Michaela Woodward – Staff Writer
Originally from Cambodia, Senior Ratana Chheng’s Gustavus experience has been built on community, the liberal arts experience and being able to grow and share her knowledge with her peers.
While attending public school in Cambodia, Chheng was recruited in elementary school to study with an NGO program that taught English. Learning English brought her to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, a highly-ranked boarding school in the United States, where she then graduated and was told about Gustavus by a counselor.
While researching, she was drawn to the close-knit community that is cultivated on campus and in the classroom.
“I like Gustavus because of the fact that it’s small enough that you can get personalized relationships whether it’s with your professors or working with other people in school. I think I do best when I’m able to interact consistently with the professors,” Chheng said.
Now a double major in Financial Economics and Psychology, Chheng balances her areas of study between experience and interest.
“Ever since middle school I knew I wanted to go into the business industry, simply because back home that’s one of the biggest areas; most people in Cambodia are either subsistence farmers meaning they farm just for themselves, or they are small business owners. I’ve been exposed to that just through culture and living in my country. If possible, I’d like to go into finance in a role that can help empower people to be more strategic about money and to be able to grow their money to survive and to have some left to do whatever makes them happy. Because money does free you up to do what makes you happy,” Chheng said.
Psychology was an interest that took her by surprise. As part of the liberal arts curriculum, she took an Intro to Psychology class and found herself very interested in the topic, so she kept taking more classes.
“I didn’t even think about job prospects for this, I just liked it,” Chheng said.
Chheng prioritizes giving back to the community, even in her extracurriculars. Chheng’s FTS advisor, Dr. Rebecca Fremo, invited her to apply to be a Writing Center Tutor, and in that role she helps students build confidence and skills within their writing.
“As a tutor, I help students who need help with their writing, which is very personal. You put your opinions, you put your beliefs into your writing. I can help the people with their writing and make them more confident and to feel better about their assignment,” Chheng said.
“Ratana has been an integral part of the Writing Center staff since her sophomore year. She’s one of the Team Leaders this year, and she has already led some first-year-orientation sessions and given a tour of the Writing Center for an FTS class. Her enthusiasm for supporting all writers and building their confidence is remarkable–especially for a Financial Economics major! Ratana works three jobs at Gustavus while taking a full load of classes, and she has also volunteered to assist with writing workshops at the Le Sueur County Jail this year. She is a super human,”Director of the Writing Center and Professor Eric Vrooman said.
As a Student Fellow for Public Deliberation and Dialogue, Chheng finds it very rewarding and beneficial to be able to facilitate open-minded conversations.
“Through PDD, we’re able to help people have conversations with each other, even if they disagree, even if they have different opinions, to agree to have discussions and push each other to think about things that they wouldn’t normally think about on their own,” Chheng said.
Additionally, Chheng is President of Thrifty Gold, a student organization dedicated to thrifting, but with the goal of providing sustainable shopping options to lessen environmental impacts and also to provide clothes to communities and people in need through clothes drives and special events.
Chheng has worked in the Center for International and Cultural Education office since she came to Gustavus and enjoys the professional and kind atmosphere where she can assist other international students.
In regard to her own experience as an international student, Chheng is grateful for the opportunities her education has given her, but she also wishes that international students were considered more in the making and unmaking of policies, such as internship requirements and move-in. As the Student Senate International Student Representative in 2021, she led a proposal to solve difficulties with move-in which was approved and will continue to be worked on this year.
Outside of school, Chheng enjoys reading, learning and relaxing by watching stand-up comedy. Chheng’s life philosophy prioritizes happiness and wellness for herself and others.
Strive to do what makes you happy and healthy, but do not harm yourself or others. It’s always a big bonus if you can help your community or other people and be happy and healthy as well,” Chheng said.