right after the launch event. I smiled a little bit and was thankful for all the support and trust I had received throughout the process.

Behind the stage of the digital launch event of the two #FutureofWork publications | Oct. 22, 2022

2022 becomes a year of new challenges. All plans for the new year were designed, while projects and budgets were settled. In February 2022, with the support of my new Country Director, I went further for an official Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology, and Innovation, an MoU that led us to another wonderful joint project on the Innovation Investment Index project in Cambodia.

Getting the MoU with MISTI signed | Jan. 12, 2022

The annual publication series, called Digital Insights, was planned for the theme of the Future of Cities, while a study tour to Germany would likely take place in June 2022 with 6–8 Cambodian key persons from the government, National Assembly, private sector and relevant organizations. The plan is to have the publication finished in June and ready for the big launch event in Digital Future Talk in July 2022, a month after coming back from the study tour, and to get everything set at least by August 2022. I was so excited to cross out the checklists of the projects and ready for the big things ahead. In the upcoming month of March, it was planned that I would be going to host and moderate a discussion on a very timely sensitive topic of National Internet Gateway with Human Rights experts, the Ministry people, and the journalists. I decided to name the event myself the “National Internet Gateway: Security or Scrutiny?”. Many saw it as a “brave” title. But then the game changed. It was when I got an email in the morning late of February from the Embassy of Japan in Cambodia that I was successfully accepted to the Graduate School of International Cooperations Studies at Takushoku University in Tokyo, Japan, under a fully-funded MEXT Scholarship Program.

The Email | Feb. 10, 2022

The school would start in April 2022, a designated time that my story with KAS Cambodia would come to an end. I came to my Country Director with the news and the first response I had got was “Congratulations, Oudom!”. He did it out loud in a way that everyone nearby could hear the phrase. I then had learned that it was a critical time for KAS since the other two of my great colleagues would leave the office at the same time as mine, one of them is going back to Germany while another one is going on her great educational journey ahead in somewhere near Berlin. Despite the challenges that he and the office would face upon the three’s leavings at the same time, he chose to be an open and supportive leader. He wanted me to go for what is better for me without the sense of guilt feelings.

Dr. Schmücking and I

My last public event at KAS Cambodia was to moderate the above-mentioned National Internet Gateway topic. It was March 10, 2022, when the room of the KAS Office was filled out again after a long time through the pandemic and lockdown with the presence of around 60 participants. This was one of the greatest moderation experiences so far in my life. The full room reminded me once again that I was so blessed, for once last time, to see the same energy I once saw during my first organized event on American Election amost two years ago in this great Foundation’s office.

My Last Public Event on National Internet Gateway Discussion | Mar. 10, 2022

Personally, it was a big dilemma in my lifetime too. On one hand, I have a job that I love — a good-paying and secured job in a managerial position in which most of the things are guaranteed — , while on another hand, I have to go to a non-English-speaking place, in which everything is new to me and everything is not guaranteed, especially during the pandemic. But I usually found my soul in a place that scares me the most. This time isn’t exceptional. I chose to go for an option that fears me the most by quitting my job and going to Japan.

“I have been here for around one year and a half. I have watched people come and go all the time. It is usually emotional. But this evening is my turn to say goodbye to all of you, despite the fact that everything seems surreal to me up until now.” I outlined my first few sentences in my farewell speech during the party.

It has been a great time here at KAS Cambodia, despite the life-changing and eye-opening opportunity that has been given, my first impression of KAS Cambodia is still the same. To me, personally, KAS is a place where we do not always need a suit to make a change. It is simply because we change and inspire the lives of so many young and future change-makers on the ground through our projects, and I am optimistic that at one certain point in the future, they will change Cambodia and the world for the better too.” I ended my speech with these sentences.

The Latest Team Photo | Jan. 2022

KAS Cambodia offers an open place in which it’s hard to find this kind of openness anywhere else outside the Foundation’s office. Happening to be a young-looking man working in a managerial position for a foreign (Western) political think tank in a mostly conservative Cambodian society is a bit unconventional.

I was stereotyped by the ways I looked, spoke, dressed, walked, greeted, or even the way I did the handshake whenever I got to meet several senior Cambodian partners, especially the people in the government. I could feel through my eyes that, to them, I was just a young kid with no experience sitting there in a room that was mostly occupied by the voices of the elder men. My opinion, knowledge, experiences, or inputs were not usually asked or considered just because I looked young. But this isn’t applied to the KAS Cambodia and its great people. The stereotypical label is obsolete here at KAS Cambodia since it is home to young and future change-makers. The consistent support and trust put into me had been a leading motivation for my presence in KAS’s missions for this particular country. It’s an exceptional peculiarity of this organization.

The Last Team Photo | Mar. 28, 2022

Every day at KAS was a mixture of challenges and joys. It had been a blessing to work every day with young and talented people, bringing impact to this society. KAS Cambodia consists of many individuals with grateful, open, couragous, helpful, and supportive souls. Each one of them holds the spirit of uniqueness contributing to the relentless strength of the so-called ‘KAS Cambodia Team.’

I was so proud to be a part of the journey and I really can’t thank them all enough.

With loves,

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Oudom Oum

Oudom Oum

M.Res. Candidate in International Development Studies at the Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies of Takushoku University, Tokyo, Japan.