Chhim Chaknineath was awarded the Chevening Scholarship for one year of postgraduate study in the UK for the academic year 2022-2023 along with a group of 10 other outstanding students who applied.
She spent more than a year researching and studying – as well as consulting with many former Chevening scholars – prior to taking the test that qualified her for the scholarship. She was definitely smart to do so as only two to three per cent of all candidates who apply for the Chevening Scholarship are awarded one.
Chaknineath, 25, has two siblings and was born in Chbar Ampov district. Her father is a government official and her mother is a housewife. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in law from the Royal University of Law and Economics in 2018 and then earned another Bachelor’s degree in communications from the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Institute of Foreign Languages in 2019.
Chaknineath said that she has wanted to study in the UK since graduating from high school, but would never have had the chance to do so on her own, but then she became friends with some people who had studied in the UK and she heard about the Chevening Scholarship and knew she had to apply.
“When I started working, I met two former Chevening scholars who were always telling me to go to the UK to get a Master’s degree and I was already interested so I applied,” she said.
According to Chaknineath, she applied for the scholarship this year because she first needed to fulfil the scholarship’s conditions, which require two years of working experience first.
“During my working period, I also worked hard to find out what it takes to win the scholarship. After I had enough work experience, I applied for the scholarship in 2022 and I passed,” she said.
Now she’s planning to pursue a Master’s of International Commercial Law at the City University of London. The law school there has some very notable alumni, such as Mahatma Gandhi, British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, among others.
She stated that before she applied for the scholarship exam, she did research and sought advice from more senior scholars on techniques for winning scholarships.
She also took advantage of the extensive archive of past articles published by The Phnom Penh Post that are available online and read about the experiences of past winners of prestigious scholarships over the years.
“I started researching. I asked a senior who had received a scholarship to study in the UK about their experience with winning a scholarship and what to say during the interview and how to write the personal statement,” she said.
Chaknineath also regularly participates in seminars where people share experiences related to scholarship exams. One thing that was unexpectedly favourable for her was the Covid-19 crisis, which forced most meetings to be held online and she was able to obtain quite a bit of information from attending many more online workshops than she’d have been able to make it to in person.
“I would like to tell those who want to take the Chevening Scholarship exam that they should participate in the seminars related to that scholarship or the one they want to apply to because older scholars share their experiences with how they passed the exam,” she said.
She added that from her research she learned how to write a statement for her scholarship from the older scholarship winners as well.
She said that writing essays for scholarship exams on a topics like leadership required not just writing about leadership in the abstract, but also providing real examples from one’s own life or work to show how they relate to the theme personally.
“I think anyone who wants to apply for a Chevening Scholarship should read the questions they ask carefully and study them until the last day of the scholarship’s application period and make sure they understand what they want and what they are asking about,” she said.
She said that there were four essay questions that required 500 words each. The first question was focused mainly on leadership. The second question focused on communications and the third question was related to choosing universities.
The fourth question was related to the candidate’s goals. It asked what the candidate wanted to do with their education after returning to their home country after graduation, with three areas to base one’s answer on: short-term, medium-term and long-term goals.
Chaknineath advises candidates to think seriously on this question and come up with something as concrete and specific as possible for short-term goals that they know they can achieve.
The scholarship does not allow candidates to continue to live and work in the UK so you must give solid plans for what you will do or where you will work in Cambodia immediately after you return and make that clear.
The medium-term plan should cover what you’d like to accomplish in the next five years and then the long-term goals should be as ambitious as you can make them without sounding grandiose or delusional, she said.
“For me, I guess my short-term goal, after graduating from the UK is to go back to my old job because I have now taken a leave of absence from my job for reasons of continuing my studies but I will be able to return to it. I also want to share what I learn with my friends when I get back,” she said.
Chaknineath also said that applicants should be prepared in advance for the interview, but to avoid excessively worrying or being afraid of the experience. She admitted that as a candidate she was frightened, but in order to do well a person has to calm down and be confident in themselves to show that they are ready to go and study abroad in the UK on their own.
She noted that candidates must make a clear choice about what they intend to study should they win the scholarship before applying for it.
“For myself, I wanted to study law. So I researched which universities in the UK offered law degrees and what sort of specialisations were available so I would know which schools offered this or that skill and where they were located,” she said.
On September 8, the British embassy in Phnom Penh hosted a farewell ceremony for the Chevening Scholarship winners at the residence of the British ambassador. This year, 11 outstanding Cambodian students were sent to various universities in the UK in fields related to Cambodia’s development needs.
The 11 winners will be studying a diverse range of fields including finance, banking and investment; social and public policy; business management and analysis; law; education and technologies that enhance learning; artificial intelligence; economics and international development, according to the embassy press release.
Marc Thayre, deputy head of mission at the British embassy in Cambodia, said that all UK partner universities work tirelessly to ensure that all of the students are safe and able to start their courses as soon as they arrive in the UK.
“They are a group of outstanding Cambodian students who will go to the UK’s first-rank universities and experience the life and culture of our beautiful country,” he said.
He added that the UK was proud of its long-standing commitment to provide Chevening Scholarships to Cambodians. All scholars return to Cambodia after their studies, which is a key to Cambodia’s future development.
Youk Ngoy, secretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, congratulated the 11 Cambodian students who received scholarships for postgraduate studies in the UK on behalf of the education ministry.
“I believe that through this scholarship, Cambodian students will gain valuable knowledge and skills to bring back home so that they can use their experiences to assist with the development of Cambodia,” he said.
Ngoy told the group of scholars to study hard in the UK and to contact the Cambodian embassy in London if they have any questions, concerns or problems while they are studying abroad there.