How I became a Khmer language ‘specialist’
According to DC-based National Language Service Corps (NLSC), a US Congress initiated and funded organization, I am a Khmer language specialist. I have been a charter member since January 2010 after going through three months of examinations and background checks. Despite this distinctive title, which I laugh at sometimes, there was a stage in my life when it was unimaginable to believe where my Khmer would be as it is today. Let’s go back in time one decade ago.
I was 22 then, a junior at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. It began with informal non-credit courses offered by two graduate students from Cambodia, Visal Chan and Sokunthea Ok, who were husband and wife. They volunteered to teach Khmer on campus to members of the Khmer Student Association, which I was vice president at the time. I was horrible to say the least. I remember my classmate, Leakhena Leng, would always tease me of how pathetic my pronunciation was. Even lok kru Visal jokingly said, “you sound like a Vietnamese speaking Khmer.” (I never knew what that really meant until I lived in Cambodia).
But then again, I wasn’t taking theses classes all too serious when I think in retrospect. But I had to that summer.
I enrolled at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute, or SEASSI, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Each summer they offer intensive language courses on their beautiful campus. My program at UW required 2 years of an Asian language of choice, and I selected Khmer.
There under the direction of instructors Frank Smith, Sokhary Khun, and Sambath Chan, my first serious attempt in developing my Khmer began. There were about 16 students total, half were first or 1.5 generation Khmericans like me. By default of being Khmer American, the program put us under the “heritage learner” category. In 5-6 hours of classroom instructions for 8 straight weeks, my Khmer started to take form.
At 12 PM PT earlier today, Khmerican went public to announce our newest online venture, Phsar, an online marketplace for original products and hand made crafts. Phsar will be a place to support independent artists, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals, a demographic that we feel make a large percentage of our current readership.
Phsar, which means “market" in the Khmer language will start off as a listing portal for old and new goods. Items may include anything from clothing, music, art, jewelry, and other relevant items. Phsar was created to provide a central place where people can find Khmer-related items or items created by Cambodians. But as Phsar grows and matures, so will the expansion of the service to reach out to other populations. For the time being, listings will be open to US and Canadian residents only.
Since the news portal Khmerican launched September 5th, a growing number of our daily published content via our social feeds have been Khmer-related merchandising. In our observation, there is demand and interest for Khmer-related goods. And when we share, our readers react virally. Our recent Facebook analytic indicates that our monthly reach as 238,000 people.
Phsar is the first of a series of new products and services to be introduced to the public in the coming weeks and months ahead.