Help comes in many forms. And Sreyneat Chan, 24, is grateful for all of it.
Chan comes from humble beginnings. A native of Cambodia, she spent most of her life in rural shelters and non- governmental organizations (NGOs). She lost both of her parents at a young age, leaving her and her nine siblings in a vulnerable position.
Fortunately, an organization, A New Day Cambodia, came to her province. A New Day Cambodia was an international relief and development organization whose goal was to provide shelter, food and education for impoverished children, most of whom worked in a living, working dump, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Much to her excitement, Chan was selected. Though she was sad to leave her brothers and sisters in order to study in the capital, she remained focused on the outcome.
“This was an answer to the hope that one day I could support my brothers and sisters.”
During her studies, another helping hand came through in the form of Cindy and Mark Szadokierski of North Carolina. The Szadokierskis became her sponsors from afar when Chan was eight years old. The couple, with no children of their own, connected with her story as Cindy also lost her parents at a young age. Chan lives with them during academic breaks and considers them her family.
“Even though they are not my real parents, I always keep them as my second parents, my mom and dad; they see me as their daughter.”
With their support, in 2018, she was able to come to the United States to attend a year of schooling at Wyoming Seminary, a private school in nearby Kingston, Pa. It was during a school-organized clean-up project on the Riverfront Commons that Chan first noted the presence of a university called Wilkes.
“I saw a Wilkes-branded shuttle bus drive by us as we were volunteering. I had no idea that there was a University so close to where I was studying.”
From there she spoke with personnel from Wyoming Seminary, including director of international admission, Regina Allen, who also happens to be the spouse of interim vice president of student affairs, Mark Allen. During these conversations and her research of Wilkes, she learned of the Sidhu School of Business and Leadership.
When asked about her favorite part of being a Wilkes student, she pauses. “Everything. The environment. The education. The people. It’s totally different from Cambodia.”
Specifically, she cites her advisor, Na Yoon Kim, assistant professor of management, as a helping hand. Though Chan started studying English years ago while in Cambodia, she notes that slang can trip her up. Whether she needs help with the language or with her studies, Kim has been a guiding force at Wilkes.
Now she is graduating with a degree in management and a minor in entrepreneurship, with her choice of major shaped by her life experience.
“In the NGOs and shelters in Cambodia, I was the ‘room leader.’ Rooms usually include about 12 kids and they need someone to manage the room.” In addition, Sreyneat cites being one of 10 children. With numerous siblings, nieces and nephews, she quickly learned that she had a strength in managing and helping others.
Next up is pursuing her MBA at nearby Marywood University starting this fall. After that, she looks forward to starting her career and eventually returning to Cambodia.
Ultimately, she wants to start a business in her home country. But she also wants to build a school for children with upbringings similar to her own. Growing up poor, she witnessed first-hand how wealth, or a lack thereof, can be a limiting factor when it comes to educational opportunity.
“My niece wants to learn English. In Cambodia, that requires her to ride her bike to a room with no roof where she sits in the hot sun for hours,” she said. “I want people to have the same opportunity as I did. I feel very lucky to have a chance to live and study in the United States.”