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How Cambodian Srey Chhay Found a Sense of Community in DSM USA

Srey Chhay at Prairie Meadows

October 4, 2018

Srey Chhay moved from her home country of Cambodia to the U.S. at the age of 31. She was ready to seek new opportunities, but she did not have a concrete plan.

“Cambodia is not a wealthy country. There is a lot more opportunity in the U.S., and it is much safer here. I came for the American dream,” Chhay explained.

Chhay wanted to be a doctor, but Cambodia does not offer student loans like the U.S. Her family did not have the money for her to attend costly medical school, but she was still able to attend college. As a student, she began working as a table games dealer. After graduating in 1997, she continued working at the casino until moving to the U.S. in 2004.

Opportunity in DSM

Chhay came to South Dakota, where some of her extended family was living. Upon arriving, she knew she needed to find a job quickly. She had only worked as a table games dealer, and South Dakota did not have any casinos that offered table games at that time. Chhay’s family encouraged her to apply to Prairie Meadows in Greater Des Moines (DSM).

Chhay was a skilled dealer, but she was concerned her English would be an issue as she was not fluent in the language. Prairie Meadows told her the language barrier was not a problem and offered her a job.

“Upon coming to DSM, I had no friends and no family. I knew nothing and didn’t speak the language fluently. But my coworkers made me feel welcome. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what language you speak, people here are willing to help you.”

Prairie Meadows employs nearly 1,200 people, with 26 different languages spoken across its 21 departments.

“When I was offered the job, I had to go Downtown and get a pre-employment physical. I didn’t know where to go — everything was so different here. I asked my manager for directions, and he offered to take me. He helped me fill out my forms. I will never forget that. Everyone here is so willing to help.”

Language was an initial obstacle for Chhay, but cultural differences brought on new communication issues she had to overcome.

“Eye contact was a shock to me when I first moved here. In my culture, you do not look your elders or superiors in the eye when speaking to them. It is seen as disrespectful. But here it’s seen as disrespectful to not look someone in the eye. It took me a long time to adjust to this.”

Small business owner

Chhay is now a Table Games Dual Supervisor at Prairie Meadows. She also bought Ambrosia Donuts in Ankeny in 2017.

“I love my jobs. I get to meet so many different people.”

Chhay not only loves her work, but her city. Srey met her husband in DSM and the couple has two children together. Chhay sees DSM as a good place to raise a family, and she is impressed with the schools here.

“Everyone is friendly and it really feels like a community. And there are lots of different cultures and all kinds of food close by. DSM is much cleaner than Cambodia. And the traffic is way better. People there do not follow rules or respect pedestrians.”

Despite this, Chhay misses Cambodia and plans to take her family there in 2020.

“I miss my country like I miss a friend, but DSM is the best place I can think of. I want people to realize how lucky they are to have been born in the U.S.”

Job opportunities and career resources are abundant in Greater Des Moines (DSM). Whether you're looking to find an internshipa jobdevelop professionally or grow as a student, we have the resources to help you thrive.

Paige Ruba

Paige Ruba is a creative specialist at Prairie Meadows. She brings a broad range of marketing, advertising and public relations skills to her position. An Iowa native, Paige received her Bachelor of Arts in communication from the University of Northern Iowa in 2013.