The first time I had an inkling I would move to Cambodia was when I stepped off the plane. There was something about the unorganized greenery in front of Siem Reap's terminal and the smiles of the workers who greeted me that put my soul at ease.
On the tuk-tuk ride from the airport to Tipsy Turtles hostel, I felt my eyes filling with unexpected tears at the sight of children waving at me from motorbikes filled with their families, and monks walking barefoot on the red dirt roads next to me. I had only planned to work at Tipsy Turtles for one month, but I ended up staying for three, and at the end of this summer I will return to Siem Reap to live permanently.
I don’t remember exactly what my parents said when I told them over a Skype call that I wanted to make Siem Reap my home, but it was probably something along the lines of: “Really? You like it that much?”
Part of this surprise stemmed from the image my parents had of the Southeast Asian country from the era they grew up in—one filled with the brutality and violence of the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnam war. (In fact, when I had excitedly shared the news of my upcoming adventure with my family in November, it took me a lot of research and a long conversation to convince my father that I would be safe in Cambodia. Even then, with preoccupations for my health and happiness in such a different climate, my parents were hesitant to fully endorse my decision, though they trusted my intuition.)
My parents were hesitant to fully endorse my decision, though they trusted my intuition.
Now, with my stories of jungle adventures, profound conversations with guests and friends, and the positive influence of the locals I encountered, my family is on board with my decision to move to Cambodia and continue work at Tipsy Turtles. (What remains to be seen is when they will visit.)
The plans I had relayed to my friends before my departure were that I would spend some time in Siem Reap, Malta, and eastern Europe on work exchanges and then make my way back to Massachusetts to waitress again until I had enough money to explore some other pocket of the world. Perhaps in the future I would apply to universities in Italy, or move elsewhere to bartend and work on my writing.
There was some anxiety I felt talking about my future plans, as I was struggling to match my external environment to my internal yearning for something I couldn’t put words to. Some friends were surprised when my plans changed, but most have been extremely supportive (after a few questions), and many have even started to make plans to visit me. I think they’ve learned not to be surprised by the twists my life takes.
Admittedly, returning to the woods of Massachusetts where I spent my childhood has been difficult. I’ve enjoyed reunions with close friends and dinners at home with my family, but I have had difficulty adjusting to the Western world after having experienced such a dramatically different lifestyle in the East. Soon I will start a new job as a bartender in order to save up enough money to live comfortably in Siem Reap for the next few years, but all I want to do is greet guests at Tipsy, offer them a free welcome drink, and ask about their day’s journey.
Now that I have made concrete plans for my future, however, I feel a certain sense of relief. Every day when I wake up, don my uniform of black trousers and a black button-down shirt, and head to work at an upscale hotel tavern, I can complete my shift fuelled by the knowledge that the money I am making will go towards my apartment in Siem Reap, or a plate of fried rice, or a motorbike trip to the mountains. Although the prices in Cambodia are extremely low in respect to the prices in America, the pay will most likely not be enough to sustain my living, and because of this I want to return with a cushion of savings.
Some of my goals for the next few years in Cambodia include:
• Continue to work in the hostel, improve my bartending and hospitality skills, and learn as much as I can about the business side of the industry
• Get involved with an NGO or charity project (I am talking with some of my friends about building a school in a small village)
• Explore as much of Cambodia and the neighbouring countries as I can
• Enjoy the lifestyle I have found in the developing country and the friends I have made there
• Make connections that will lead me to the next, now obscured from my view, stage of my life
Of course the only sadness in my return to Cambodia is that I will be so far from my family and a few of my close friends. However, knowing that I will be surrounded by people who I enjoy and who make me a better person, in a place where I am happy, outweighs any worry I might have about the immigration process or financial future.
As for my career, I am hoping that my experience in the hospitality field will allow for many more job opportunities in the future.Add this article to your reading list