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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Cambodian-Born Author Loung Ung On Resilience And Survival

Author Loung Ung was just five years old when communist revolutionaries known as the Khmer Rouge took control of her home country of Cambodia. Nearly a quarter of the population died in the ensuing genocide. But she survived, eventually making her way to Vermont. She recently returned to her alma mater to speak with students as part of Essex High School's Global Leadership Program. 

Ung's memoirs have become international best-sellers, and on Friday, May 18, she returned to Essex High School to speak with students in the school's new Global Leadership Program. The nearly 80 students had read her first book, First They Killed My Fatherwatched the 2017 film adaptation of the same name and researched the dark period in Cambodian history. 

"I couldn't speak about it ... The toxicity of what happened to me was so strong that every time I tried to speak, I would be so emotional that I would just burst into tears, and I thought the tears would never stop flowing ... That was how and why I started writing. I could not speak the words."

"People want you to succeed. When I was in high school, there were people who were unkind, who picked on me. People I might have even picked on. There was this belief that people were waiting to see me fail [but] that's not true. I really wish I walked into life believing people wanted me to succeed, instead of being fearful of failing."

Vermont Edition was invited to interview the Cambodian-American author during her visit to the school, where Ung discussed how she channeled her guilt from surviving the Khmer Rouge into her writing and activism, and talked about what she wishes she had known when she was a student at Essex High.

"We have power, and one of the most important powers we have is the power to vote ... Sometimes we look at what's going on around the world and we feel powerless ... I'm so heartened by what's going on with high school students, and high school students' movements around the country. I wish I knew I had that power when I was their age."

Broadcast on Wednesday, May 22, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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