Grace College welcomed its second-largest class this year, 464 new students. The class also happens to be the most culturally diverse in school history, representing 20 different countries. During the first few weeks at Grace, students were introduced to the campus theme this year: “Hope.” This theme will serve as a reminder to students that even when life gets hard, there is unshakeable hope found in Christ. This idea has resonated with one incoming student in particular.
Selina Saing was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, which is still on the mend from Khmer Rouge, a communist regime that targeted the educated middle class, wiped out a quarter of Cambodia’s population, and devastated the country. Now enrolled as a freshman studying English education at Grace, Selina plans to return to her country after graduation to help revive the education system and bring proper education to children who remain in the shadow of the devastation.
Selina’s father was six years old during Cambodia’s communist rule. He tragically lost several family members in the war, but successfully escaped to a province where his surviving family built a new life. At this time, the Buddhist family began listening to a Christian radio station, through which they heard and received the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, her father is a full-time pastor and leader of Shalom Mission Cambodia, a network with churches spread all across Cambodia — a place where just 30 years ago, Christians were meeting in secret.
Because of her father’s radical conversion story, Selina and her three younger siblings have been able to attend a Christian school and learn English — an opportunity many in the country cannot afford.
“The country is still facing a lot of poverty,” said Selina. “Since Cambodia is in the healing phase of the war, the education system is down. There are good schools, but they are exclusively for first-class people.”
As Selina began to think about her future, and the impact she could make with a college education, she became more and more interested in the idea of going to college abroad. She first learned of Grace College through John Hayden, a Grace alumnus who had visited her father early on as a church planter. Hayden and her father kept in touch through the years, and Hayden even hosted Selina’s father during one of his seminary visits to the states. He planted the seed that Selina should attend Grace.
“When I began researching Grace my sophomore year, I knew I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else,” said Saing.
Choosing an English education major was easy for Selina. Only around 22 percent of Cambodians know English, and according to Selina, increasing English education is key to fighting poverty.
“If you know English in Cambodia, you are considered smart, and you can find good job opportunities with good pay,” said Selina. “I want to bring what I learn at Grace back to Cambodia and provide good education at a lower price so that all children can do what they want to do,”
Selina specifically plans to work in the rural part of the country where the need for education is the greatest.
“I’ve been on missions with my dad to these provinces, on which I learned that so many children really want to go to school, but they don’t have enough money,” said Selina. “Since I’ve seen it with my own eyes, I have this passion for helping them. Our country has grown a lot after the war, but I would like to make it better.”
Eventually, Selina hopes to become a teacher of the teachers and to train educators how to administer proper English education. In a country where 65 percent of the population is under 30 years old, many see her generation as a new hope for Cambodia, and Selina is doing everything in her power to be just that.
A version of this story originally appeared in a press release from Grace College. Find out more about Grace on their website here.