When Seang M. Seng graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) in 1988, it was a triumph unlike any other. He had survived the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge and all the pain and suffering that went with it, including the deaths of his entire immediate family in the “killing fields” of Cambodia.
Seng and his future wife were liberated by the invading Vietnamese Army, relocated to a refugee camp in Thailand, and eventually found passage to Hawaiʻi. Their first son was born 10 days later, in Honolulu, as an American citizen.
Assisted by the Hawaiʻi Refugee Organization, Seng was able to gain his high school equivalent degree at a class for adults held at Kaimukī High School. He studied at Kapiʻolani Community College and then at UH Mānoa. The JABSOM ʻImi Hoʻōla Program, which aids college graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds, allowed him to take the intensive pre-med course not once, but twice, to prepare him to attend medical school successfully.
Medicine was a path Seng was pursuing at age 24 in Cambodia, when his life was turned upside down in Cambodia. After graduating from JABSOM, he worked as a family medicine doctor in Modesto, California, where many of his fellow Cambodian refugees resettled. All three of his children are training in medicine, including son Kosal, who also graduated from JABSOM in 2013.
Seng wrote an acclaimed book, The Starving Season, about his life. On March 6, he returned to JABSOM to inspire current ʻImi Hoʻōla students, and to express his gratitude to UH at the annual Dean’s Circle event for donors to the medical school.
Read more and view the photo gallery on the JABSOM website.
—By Tina Shelton