Tien was born in Chrey Village, in the Teuk Commune, of Siem Reap Province. Tien is the youngest of 8 siblings, four sisters, and four brothers. She is also a coach.
Tien started here education at École d'Hôtellerie et de Tourisme Paul Dubrule, obtaining her Bachelor's degree in Teaching Methodology, with an emphasis on English.
Tien has a larger-than-life, bubbly personality. Her energy is higher than most, and an uncanny playfulness that is unmatched by others. When she laughs, the whole room erupts. She captures the attention and the heart of anyone she interacts with within a few short moments of knowing her.
Yet, beneath her fun-loving demeanor lies a story of many obstacles trying to discredit, disqualify, and dehumanize her. Tien was born into a large family in a village northeast of Siem Reap. Her family, under the Khmer Rouge regime, suffered greatly. The regime forced them to leave their home, killed her oldest sister, and the family faced a daily struggle to survive. When Tien was born, she was the sixth and last biological child. Her family took in two orphans, whose parents had abandoned on them on the family's doorstep. Not one of Tien's five sisters went to school. Instead, they worked as builders and farmers to support the family. Her family discouraged her from gaining an education, as the Khmer Rouge regime had killed people based on their education level, and told her it was dangerous to attempt to pursue it.
Tien started school at the age of 7, where she attended the local village primary school. Most of her classmates did not possess even bare necessities: shoes, school supplies, or even a change of clothes. To earn money, she would go to the nearby Lake Baray after school and sell ice tea to the tourists visiting that beautiful landscape, the backyard of her family's farmhouse. During this time, her curiosity for the outside world peaked. Tien's exposure to various people of diverse backgrounds instilled a desire to learn English. At the age of 15, as her adolescence lost its appeal to the foreign travelers, she outgrew selling tea to tourists, and she adopted a job as a cleaner. During this time, her brother's wife passed away. Tien took on the role of taking care of his home and his children. One day, as she was cooking for his kids, she was approached by some westerners from a local organization called Children Dreams Siem Reap. They had been watching her and wanted to know her story. They decided to donate money to help her tend to her nieces and nephews.
Because of the compassion and financial help from Children Dreams Siem Reap, Tien was able to afford English classes. At 18 years old, Tien began learning English from a local farmer in the village that charged her 10,000 riel per month ($2.50). Yet, as her passion for learning strengthened, her parents lashed out. Tien recalls, "After I graduated Grade 12, my mom could not understand why I kept studying. She would tell me that I was crazy, and I needed to come back and work on the farm. She tried to arrange a marriage for me and threatened to kick me out of the house if I did not listen to her. She would call me lazy, and that hurt the most. I sacrificed so much. I barely slept. But she could not understand." Tien's family was not the only people who disagreed with her pursuit of higher education. Often, the older men in her village would come to her house and scold her parents for "allowing her" to continue her studies. They would tell her parents that "no man wanted to marry a woman that was smarter" than him. They accused Tien of spreading the desire for higher education among the younger generation in the village, emphasizing that she was not following the rightful duty of a Khmer woman. Yet, Tien persevered.
Tien earned herself a place in a well-respected hospitality program. From Monday to Saturday, she would wake up at 4 a.m. and work until 2 p.m. then go to her hospitality program from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. During this time, she saved money for University with the hopes and desires of earning a bachelor's one day. She crossed paths with the same volunteers from Children Dreams Siem Reap, who helped her financially in previous years. They were so inspired and impressed by Tien's progress that they decided to sponsor her Bachelor's and offer her an English teaching assistant job.
For three years, Tien taught English at Global International School in the morning, attended University in the afternoon, then taught in her own home, to the children in her village, at night. Reflecting on teaching in the village, Tien says, "Even as busy as I am, I can never give up teaching in my village. I did not have this option to be able to learn English. So now I have to provide it to these kids to change this generation. To encourage them to push through because I did not have anyone here that believed in me. And I want them to know I do. I want to be a part of Cultivativing Cambodia because I want to know and to learn something new. To give kids a good education."