College Calculation: Math Wiz Makes Her Way from Cambodia

Imagine traveling nearly 9,000 miles to attend college in a foreign country without family or friends by your side. This is exactly the adventure that Kimsy Tor, a freshman from Siemreap, Cambodia, embarked upon this fall.

Kimsy Tor

Imagine traveling nearly 9,000 miles to attend college in a foreign country without family or friends by your side. This is exactly the adventure that Kimsy Tor, a freshman from Siemreap, Cambodia, embarked upon this fall.

After participating in a winter math course with Helene Tyler, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics and computer science at Manhattan College, at Cambodia’s Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) last year, Tor was encouraged by Tyler to apply to the College for admission as a freshman. Tyler was at RUPP teaching an intensive four-week master’s course in Ordinary Differential Equations as part of the Volunteer Visiting Lecturer Program. Among the fourth-year college students, Tyler met Tor, who was a recent high school graduate and a rising star in the field of math.

“When I first met Professor Tyler, she told me about Manhattan College, the small class size, professors, environment and New York City,” says Tor, explaining that a typical freshmen class at RUPP consisted of about 100 people. In late spring, Tor found out she received a generous full attendance package derived from several scholarships to attend Manhattan College, and her mind was made up to come to New York City.

Cambodia currently has only four resident citizens who hold doctorate degrees in mathematics, which is another key reason that education in the math field for Cambodians is crucial to the development of their country. With 35 percent of its people living below the poverty line and an adult population that is only 75 percent literate, Cambodia continues to experience economic and academic hardship resulting from the Khmer Rouge reign in the late 1970s.

As a result of Tor’s strong interest in the field of math and academic achievements, she might be the next Cambodian to make a difference in shaping the educational future of the country. In fact, her goals include pursuing a doctorate degree in math and maybe eventually becoming a math professor.

Kimsy struck me as the sort of person who could emerge as an intellectual leader among her peers. But in order for that to happen, she would need the kind of education that her country cannot currently provide.

“Of course, what first piqued my interest was Kimsy’s mathematical talent,” Tyler says. “It was her insatiable curiosity and charming personality, though, that made me commit to working on her behalf. Kimsy struck me as the sort of person who could emerge as an intellectual leader among her peers. But in order for that to happen, she would need the kind of education that her country cannot currently provide.”

When Tor, the fourth of six children, first arrived at Manhattan College in August, her parents accompanied her to help with the transition and also to do a little sightseeing of New York City. Thus far, the Statue of Liberty is Tor’s favorite tourist attraction. She is also enjoying residential life, a first-time experience for her after living with her sister in a rental house last year while at RUPP.

“I knew that the cultural adjustment would be very difficult for Kimsy, as would the separation from her family,” Tyler adds. “I also knew that our caring community of faculty, staff and students would do everything possible to help Kimsy to succeed. During the first few weeks that Kimsy was here, my husband and I made sure that she had some authentic New York experiences, like bagels, pizza and a walk through Central Park. And when winter comes, we’ll make sure she gets a good pair of boots.”

Since the start of the fall semester, Tor has been learning how to balance a full course load with five classes, including Calculus, Foundations for Higher Mathematics, Computer Science, English and Chinese. She is also thinking about a few other concentrations she might further pursue as a minor, such as expanding her knowledge of Chinese and computer science.

“I am so excited for the opportunity to be studying at Manhattan College, and I look forward to further exploring campus life and New York City,” Tor says.