NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Meet Phonnara Dy

By Eduardo Souza

Phonnara Dy sits with his laptop open and attentively listens to Professor Diann Cahaly’s biology lecture on cell structure. Dy’s laptop displays the day’s powerpoint presentation, his notebook is open, and he’s ready to take the day’s notes.

Dy is a 32-year-old resident of Lowell who moved from Cambodia in the winter of 2011. Soon after getting a job to support himself in this foreign place, he knew that if he wanted his life to get better he needed a degree. He then enrolled in Northern Essex with the goal of getting an Associate of Nursing degree.

“I really want to be a nurse,” Dy says.

Since Cambodian is vastly different from English, which isn’t his first language, Dy says he needs complete focus in class in order to learn the material.

“The language is really hard for me,” says Dy. “Sometimes I don’t understand what people are saying.”

Dy’s perseverance is evident to anyone who meets him. He not only works full-time, seven days a week, but is still taking fifteen credits this semester. He holds two jobs: one as a machine operator for Vicor Corporation; the other as a CNA for Atria Marland Place in Andover.

Dy has a passion for helping people and hopes to continue helping people as a nurse.

“As a CNA,” Dy said, “I help elderly people. I assist them. I give them medication.”

As a machine operator, he runs many different types of mechanisms.

As taxing as working and going to school in a foreign country is for Dy, his indomitable spirit perseveres and faces challenges head on.

“I work seven days a week,” said Dy. “But I also have to study, because only school can make my life better in the U.S.”

Dy said school is difficult sometimes because he works seven days a week and struggles to find the time to study. But somehow he makes it work.

Dy is trilingual. He not only speaks Cambodian and English fluently, but also French.

“In Cambodia, they teach us French and English,” said Dy. But the English they teach is British and different from the U.S.’s. “The English they teach sounds different from here. When I moved here, I had a hard time understanding people.”

Aaron Labrecque, a classmate of his majoring in physical education, is impressed by Dy’s dedication to school. “Phonnara is friendly and eager to learn,” said Labrecque. Labrecque said it’s amazing that Dy speaks three different languages.

Dy is currently in his fourth semester at NECC and close to getting his degree in nursing. But he also has another degree from Cambodia.

“I have a degree in finance and banking,” said Dy. “But it’s hard to get a job with my degree from Cambodia.”

With his finance degree in his native country, Dy worked as a project manager for Unicef where he wrote proposals and requested money from different organizations to fund Unicef’s projects. He hopes to use his experience as a project manager in this next step of his life.

When Dy came to the U.S. in 2011, he left all of his family back in Cambodia. His two parents and six siblings, five sisters and one brother, all live in Cambodia.

“My parents have their own business and they sell clothes materials,” said Dy. “One of my sisters has her own business. Two of my sisters are at the university for nursing back in Cambodia.”

Many of Dy’s siblings have their own businesses. But he still helps them whenever he can. Dy not only supports himself here, but also sends money to his family in Cambodia and helps support them as well.

According to Dy, there are vast differences between his home country and the U.S.

“To me, the biggest differences are language, weather, cultures, living styles and food,” he said.

Despite all the differences in culture, working two jobs and going to school full-time, living in a foreign place with no family nearby and all the hardships that this 32-year-old encounters daily, Dy still comes to every single class, asks questions when he doesn’t understand something, and gives his all in work and school every day.

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