Interview with Thomas Bureau, General Manager at Eurêka Cambodia

This week, we interviewed Thomas Bureau, the managing director of Eurêka Cambodia, a company that recently joined EuroCham and offers tailored training after-school classes for students and professionals. The company offers instruction in English and French, individual lessons on specific subjects for grades 1-12, and foreign language classes for adults and children. Mr. Bureau talked with Communications Coordinator Brian Badzmierowski about Eurêka's philosophy and how it strives to set up students and trainees for success in their professional and academic lives. 

EuroCham: You’ve been in Cambodia for over 10 years and have experience in education, the arts, and community service. Could you tell us a little bit about your Cambodia journey and how you came to join Eurêka

Thomas: Originally, I came to Cambodia to work for an NGO that had very Khmer roots. So, when I arrived, everything was new, I was working outside of the city and had to learn all about the culture, without being able to speak the language or communicate directly with people, so that was a big change. It was a very good challenge and starting from that, I connected with more people in the education and business sectors. Eventually, I flew back to France before returning to Cambodia again to work in education. In 2018, I met Bruno Schell, Eurêka's founder (pictured above, 3rd picture). The company’s roots were meaningful to me, so I wanted to learn more about the company and that’s how I got started at Eurêka . 

Have you always been involved in the education sector? 

Thomas: It's something that’s very important to me. My parents sacrificed a lot of things for me to have an education. I came from a modest background, so that was something I’m always grateful for. My focus is on overcoming the different struggles and barriers faced by students and the different methods available to achieve this. When I worked in the more social arena when I first came to Cambodia, I helped empower people with handicaps and disabilities by working to find meaningful jobs for them. 

Eurêka prioritises the importance of intercultural identities and intercultural learning in its practices. Could you tell me more about this? 

Thomas: Sure, it’s important to know that Bruno is French-born and has Khmer roots in his family, so that was something that has always been a part of him, he has built that bridge between French and Cambodian culture in his mind. So, he tries to share this sentiment and promote this idea with our team and the community. We have many staff who speak Khmer, myself included, and this is very important because it makes us more accessible.  

We can more easily connect with our learners, their families, and with businesses as well. This helps overcome any hesitation, which is natural when two cultures come together. When our students come here, they feel welcomed, because we know the culture, the language, and we understand Asian norms in education. It’s important to show that you can meet people halfway.  

What sets Eurêka apart? 

Thomas: We offer a very tailor-made approach that starts with a diagnosis meeting before we design a programme that suits the needs of the individual or the group. Most of our classes take place at our center, but we can be flexible and travel to businesses as well to conduct trainings. 

For students, we don’t try to replace schools, rather we provide support to help students and their families navigate the different struggles presented in schools. While we do focus on languages a lot, we take a holistic approach to learning and the idea of personal and professional success. 

For example, we also focus on developing some critical thinking skills, including self-assessment skills. It’s not necessarily something that is ingrained in the culture. Also, we don’t focus on just language learning for example, but we try to put it in context, so that students can face real situations with an awareness of different cultures and countries as well. 
We want to promote active learning that allows students to express themselves more, break down barriers, and build confidence in their autonomy.  

How does the Asian educational culture differ from the West’s? 

Thomas: I think there is an emphasis on just doing more, adding more classes, the more extra classes or activities you do, the more results you benefit from. This is not necessarily the case, and we work to provide counseling to finding the right balance between classroom time and life. It can be a mistake to push students too hard. In this sense, we have our own definition of success. 

What is success? How do you achieve it? What does it mean? It is only results? Or is it taking into account all of the steps it takes you to meet your needs and to truly understand your path of wprogress. 

At Eurêka, and aslo for myself, success doesn't only refer to the results you eventually get but also all the effort you put into the process of reaching your goals. Showing a regular and consistant dedication in your job/learning is an important step because it will help you have the benefit of hindsight and assess your own performances objectively. 

Truly knowing your strengths, weaknesses and further opportunities in your career/studies is very valuable for both personal fulfilment and professional/academic achievements, which are the assets of success. 

How does technology fit into the picture? 

Thomas: There are lots of technology resources available now, and we try to provide students with the tools to interact with them, but we need to promote self-development as well, and guide students to use these resources effectively. There needs to be a right separation between the virtual world and their reality. We need both digital and soft skills. When students enter the workforce, they need to be self-reliant and be able to show that they have the competencies and skills to succeed.

New tech can be good, however, and it can help prepare students for different cultures and contexts. Recently, we were training a group of students who were going to France, and they didn’t really know what they were about to face. We see it as our job to prepare them for this new context. It’s their first expat experience, so we need to teach about different mannerisms, behaviours, and how to speak in certain situations. 

There’s the two sides, theoretical and practical learning, and our idea is to have one inform the other, so kids are learning practical skills while understanding the underlying theory. Concerning technology, we can use different media to prepare the students for their time in France and incorporate live role-playing situations to practice. 

It's like if you’re reading a book but you don’t speak the language, there will be a lot of misunderstanding. But you can incorporate cinema, photography, and other visual interpretations to help build a fuller picture. 

What else do you do to prepare kids for intercultural challenges? 

Thomas: There are more and more opportunities opening economically for Cambodia, and the youth has more opportunity than ever to access education and develop new skills. Learning new languages is a part of it, but how do you connect that with professional integration into your environment? This is something we focus on because it’s so important for the present and the future of the country. 

Have you noticed a change in the kids’ perceptions and attitudes over the past 5-10 years? 

Thomas: Kids are relying on AI sometimes too much these days. There’s more of an interest in mathematics and scientific disciplines, something that is linked to economic development. Besides that, more and more students are going to Europe, North America, Australia, and other countries, so we also try to prepare them for life after college and these new experiences. More and more students are opening themselves up to international experiences, in the context of pursuing education or work in engineering, or new technologies. 

Concerning AI, it’s stimulating different parts of your brain to learn this way. If you rely on a programme, it can be very neat, but the way you work matters. There’s also an intellectual and emotional way to access knowledge and work, and this is important, because this is the thing that connects us all together. We don’t connect with machines the same way and we try to explore the interests but also the consequences of their uses in a pedagogical project, and that’s why we focus on relying on person-to-person connections. I think you can get something more meaningful and powerful from that. 

What does the future hold for Eurêka

Thomas: We will stay focused on mixing a physical and digital approach while developing new programmes, curriculums, and resources. At the same time, we want to support businesses with training classes and help them continue to play a key role in the country’s economic development.  

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