Short but Strong

Standing proud at five-foot-one, to the untrained eye, Ms. Linda Eang may not appear an imposing figure.  It is a mistake that has cost her debate opponents dearly. With an ear trained to listen and mind quick to formulate a well-laid out argument, Linda Eang has earned her reputation as a thoughtful and compelling debater.  Through the IRI-produced television show, “Next Generation,” 24 Cambodian youth engage in a debate competition that concludes each week with a vote, narrowing down the field until only three debaters remain. Through the power of her words and her convincing debate skills, Linda won the third season of “Next Generation” as well as a study-tour to Washington D.C.

Linda began her adventure in the States meeting the staff at IRI, including a private meeting with IRI President, Mark Green.  She also had the opportunity to meet with IRI Board Member, Mrs. Gahl Burt who gave a talk on her time working the U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s administration as Social Secretary during the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Ambassador Mark Green greeting Linda Eang at IRI’s headquarters in Washington D.C.

Linda was given a private tour of House Speaker John Boehner’s office, where she was able to see the view from his private balcony looking over the Mall and the Washington Monument. On that same day she received a U.S. Capitol tour where she learned about the history of the U.S. legislature.

Though in Washington D.C., Linda was still happy to show off her Cambodian pride!

From a whirlwind of meetings on Capitol Hill and the Federal Triangle, Linda was able to meet with such organizations and agencies as the U.S. Agency for International Development, Library of Congress and Congressional Research Service, all of whom were excited to meet with Linda and discuss her passions and learn more about her story. Linda received a personal tour at the Library of Congress, where she saw an original copy of the Magna Carta.

Linda’s visit coincided with the “Next Generation” facebook page getting over 10,000 likes on facebook.  Her sign reads “Thank you for the likes!”

The Magna Carta is the first document that established Rule of Law, individual freedom, due process and separation of executive power from the judiciary. It's been described as the "greatest constitutional document of all time". We were curious as to what she thought about the Library of Congress, from the architecture to the important documents housed within, and much to our surprise, for someone famous for being articulate, Linda in a sense of wonder could only describe the building as “wow.”

Perhaps the best part of her study tour was her trip to the Georgetown University debate society: The Philodemic Society of Georgetown University. The Society welcomed Linda with open arms to observe their weekly debate and presented her with an honorary membership to their society for her accomplishments in Cambodia as debate champion. The opportunity to engage with youth her own age and learn more about their views and ideas on debate left Linda inspired and encouraged to bring back their rules of order and parliamentary procedure to debating clubs in Phnom Penh.

Linda enjoyed exploring Washington D.C., particularly historic Georgetown and Georgetown University.

One of the highlights of her trip to the U.S. was the opportunity to be interviewed on Voice of America Khmer television. Linda discussed the “Next Generation” program, and how she beat 23 other contestants to win a trip to Washington.  The people at the Voice of America were engaging and excited to meet Linda, and she was more than happy to meet them as well. Their hospitality extended throughout the tour and allowed Linda the unique opportunity to connect with the vibrant Khmer-American community in Washington D.C.

Linda and Men Kimseng at the Voice of America

Her final Sunday in Washington was spent touring the city, taking in the sites as well as a couple burgers. The day began at the Washington National Cathedral and was followed by a trip to the Air and Space Museum. Linda remarked, “we don’t have anything like this Cambodia… well we don’t yet.” And if truth be told, if the future of Cambodian leadership are as optimistic and thoughtful as Linda, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Cambodian flag planted on the moon within my lifetime. Linda had the unique ability to inspire confidence and excitement about the next crop of Cambodian leaders. The day ended as many American days do, at Shake Shack in downtown D.C. with some American friends enjoying some burgers and fries discussing the weekend and her impressions of America. From the fast-pace that Americans walked to the way that everyone asked her how she was doing, Linda captivated her audience with her sincerity and astute observations of American civic life.

Linda strikes a pose in front of the Cathedral

Leaving Linda on her last day was hard. For having only spent a few days with someone, Linda has the amazing ability to build friendships and captivate audiences. Her only regret while in D.C.? That it didn’t snow. To travel all the way to the United States from Cambodia in winter, endure as much cold as she did, and still no snow just seemed unfair. Yet, as Linda once said, “I do not worry, for I am a lucky girl.” And her luck indeed proved useful for as the taxi pulled into Dulles International Airport the clouds gathered and the season’s first snow blanketed D.C.  An already accomplished tour had now drawn to a close, with no regrets.  Linda returned to Cambodia with new friends and stories to tell about U.S. culture, American political life and the importance of debate and discussion in policy formation.  Her trip will be turned into a documentary to be aired on Cambodian television so that her journey and discoveries can continue to inspire young women throughout Cambodia to find their voice, ask more of their leaders and follow their dreams. 

Posted by

Theodore Wilhite

Assistant Program Officer, Asia Division