It is the beginning of week 4 in Cambodia. So far, I have made a new family, new friends and experienced new and exotic cultural tendencies of Cambodia. When I first arrived in Cambodia, it was on a Saturday morning and I planned to begin work on Monday. I had 2 days to adapt to Cambodia! I would not have been nearly as successful as I was if it was not for the Australian couple I am living with. Since they have been living in Cambodia for nearly 2 years, they were generous enough to share their “lessons learned” with me to help me prepare to take on Cambodia independently. Some things important I noted during some of our conversation of Cambodia:
#1: Don’t be afraid of bargaining. Being a Westerner, I am generally seen as a dollar sign to the Khmer people so they tend to increase the price much higher than other Khmer people
#2: Children will go out of their way to buy more extravagant things, just to flaunt/taunt the other children; and they generally learn this from the family
#3: Overweight children tend to represent that the family spoils them with food to substitute their true needs like affection, supervision, love, togetherness, etc.
#4: I am more than likely going to get sick – whether it is food-borne, a bacterial infection or just the air. He says that during flood season, the sewage floods the streets. Then the water dries up, leaving the dirty material behind, resulting in a potential airborne sickness. Hopefully these Wellness pills I brought from home can help prevent illness!
#5: Be a confident, yet cautious walker and biker. The street laws are generally inexistent and Khmer people do not follow the “law” when it comes to driving. Example: Some Khmer people will drive up a one-way street to get to their destination; and most Khmer people who ride a moped do not wear a helmet
#6: Most people take off their shoes before entering their workplace and home
#7: Honking is usually a sign of “I am close to you, just letting you know” vs. “I am mad at you for driving idiotically”
Every day I learn something new. I learn about a new person, a new food, a new cultural tendency, a new word, a new law, etc. Usually, this is due to my mere curiosity. As an extrovert, I strive to be surrounded by people which I find is a huge advantage when traveling (and in life in general).
I have made Khmer friends, Western friends; friends from church and friends from COCD. They share their experiences being in Cambodia with me, which has been tremendously helpful in preventing negative effects like: homesickness, being robbed, getting completely lost, etc. Also this ensures positive effects such as: staying healthy, safe, thriving at my internship and enjoying my time abroad.
Being in Cambodia and working at COCD, I have learned that one cannot be an effective NGO worker without understanding the Cambodian culture. It is one thing to live in Cambodia and to acknowledge some similarities and differences, but it is another to fully understand the norms Khmer people live by. I am still learning and adapting to Cambodia, but from my education and previous experiences, it is easy for me to understand and accept the differences found in this country compared to the United States.
I am thankful for every day being in Cambodia. It is not like home, but it feels like a home. There are some days I wish I could unsee some things I have seen, but it helps when gaining an accurate opinion about this country. I anticipate the 8 more weeks I have in Cambodia! Many more stories and adventures await.