Sophal Ear: Escaping the Khmer Rouge

“We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile.”

Level Goals Themes
Intermediate Discourse Markers Refugees and Illegal Immigration
Upper-Intermediate Past Perfect Revision War and Genocide
Advanced Vocab International Responsibility

TED Fellow Sophal Ear shares the compelling story of his family’s escape from Cambodia under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. He recounts his mother’s cunning and determination to save her children.

Sophal Ear leads research on post-conflict countries — examining the effectiveness of foreign aid and the challenge of development in places like his native land, Cambodia.


  • What are some examples of current conflicts in the world today? Why do you think they are happening, and what could be done to solve them?
  • Where are refugees from these conflicts going? Is the global situation bad or good? Can you think of any examples?
  • Does your country have a large immigration or refugee program? What are some other reasons people would have for immigrating to another country, apart from war?


True or False?

  1. The Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia during the 1980s.
  2. The United States bombed Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
  3. The Khmer Rouge believed money was the most important part of society.
  4. Ear and his family immigrated to Vietnam illegally by pretending to be Vietnamese.
  5. The Khmer Rouge refused to use children as soldiers during the war/revolution.


Vocab Definition
1. Rebuild A. Equal
2. Encroach B. In spite of, nevertheless,
3. Utopia C. A group of people living together and sharing resources and responsibilities.
4. Notwithstanding D. To be destined to be executed.
5. Equivalent E. To build something again after it has been destroyed.
6. Commune F. When the government is removed from power.
7. “Headed to the gallows” G. To move beyond the acceptable limits; to advance gradually on another’s territory.
8. Revolution H. An imagined place where everything is perfect.


Bombing Conflict Notwithstanding Munitions
Nuclear Believe Equivalent Banned

So, _____ the 1970s narration, on April 17th 1975 we lived in Phnom Penh. And my parents were told by the Khmer Rouge to evacuate the city because of impending American _____ for three days. And here is a picture of the Khmer Rouge. They were young soldiers, typically child soldiers. And this is very normal now, of modern day
_____, because they’re easy to bring into wars.

The reason that they gave about American bombing wasn’t all that far off. I mean, from 1965 to 1973 there were more _____ that fell on Cambodia than in all of World War II Japan, including the two _____ bombs of August 1945. The Khmer Rouge didn’t _____ in money. So the _ of the Federal Reserve Bank in Cambodia was bombed. But not just that, they actually _____ money. I think it’s the only precedent in which money has ever been stopped from being used. And we know money is the root of all evil, but it didn’t actually stop evil from happening in Cambodia, in fact.


Discourse Markers Clauses of Contrast
• As a result • Although
• Therefore • Even Though
• So • Despite / In spite of
• Because of • Notwithstanding


  • Do you know anybody who has had the same experience as Sophal Ear? Is it common in your country?
  • How could your country help people like Sophal? Should your government do more to help?
  • Is it always possible for people who escape places like Cambodia or other regions experiencing conflict to achieve the same kind of success as Sophal? Does it matter?
  • Can you think of any other places in the world that are currently or have experienced conflict in the past that have generated a lot of refugees? Where did they settle? What happened in that case?
  • How would you solve the problem on a worldwide scale? Do you think organisations like the United Nations do a good job?
  • Is it acceptable for people to immigrate illegally in these kinds of cases?
  • Is illegal immigration a common problem in your country? How is it dealt with? How would you deal with it?
  • Do you think it should be easier or more difficult to immigrate from one country to another?


  • The borders of every country in the world should be completely open to free immigration, especially concerning refugees. War is so common that this kind of law is necessary for people to have good lives.
  • Stories like Sophal Ear’s are the exception – most refugees are only a financial burden on their host countries and should eventually be repatriated (sent back to their home country) once the conflict or other problems there are resolved.
  • Communism is the best form of government – Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are an unfortunate exception to the rule. More countries should embrace communist practices and ideology.

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