PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Who is Sokeo Ros?

When you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s an artist, an educator and an activist.

Ros will also acknowledge that he’s a Cambodian refugee who’s still healing from a difficult upbringing.

“Sometimes we don’t understand our traumas until we’re a bit older,” he said.

Ros was born in the back of a semi-trailer truck in a Thailand refugee camp during the Cambodian genocide.

The 42-year-old tells 12 News his family moved to Providence after immigrating to the United States when he was a toddler.

“I hold my emotions in because I don’t want to cry,” Ros said. “I know it’s not healthy, but I don’t want to let it out.”

But Ros doesn’t keep all of his emotions bottled up.

When Ros first discovered dancing, he knew it would become a crucial part of his healing process.

“I was really shy. The only way I spoke was through my body,” Ros explained. “I was able to channel all of my feelings into movements.”

“Dance is what kept me going and literally saved my life,” he added.

Ros grew up in an impoverished part of the capital city, adding that his first-floor neighbors were part of a gang.

“This is what I thought America was,” he said. “One big gang neighborhood.”

When asked what stopped him from joining himself, Ros said he never felt the need to.

“They were family to me,” Ros said of his neighbors. “I never really got bullied.”

Ros credits dancing for guiding him down the right path.

“If it weren’t for dance, I’d probably be dead or in jail,” he said. “I have friends right now, unfortunately, that are not here … others are incarcerated.”

Ros dropped out of high school and multiple colleges, much to his parents’ surprise.

“‘We came here to have a better life, how are you not doing well?” Ros said his parents would ask. “‘You’re not going through genocide’ … but my genocide was internal.”

Ros has come a long way since then, earning bachelor’s degrees from College Unbound and Charter Oak State College and a master’s degree from Providence College.

He’s also on track to receive a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Johnson & Wales University.

And that’s not all. Ros currently serves as the director of Providence College’s Center at Moore Hall.

Through his work, he hopes to inspire students to tell their own stories in unique and creative ways.

“I want them to know they can tell their stories authentically and not feel bad about who they are,” he said. “I want them to understand that their stories are beautiful, and if they have traumas, I want them to know that their traumas don’t define them.”

It’s the same mindset he’s instilled in his 19-year-old daughter.

“I want her to create her own stories,” he said. “She’s a beautiful individual.”

When asked whether he will ever completely heal, Ros said he’s not sure.

“Healing can be a lifelong process,” he said. “But for me, it’s the beauty of the journey and enjoying that process.”