Sreymom is a Junior Associate in our Phnom Penh office, focusing on all aspects of trade mark and copyright protection and enforcement and patent prosecution in Cambodia.
‘Ambition’ is not always thought of in a positive light; in fact, ‘ambitious’ people are often thought as being motivated by power, wealth or status. But there is a right, and less blatant, kind of ambition – the ambition to perform at one’s best, to grow and to keep improving. One of the striking things about Sreymom is that she is ambitious in the right way: she has an unusually strong inner drive to perform at her best and to keep learning and growing.
This inner drive seems to be something innate – certainly, she was not encouraged by her parents to expand her horizons or further her studies. Quite the opposite in fact! Their preference was for her to join them in running the family restaurant in Phnom Penh – as her younger sister has gone on to do. But from Sreymom’s earliest days at school she was academically inclined, interested particularly in languages and literature, and she had a mind of her own. Eventually her parents could see that she was going to follow her own path in life. By the time she got to High School, Sreymom knew she wanted to go to University, but at that stage had no idea what she wanted to do – only that it wouldn’t be anything in the sciences.
When the time came to fill out her application for the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest university, she initially selected the languages course, but on carefully checking the prerequisite subjects and grades she saw that she could also apply for Law – and that had a certain appeal because she had enjoyed watching legal drama films and been impressed by the lawyers who were working to obtain justice for their clients. At the time, a lot of jobs required knowledge of English and Sreymom thought that studying both Languages and Law would give her a competitive advantage. Her parents, however, had other ideas. They thought that enrolling in one course was quite enough; doing two would involve an unnecessarily heavy workload. In the end, they prevailed and in her first year Sreymom did only Law, thinking she would try it for a year to see if she liked it. If she didn’t, she would switch to Languages in her second year. As it turned out, she found Law really interesting and, once again, started to think about doing a double degree. This time, she managed to persuade her parents to let her do it – even if she might not have totally convinced them it was a good idea.
She enjoyed both courses and, typically, soon began thinking about broadening her experience outside Cambodia. In her last year, she found an exchange programme in Vietnam for the summer break. After a demanding application process, including several interviews, she was chosen and spent the summer near the Cambodia/Vietnam border, working with university students from both countries on programmes to promote peace and positive social change. Then, when she graduated, she applied to the Korean Government Scholarship Programme and obtained a scholarship to study for a Master of Laws at the Seoul National University in South Korea. It was a full scholarship and a great opportunity. By now, her parents were probably resigned to the path she had chosen and, although they didn’t say a lot, this time Sreymom really felt she had their approval.
Just being in South Korea turned out to be an enriching experience. Seoul, one of the financial and cultural hubs of East Asia, has been described as “sleek, fast and shiny”, “a megacity that never sleeps”, so the lifestyle was very different from anything that Sreymom had encountered up to that point. From the beginning, she enjoyed it, even though the course was demanding. The entire first year was spent learning the Korean language and students had to pass in order to retain their scholarship and proceed to the two-year Masters course. Sreymom did, and she went on to do well in the Masters course – even challenging herself in her final year to enter the moot court competition, Then, before coming back to Cambodia, she took an internship for six months with the Korean commercial arbitration board in Seoul.
During the Masters course she developed a real interest in Intellectual Property, inspired by a lecturer who was also a practising Patent Attorney. His lectures opened up a whole new world – for the first time she could see how the IP system operated in the commercial world and she decided it was a field she would like to work in. So, when the time came to return to Cambodia, she was hoping to obtain a position in an IP department or IP firm – and in 2018 she joined Rouse. She says it has been everything she hoped it would be. Although at the moment perhaps 80% of her time is spent working, it is rewarding, fulfilling and enjoyable. She considers herself lucky.
Not that she is likely to rest on her laurels. Her ambition, professional and personal, is alive and well. Professionally, she is already looking for new challenges and thinking about further study to expand her range of skills in the IP field. At the moment, for example, she is not qualified to appear before the Courts in Cambodia; also, she can see that acquiring expertise in arbitration, which is increasingly being used for the resolution of IP disputes, would be useful. She says she has always gained inspiration from impressive people she comes into contact with - at school there were teachers; now, senior lawyers. And on a personal level she is continuing to learn and grow, spending many of her evenings listening to podcast lectures and discussions on history, law, current affairs or philosophy - one of her favourite podcasters being the American political philosopher, Michael Sandel.
Sreymom’s ambition is clearly of very much the right kind.