EVERETT — Mey Ly, 19, enters her senior year at Mariner High School with straight A’s and a drive to succeed and make her mother proud, as well as the family they left behind in Cambodia for better education opportunities.
Question: You moved to the United States at age 16 from Cambodia. What was that like?
Answer: It’s really tough for me because I have to move away from my family, especially my brothers, and they have to take care of everything in Cambodia. It was really weird to me when I first came here. Oh shoot, just me and my mom here. I feel sad sometimes. I miss my family … But I have my own responsibility for my future.
Q: What was it that prompted you and your mom to move?
A: So first my mom came here because we wanted to change our life better after my dad passed away. She want me to have a higher education, especially because my mom and my dad never went to high school. They want me to finish school and have a better life.
Q: What was that first day like?
A: Everything is totally different from my country. When I just first got here, everyone was like friendly to me, and gave me a warm welcome. Especially they had a freshman orientation. They want you to feel like you are at home. If you have a problem, they will help you. So I feel more comfortable. And also I like the education system here.
In Cambodia you have to pay money, your parent have to work really hard to pay for you to go to school. Since my mom does not have a lot of money and we are from a poor family, too. … I feel like when I came here and you get a good opportunity and you don’t have to pay money, I really appreciate that. I really value that.
Q: Do you miss anything from Cambodia besides your family?
A: I had best friends. So coming here, you have to make new friends. And it’s hard. I really want a best friend that you can share with, that you can do anything with them. Right now I have friends, but not a lot. I really miss them. In Cambodia, I studied Chinese with them. We were best friends but so competitive (because top scores could waive school fees).
Q: Have you had an opportunity to use your skill, being multilingual?
A: Yes, so I know English and I also know Cambodian so I also work as an interpreter. That is my first job. It is through Refugee and Immigrant Services in downtown Everett. My mom, she doesn’t speak English. So I have to take care of everything, for like family, for housing, for my own education, for money to support my family.
Q: Does that give you a different perspective than most other high school students?
A: Yes, I see it differently. Outside where it is really competitive and you have to work really hard to compete with other people — so I feel like I really need to improve myself a lot in order to work with people in society, in order to walk in society and feel like you belong to. As an immigrant, sometimes I feel like English is so struggling for me, and I really want to speak English like other people.
Q: What’s your favorite class right now?
A: I’m taking visual communications, because I like taking photo. I feel I can express myself with photography.
Q: What are your plans for after high school?
A: I’m planning to go to university if I can, if I apply and they accept me. If not then I’ll still go to community college. I’m liking the business field. I hope that I can run my own company. That’s what I really want for my future. … I have my family in Cambodia and, if they want to open a factory or something to make clothes or to make cosmetic or to make anything, it is really cheap over there. It’s a really big dream, but I will work hard for it.
Q: You’re in National Honor Society, but otherwise focus on getting those top grades.
A: I don’t join much club because I don’t have much time after school and I stay late after school sometimes to get help. I can describe myself as perfectionist. I always want things to be perfect.
Q: Do you have anyone who inspires you or you look up to as a mentor?
A: My mom especially because she has been through so many things in life. She inspires by giving me advice. She doesn’t want me to go through those kinds of bad stuff like her. She’s really a strong woman and I want to be like her. She can handle any situation.
Q: What does it feel like to be at this stage?
A: I feel exciting and I also feel like I can say I am proud of myself. There are so many things that could stop me but I keep moving forward. I am going to have a bright future if I work hard for that. I’m exciting to go out and explore new things by myself.
Q: Do you ever see yourself going back to Cambodia?
A: I feel like I want to, but I think that since I first landed on American land that my life will be here and I will make my life successful in America, because I think there is a lot of opportunity for me to prove myself, to prove to my family that I will be success in the future.
Q: Is there anything I haven’t asked that would be good for people to know about you?
A: I want people to know that I’m a responsible person. In order for me to have all A’s straight for three years, I worked so hard. And people didn’t realize that because I don’t show it out that I really care. I really value education here. Why not take the opportunity and make it worth it?
Melissa Slager: 425-339-3432; firstname.lastname@example.org.