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A Bartender Abroad

Angkor What bar in Siem Reap, Cambodia Michael Coghlan via Flickr.com CC BY 2.0

Why I decided to work abroad rather than just taking an extended vacation. 

It’s a snowy day here in the woods of western Massachusetts, and right now it’s hard to imagine that in a little over a month I will be writing from the oppressive humidity of Cambodia.

When I graduated from high school two years ago, I opted to work as a waitress and travel rather than attend university. However, I had no idea how confining it would be to live at home and spend 40 hours a week asking, “Would you like ranch or blue cheese with your chicken?”

It may seem funny, then, that I have chosen to work in a hostel restaurant as a bartender on my upcoming travels to Cambodia, Thailand and Malta. On my previous solo trips to Europe, I always made an effort to talk to servers, bartenders, bouncers and cashiers and ask them about their lives, if they liked their jobs and what their dreams were. It was my way of trying to get to know a different culture and facet of humanity through ordinary working people; of changing my role as foreigner and tourist to that of simply a fellow human being.

I always made an effort to talk to servers, bartenders cashiers and ask them about their lives. It was my way of trying to get to know a different culture and facet of humanity through ordinary working people.

Unlike the places I’ve visited in Europe, where I either spoke the language or was able to decipher it, the language barrier in Southeast Asia will be more challenging. Not only that, but the culture will be so vastly different from my own or any of those I have experienced. I worry it will be harder to navigate and harder to communicate with the ordinary people whose company I so crave.

Maybe that’s why I chose to bartend abroad when combing through work exchange opportunities on Worldpackers.com, and what led me to seek out work opportunities rather than travel with no responsibility or purpose. I’m worried about connecting to people in Southeast Asia. By working as a bartender, I will be required to interact with hostel-goers and locals who frequent the bar, speaking in gestures if there is no other common language. Rather than visiting the countries as a tourist and a consumer, by working abroad I hope to experience Cambodia and Malta from the inside out.

I'm also nervous to encounter the potential health risks that accompany introducing my system to a totally new climate. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of things to keep in mind when travelling to Southeast Asia to quell my nerves and to inform those of you who may want to explore this part of the world, too.

Things to keep in mind when travelling to Southeast Asia:

• Many of the countries require you to purchase a tourist visa upon entry (Cambodia is one of them, Thailand is not). These usually last 30 days and cost around $30 USD. Have some passport-sized photos on hand for these.

• It’s a good idea to get vaccinated before heading east. There are some bacteria that are specific to the region that our systems are unfamiliar with, along with mosquitoes that could be carrying malaria. Ask your primary care doctor to set you up with an appointment with a travel doctor a month or so before you leave, and don’t forget the bug spray.

• Another health tip is to avoid street food; anything uncooked, fruit, and anything that may have been rinsed in contaminated water. Bring along some anti-diarrhea pills, antacids, and invest in a purifying water bottle or purifying straw.

• You should always buy travel insurance, especially when traveling to a place with contaminated water. The peace of mind is worth the cash!

• When visiting temples you will need to dress respectfully and cover your knees and shoulders. I am currently hunting for the perfect maxi skirt for this occasion.

• It’s a good idea to bring a lot of US dollars in cash to Southeast Asia. Cambodia readily accepts USD as currency, and Thailand offers currency exchanges with no fees. (Meanwhile the fee to withdraw from the bank is steep.)

I’m excited to have you on this journey with me! Until next time.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Alexandra Merullo

Alexandra (known by friends as Zanny) Merullo is a 22-year-old former expat in Cambodia who now lives in the mountains of the US. She is a bartender, writer, and avid explorer looking for her next adventures.

Website: zantakestheworld.wordpress.com

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