From Cambodian orphanage to TWU dorm room.

Cambodian Sureyah Tach found his way to TWU all the way from an orphanage in Phnom Penh.

At first glance, Sureyah Tach looks like any other Trinity Western University student. Wearing a TWU sweat-shirt with baggy jeans and sneakers, and sporting the quintessential student accessory – a backpack - the 20-year-old matches pretty much everyone around him at school…but what doesn’t match is his story.

Growing up outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia he had a happy life, with a mother, father and six siblings. But when Sureyah was six, his mother died of high blood pressure, and then at the age of 12, he lost his father to liver disease. The young Cambodian and his brothers and sisters were displaced, leaving him to grow up in an orphanage. 

Recalling the death and separation of his family, Sureyah says, “To me it’s not a family; it’s a whole body, and when you are fragmented from them, it feels like you’ve lost a part of yourself. It’s been very difficult - I never felt complete because I did not have a family. “

Behind his kind brown eyes, one wonders about the experiences the young man has had living in a country shaped by genocide and Sureyah-DormRoom1-squarethe dark history of the Khmer Rouge. Growing up alone without the support or security of his family, Sureyah chose to embrace his existence and bloomed where he was planted. 

To me living in an orphanage is like a big family.  It is such a great experience for me because I can see how different people, boys and girls, ended up in there.  As I learned about their backgrounds, it changed my life a lot and affected how I see people and how I see the world. Because of that I really have a compassion for Cambodia, and I really love the people,” says Sureyah.

So how does a young Cambodian orphan arrive at Langley’s Trinity Western University? “It’s like everything was set up by God,” Sureyah recalls as he shares his story of coming to Canada.  After being accepted and attending the Logos International School in Phnom Penh, no small feat unto itself, he was introduced to Trinity Western University through an Abbotsford teacher, Mr. Dean Weiss, and TWU Admissions Counselor Amy Alexander, who were visiting the international school and presenting TWU to its students.

“I really didn’t know if I could go or not because in all my life, living at the orphanage, there wasn’t anybody who completed high school and went on to study at university,” shares Sureyah. Upon graduating from high school, he applied to TWU not knowing if this dream would ever become a reality; as an orphan, he was without the means to leave the country let alone afford a higher education abroad.

Weiss and Alexander, after returning to Canada, began sharing Sureyah’s story and his desire to come to TWU.  Within a few short months many donors contributed towards a scholarship set up for him, and in September 2009, Sureyah transversed continents and cultures, and found himself sleeping in his first real bed—on a mattress - in his own TWU dorm room.

“Coming to TWU and to university was a huge step. It was a goal for me. Now in whatever I do, I will bring back this knowledge and help those in Cambodia.  I promised my brother and sister that I would study hard.  I would like to somehow change lives when I return to Cambodia,” says Sureyah.

But for now, the young science student, keen on entering the nursing program, is busy juggling a heavy course load and a series of firsts – his first roommate, first university curriculum, his first autumn and soon his first snow fall.

“There is a lot of joy, but it’s also overwhelming,” laughs a grateful Sureyah.

Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C., is a provincially chartered, independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university, enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers 42 undergraduate majors, ranging from biotechnology, education, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include nursing, counseling psychology, business, theology, linguistics, and leadership, and interdisciplinary degrees in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Dead Sea Scroll Studies, Developmental Genetics and Disease, and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.

Last Updated: 2009-11-18
Author: Erin Mussolum