Degrees of Change: Graduating with a Climate of Hope

Sao Phal Niseiy

Trust the process.

When Master of Asian and Pacific Studies student Sao Phal Niseiy found himself struggling in his second semester, these are the words of wisdom he received from an academic.

This turned out to be the best advice he got.

A journalist from Cambodia with passion and a forward-thinking vision for climate change, Niseiy ventured over to Australia to pursue the ANU School of Culture, History & Language-hosted Master of Asian and Pacific Studies.

The Editor-in-Chief of media outlet Cambodianess, Niseiy was always driven by his penchant for global affairs, social development, politics and environment. Yet, as a seasoned media professional working in a tumultuous socio-political environment, he understood the need to think out of the box with media management and journalistic reporting.

Shaping a Greener Tomorrow: A Vision for Climate Resilience

When it comes to the subject of climate change, Niseiy cites how it has no boundaries, because it affects everyone globally. It is an issue that requires mass behavioural change, encompassing politics, policy, social development, human interest and science.

He also believes climate denial is as much a reality and problem as climate change itself.

There will always be non-believers and critics who lean on the extreme side. However, I trust science, and there is enough evidence to suggest that humans have caused, and continue to cause, catastrophic change to the planet.

When Niseiy received a fellowship to attend the Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP), he and 13 other journalists from across the globe had the chance to report directly to the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP 23). The conference was a game changer for Niseiy and helped strengthen his understanding and vision of climate change.

Niseiy’s particular interest in climate change is what prompted him to gain greater insight into the Asia-Pacific region. So, with an Oceania Awards Scholarship under his belt, it was time for destination ANU.

Sao Phal Niseiy attending COP23
Sao Phal Niseiy attending COP23

Navigating the Storm

However, well into his second semester, it was not all clear skies for Niseiy, and he found himself struggling, having to unlearn his own writing style and adopting new styles of written expression. During this time, he recalls how Dr Matthew Galway advised him to just trust the process. And that’s exactly what he did, which enabled him to change his course of direction and navigate through the program seamlessly.

Being from Cambodia, Niseiy was already well-versed with working amid difficulties with freedom of speech and a challenging political environment. His experience as a journalist in a volatile setting certainly aided his ability to shift gears to make the most of his degree program here.

A Sea Change

Studying at ANU has been, for Niseiy, a different kind of climate change. The culture of open debate and discussion, free expression of opinion, and diversity of thought has been a standout experience.

Here, I valued the exposure to a different approach to thinking and expression—not being judgemental is integral to this approach. I have obtained so much perspective here, and I hope to pass this on and imbibe my learnings into my profession when I return to Cambodia.

Perhaps the most significant highlight of his time here has been the opportunity to travel and connect with distinct cultures, especially with respect to Pacific communities.

Travel opens doors like nothing else. The chance to interact and share experiences and stories with people from unique and diverse backgrounds in activism has been a real revelation for me.

Sao Phal Niseiy in Samoa (photo supplied)
Sao Phal Niseiy in Samoa (photo supplied)

អស្ចារ្យ [ORSJA]

If there was just one word that Niseiy could use to describe his experience here, this is it. Orsja in Khmer/Cambodian means amazing or wonderful.

Taking his lecturer’s advice and trusting the process enabled him to embark on a surreal journey of self-exploration. His advice to anyone wanting to follow in similar footsteps is to “Try and understand yourself through the experience, give yourself time, and just keep going.”

Now, as Niseiy prepares to return to Cambodia and journalism, he hopes to apply his newly acquired perspectives and insights to his reporting and storytelling. He wants to tell the success stories; highlight the disasters in waiting; and hopefully influence policy and thought leadership, particularly on aspects of climate change.

With passion as his compass and knowledge as his map, this CHL graduate is all set to navigate the future and make a lasting impact.