Australia Awards – Cambodia

HE Eat Sophea, Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
Updated: August 2017

Her Excellency Eat Sophea builds links with Cambodia’s neighbours

Senior Diplomat, Excellency Eat Sophea, is keen for more Cambodian women to aim for future employment that makes best use of their skills and studies – and to work consistently to achieve their career goals. 

Her Excellency, who is currently Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, has recently returned from Bangkok, where she spent the past three years as the Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand.

“When I was growing up, my father encouraged all of his children to aim high, whether we were girls or boys”, Excellency Sophea said.

“And I’ve also been fortunate to have a supportive husband who, from time to time, has been prepared to take family responsibility, so I could pursue my career.”

While not being a house-husband, Sophea’s husband also worked for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia and later the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.

Sophea studied her Masters in Public Policy and Administration at Flinders University in Adelaide, in 2003 and 2004.  

Born in Phnom Penh, she grew up surrounded by eight siblings, and her mother – a housewife, and her father - a Civil Servant whose last career before retirement was also with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia..

Sophea has two children of her own – both girls, and now in their twenties and pursuing their own studies and careers.

In high school in Phnom Penh, Sophea did well in all subjects and enjoyed them all.

“For quite a while I wanted to be a fashion designer – until I was about 20”, she explained.

Starting in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in 1985, where her role was to prepare news briefings for senior personnel and the Minister, she found that her English Language skills were quickly improving.

Until 1990, Sophea worked in the Information Bureau of the Ministry; where most linkages being established by Cambodia were with Eastern Bloc countries.

In 1994, she was posted to India, as Second Secretary to the Cambodian Embassy in New Delhi.

“The Cambodian Embassy there did not have many staff, so I found myself doing lots of different jobs… - a Jill of all trades”, she joked. 

In spite of her full-time job at the Embassy and two small kids to care, Sophea managed to make herself computer literate and obtained a post graduate degree in International Law and Diplomacy.  After completing her posting in India in 1997, she returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to work in the Department responsible for European Affairs.

She was soon promoted to the East Asia Desk in the Ministry’s Asia-Pacific Department, and before much longer, to Deputy Director of a Department.

Sophea went to Australia for her study without her husband, who was then working in Indonesia, and looking after their two young daughters at the same time.

 “And although I missed my daughters and husband terribly, it was wonderful to experience a whole new environment in Australia and to learn about the Australian way of life.”

“Flinders is an excellent university, and Adelaide was very comfortable - and if I ever had any problems, the Australian Government would help me.” 

Back in Phnom Penh in August 2004, she was appointed to the demanding job of Chief of the Minister’s Office – a position she held for almost eight year, and one which, in retrospect, she thinks may have meant being too long in the one job.

“Our neighbouring countries are very important to Cambodia”, she said. “So I was pleased when I was appointed as Ambassador to Thailand in 2014.”

Returning to Phnom Penh from Bangkok in early 2017, Sophea is not in a hurry to take up another overseas posting for a while – and is currently responsible for Central, South and East Asia and Oceania section of the Ministry, which includes Australia.

For other Cambodians considering applying for an Australia Award, she advises them to think carefully before they do.

“You may miss your family, but at least you can focus on your studies and more easily achieve your post-graduate degree objective.”

Sophea continues to use the skills, contacts and increased confidence in herself that she learned in Australia “every day” in her work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

And what has she planned for her future when she decides to eventually retire from being a diplomat? 

“The idea of being a fashion designer is still at the back of my mind”, she said.

“Perhaps I could use my Award skills and my own experience to establish a fashion business that can employ Cambodians fairly, and contribute in another way to my country’s development.”