The Difference Between Being a "Tourist" and an "Expat"

Zanny and her Tipsy Turtles have a "family" dinner at their tuk tuk driver's home. Zanny Merullo

How my life has changed since I moved to Cambodia. 

Since moving back to Siem Reap permanently, my lifestyle has changed in many ways.

On my first trip to Cambodia, I volunteered in the hostel. I also lived there, so the place dictated most of my schedule. This meant a lot of late nights and late mornings. Hours I had intended to use in other ways were spent sitting around talking with guests and friends who stopped by. Because I was ultimately a "tourist," I said yes to nearly every opportunity, regularly going on adventures to the jungle or trying new bars in the city centre.

Now that I plan on being here long-term, my lifestyle is more mundane.

I have moved into a big house with all of my friends, and finally have a place away from work where I can rest, write and have time to myself.Living the life of an expat means pursuing your dream, but doing it in a place that inspires wonder in you.

Each morning, I have a cup of coffee from the shop across the street, talk with my roommates, and play with the cleaning lady’s daughters when they come back from school. In the afternoons, I walk to Tipsy Turtles, bartend for a few hours and walk home by the stinky river road. Most of the time, I eat at home or walk down the road for a bowl of soup. At night, I sit around the living room with my roommates and talk about life or watch soccer games.

Many of the realities of adult life are present here: running errands, figuring out how to make money, getting things done around the house. There is the added difficulty of completing these tasks with the little Khmer I have learned, but I appreciate this challenge. I also have to take into consideration the fine details of Cambodian visa laws, and figure out exactly how to live in this country legally.

As far as work is concerned, it now feels more like a job than just an extension of my home life.

I show up on time, and when my shift ends I am happy to head home. I still enjoy talking with guests from all over the world and making drinks, but I have started looking for another job to keep me busy and get some variety into my life.

Perhaps in the next weeks I will start teaching English for an hour a day, or work in another restaurant or hotel in the city. I have also started working on a project with one of my closest expat friends to provide his wife’s village’s school with new textbooks, school supplies, and eventually a new playground. This project takes up the remainder of my free time, with regular business meetings at my house, his house, or out in town over drinks.

All in all, there is a lot going on for me in my life here, and I am grateful to be in a place with so many opportunities to help people!

Since I have moved back to Cambodia, it has begun to feel even more like home than before.

Living the life of an expat means pursuing your dreams and desires and taking care of yourself, but doing this while in a place that inspires wonder in you. This is what all the expats in Siem Reap have in common, and I enjoy spending time with other foreigners who came to this city, fell in love, and have since made it their home

Sure, the days aren’t as exciting as when I was a visitor, but I knew that when I made the decision to return to Cambodia. At least once a day I look around me and am filled with wonder at this magical city and gratitude that I found this place and now call it home. There is nowhere I would rather be. I am excited for what the future holds for me in Siem Reap and look forward to years of further exploration!

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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.


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