Today is special day for me. It is one year since I got on a flight from Vancouver to Seoul, en route to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I remember so clearly the morning of June 3, 2013. I woke up with a knot in my stomach. I had big plans, but I couldn’t shake the profound sadness I felt to leave the life I had built up for myself over the last five years since I had returned to Canada in 2008. I knew that this journey would be taking me on a new path.
My first couple months in Cambodia were not easy for me. I felt it was really hard to adjust. I couldn’t deny the thought that I might try to return to my old life with a momentary decision if I needed to. Luckily for me, I had my friend Ulises for the first month who, apart from taking care of every transitioning detail for me, also provided the best life coaching I could have ever possibly hoped for. I remember feeling hot, lost trying to find any place, constantly tired, desperately homesick, and thinking I had somehow gotten much older than my previous decade of living around the globe. Looking back, I know that it wasn’t getting use to Cambodia that was a challenge – it was the faint possibility that I could, if I wanted to, pack up and return if I found I had made the wrong decision.
One year later I’m happy to say that my life has been enriched so deeply from the experiences I’ve had and the people I have met. I have shared the challenges and successes of my work here with you and its purpose in the larger picture of strengthening civil society. I recently reflected a bit on volunteering and the different mindset that comes with it at the practical work level. Previously working in policy and research settings, my activities always centred around representing one organisation’s objectives while identifying mutual interests around the table. Now I feel like I’m simply trying to discover the best ways to do things that can benefit the larger population. I wear a few hats in the work life but I don’t wear any one of them exclusively – or too tightly around the head. Keeping the bigger picture in mind is a lot easier when you volunteer. At the same time, the frustration can be deeper because you don’t just say at the end of the day “it’s a job”. The fear of failing or not achieving anything positive is real because the sense and purpose of what you’re doing and why you are here can sometimes feel on the whim of things happening, or not happening.
I have been deeply inspired by many Cambodians who are working so hard to improve things for their brothers and sisters. I have been deeply frustrated by layers of corruption and the old guard’s persistence to keep the extreme rich and poor divided and in status quo. I’ve been fascinated by the emerging entrepreneurial youth that seem to have their own agenda for their future in the country.
The last year has been life-changing for me in many ways. It has given me wildly new perspectives on work/career, “development”, love, friendship, collectivism, neocolonialism, and really, humanity. I expect the upcoming year to be just as exciting and I truly do look forward to sharing the revelations and realisations with you as I stumble upon them.