Visiting a temple whilst living and working in Cambodia

Lessons Learned From Living In Cambodia

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15 Lessons I Learned While Living As An Expat In Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In 2015 I was living and working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I was teaching English in a Kindergarten for 12 months. This year was a big time of growth for me. I faced the challenges of not only moving to another country, but starting a completely new job and moving out of home for the very first time. Being an expat living in Cambodia taught me many life lessons. These are 15 of the things that I learned whilst living abroad...

Racism Is Certainly Not A One Way Street

Racism does not discriminate. This is one of the biggest lessons I learned from living in Cambodia. Thinking that it’s ONLY minorities and less-priviledged cultures that face prejudice and criticism, is a mistake. It certainly can go the 'opposite' way. And I think it’s wrong to deny that as reality or even worse, justify reverse racism because that party can ‘take it’. Racism is bullying. It is simple degradation from a simple mans prejudice and miss (or non-existent) education. Reverse racism doesn’t even make sense. We are all one race, the human race. We are all immigrants. We all have cultures and traditions. We all have different skin and hair colour. We all have the privilege to know respect and acceptance.

How To Focus My Energy To A Better Direction

Yes it’s heartbreaking to ignore the beggers on the street. It is a fight against everything in my body to refuse a child food and water. But there are ways to help. There are directions my energy can be pointed to make a significant difference. Living and working in Phnom Penh gave me a great opportunity to do good. I shifted my attention to the children in my classroom. I could make a direct difference with these kids and so I did.

lessons learned while living as an expat in Cambodia

Sometimes The World Is Black and White. Sometimes It’s A Consistent Palette Of Grey.

It depends on perspective, and again, education, with an overall dash of ignorance. How big that dash is, determines how defined the colours are. If you focus on right and wrong. If you place things in baskets. If situations have opposite sides. Then we see black and white. Consider all facts, all people involved, all reasoning behind EVERY action, then we see a rainbow.
Also, no ones perspective is always black and white or always grey. Find a weak spot and even the pope himself could be as black and white about the word of god as an atheist. Though have an educated discussion about every word in a sentence, every scenario behind why the sentence was written and every possible outcome of the reaction to that sentence, the greys appear.

Fear Is Not Real

Being an expat in Cambodia, Phnom Penh made me face some intense situations. Fear is an instinct designed to keep us alive. But we don’t live in caves anymore. We have a developed brain that knows better. Much, much better. Fear is something to be acknowledged and evaluated. As any other emotion, there is reasoning behind it. But look at it face on, fear is irrelevant to any outcome. This emotion does not change the course of time. It does not change the possibilities of dying or evolving. This fear is nothing and should be treated as such. The situations that arise fear should be the focal point. Looking, instead, at the problem not the symptom or band-aid.

Drinking soft drink in Cambodia

I Can Be A Great Leader

I can lead a small town. I can be a mum. I can shape minds. I can promote positivity. I can promote teamwork and a collaborative culture. I can bring creativity to any situation. Laughter is always beautiful and is ok to be used by someone in power. I can do it. I can be a positive role model. I will be ok. My students will be ok. They will learn. They have learned. Their lives will be better. I have done the right thing. I have done all I can.

Loneliness Is One Of The Most Intense Emotions

It hurts. Its hard to rectify. It’s deep and long. It’s not an easy emotion to explain or admit but it is just as real as any other emotion. Sometimes loneliness is a friend. Sometime it can be a benefiting aid. Though most times it can slowly eat away at the soul like mould on an apple. Living abroad in a foreign country means leaving everything familiar behind. No friends or family to guide you. It's a fresh start on every level. Finding my feet and learning to put trust in strangers was a roller coaster of heartwarming and disappointing interactions.

You Can Learn Anything

Any skill can be taught. You can teach yourself absolutely anything. With YouTube and Google, you have every piece of information and resource in the palm of your hand. Take full advantage of it and make your dreams come true. You can literally do and be anything you want to in this world.

Visiting a temple whilst living and working in Cambodia

Never Underestimate Clean Water

It is life-giving. Bath your soul in it as much as possible but do not ever waste it. Appreciate it and always pay good money for it. Let your skin absorb it as much as possible and be mindful of every droplet. Know that it could be life-changing one day. Whilst living in Phnom Penh, I constantly had itchy skin and all of my jewellery turned a strange dark grey. It was hard to know if having a shower was doing me more worse than good some days.

No Matter How Chaotic, You Can Always Find Peace

It’s incredible how many monasteries and temples are in Phnom Penh and dotted around the entire countryside. It’s so amazing just walking through the gates. It's as if a force field is around the grounds. The chaos just melts away. Sounds and traffic can barely be heard. Peace and a slower pace washed over my body whenever entering these areas. It was so lovely finding these places amongst such insanity.

Empowered women in a local cafe in Phnom Penh

Learning A New Language Will Open A Million More Doors Than You Think It Will

It’s astonishing how far a simple 'hello', 'thank you' and 'goodbye' will get you. A wall is broken down. Smiles spread across faces like a mexican wave through a stadium. Warmth and acceptance instantly fills the interaction. It will save you money, time and frustration. It will help you find more than you set out to seek. Take the time and effort to learn at least a few phrases everywhere you travel. Learning how to direct my tuk-tuk and discuss ingredients on a menu with local Khmer people was life-changing.

Humans Are The Worst and Best Creatures To Ever Grace This World

Living in Cambodia showed me the worst and best of human behaviour. Extraordinary crimes against humanity played out before my eyes. We are demons and angels. We are peace keepers and nightmare creators. We build fortresses but never truely know if it is to keep people in or out. We are cannibals and lovers. And we are all the same. We all have incredible power, how will you use yours for good?

Hitch hiking while living abroad in Cambodia

I’ll Enjoy Being A Mum But I’m Not Ready For It

The children were perfect. Every day was incredible. They taught me more than I taught them. I felt so much love from every bright little soul that looked up to me. But I need to grow more. I need more alone time. I need more self-discovery. I need more adventure. I need more solo journeys to sort shit out and become more confident in my convictions. I need to be more sure before forming my own little mini me. Though when the day comes, it will be incredibly fulfilling.

I Can Survive Anything

I can survive any environment. I can survive the streets of Phnom Penh. I’m stronger than I think I am. I can fend for myself. I can feed, dress, transport and entertain myself. I can do it all myself. I am independant. I have no need to rely on another. I have everything I need inside of me. I can. I am. I will.

There's Far Dirtier Things In This World Than Putting Used Toilet Paper In The Bin

Getting used to the way of life in Asia was a huge learning curve. Getting over the odd action of putting used toilet paper in the bin beside me, instead of down the loo felt so so wrong. After a few months, it definitely wore off. Walking through the flooded streets after a downpour in Phnom Penh is dirtier. Dealing with 30x 4 year olds daily is dirtier. Breathing in the incredibly polluted city air is dirtier. Spending the weekend in a remote village with no running water or electricity is dirtier. Living without the creature comforts of western society showed me just how bubble-wrapped we are.

Eating street food while living in Cambodia
Eating Tarantula while living in Phnom Penh

Eating Off The Streets Is Never As Bad As People Make It Out To Be

I ate regularly from small food carts on the sidewalks of Phnom Penh. I ate from open-air markets that had no running water or electricity. I ate Deep-fried Tarantula, a traditional dish of Cambodia. I only ever got sick once. And that was from a nice looking restaurant. It's always a given, to use your common sense and listen to your instincts. But if the food is boiled or fried and there's plenty of people around, that's a good criteria to go yep! Dinner is served!

Read 10 Ways To Stay Healthy In South-East Asia (Cambodia)

Have you lived abroad? What did you learn whilst experiencing another cultures way of life?

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks Neil! Hope you have a fantastic time away! 🙂

  2. Great reading. I will keep this in mind as we embark on our next trip.

  3. Great read. Very honest. I only visited Cambodia briefly and the poverty was very confronting and gut-wrenching. I felt so guilt-ridden for not being able to help all those begging kids. I’m glad you found a way to channel your energy towards your kids in the class. I can only imagine how that year changed you.

  4. Such an interesting post. Not only does travel teach you things, but living in another country opens your mind. Those lessons learned will always stay with you.

  5. Your maturity and wisdom gained from your experience definitely shone through in this post, Mikayla! I cannot about the fried tarantula though…. the spider photos were too scary for me to even see.

  6. Amazing post! You write so eloquently 🙂 This all brings me back to when I travelled the world for a year. I spent time in many places including Cambodia and it truly opens our eyes up to how much we take for granted in the western world. Oh and I’m super impressed about that tarantula!! not sure I could have done that!!!

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