But she has since come to embrace her name and the cultural identity attached to it. Leng, known as “Tech” among her friends, will travel to Cambodia next year under the George Peabody Gardner fellowship. Her tentative plans involve working for a non-profit to provide urban women the “entrepreneurial tools” to market the silk-weaving they produce, Leng says.
Her post-graduate goals reflect two interests deepened at Harvard: her Cambodian heritage and public service.
Leng, whose family—parents and 40 relatives—moved to Massachusetts a year before she was born, says that her parents’ Cambodian culture remained a significant part of their lives, even in the States. Aside from pursuing public sector work under the fellowship, which will mark her first trip to Cambodia, Leng will meet more extended family.
Her extracurricular experiences at Harvard also furthered Leng’s connection to her culture.
Leng, a government concentrator, threw herself into her work with Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA). Though she did not join the organization until the spring of her sophomore year, she spent a summer co-directing the Summer Urban Program and worked year-round with the Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment (BRYE) program.
“Harvard’s always been an alienating place because I’ve never been around these people from privileged backgrounds,” Leng says. “There aren’t too many Cambodian refugees in Boston.”
Through BRYE, though, Leng was able to work with Vietnamese refugees in Dorchester.
“I could connect with those kinds of kids....Working with BRYE pushed me to get in touch with my background.”
“I have an odd reputation in BRYE because I’ve never held an administrative position, but I’ve always been a groupie,” Leng says.
Leng, who also served as Currier House Committee Chair, planned to enter graduate school focusing on educational policy until she received the fellowship.
Now she is uncertain what she will pursue after her year abroad.
“After one year I’m not sure what I want to do,” Leng says. “For the longest time I’ve wanted to go into public education and I’m very interested in international development, so hopefully something with those.”
—Staff writer Joshua P. Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.