This month marks my fifth month of internship in Cambodia. During these five months, I enjoyed the warm feeling of orange sunlight hitting my face from the gaps of curtains after waking up every day.
I also enjoyed listening to the sound of car engines from the people who are going to work outside my window (although it is the sound of engine, I don't feel it is noisy).
I especially liked watching Cambodians who still go out to work with their hair still wet from their habit of showering in the morning. When I see their hair like that, it makes me feel like I also need a shower to be energetic.
As I feel these tactile, auditory, and visual sensations every day, it reminds me that a new day has arrived again and that I can be with my colleagues and the children from the village who are always full of expectations.
Time passed very quickly. I still remember that in the beginning when I came here, I also looked forward to the arrival of a new day, but it was filled with anxiety at the time.
Since this is my first time to Cambodia, I knew almost nothing here.
The strong sense of strangeness made me nervous every morning and I wondered about how to know more about this country. I was afraid that if I don’t try my best to observe every day, I would be wasting my time here. Even during nighttime, those feelings of anxiety did not disappear. My anxiety made me fall into a terrible cycle of reflecting on why I didn't ask more questions during the day which led me to feel more anxiety.
But now when I recall to those days, I really shouldn’t have blamed myself too much for not asking questions to others at the time. I was glad that I didn’t ask too many questions because I had just arrived here and asking questions which were not suitable will cause local discomfort which will cause me to lose the opportunity to get close with the locals and get to know the area.
At that time, the lesson I needed to learn was how to live with the local community.
What exactly is "living with the local"?
Before I came to Cambodia, I heard many people suggested that foreigners should integrate into the local area. However, even if I knew that I would try to integrate, I still didn’t know how to start. Do I need to ask them something about their national culture? But I don't understand enough about it and I don't know how to start asking questions. Should I ask them to teach me Cambodian? But people needed to work and it seemed inconvenient to bother them. There is no clear instruction in telling me how to start "living with the local".
Thankfully, I was really lucky. When I didn’t know what should I do at first, my colleagues and students around me took the initiative to teach me how to start "living with the local". My colleagues asked me if I would like to eat her favorite "mango dip chilli", or go on "home visits" to the village together. The students asked me to play their "traditional game" with them in their language which I didn't understand.
Gradually I found out that I’m too nervous. "living with the local" is what the locals do, and you do it together. This is the first step in integration. Even if I sometimes find myself limited in what I can do because I’m not a local, at least I’ve the “living together” mindset. With this mindset, I was able to interact with them and have more topics to talk about. With relatable topics, you have a better chance to know and understand each other more. Everything can happen naturally because of "living with the local together."
I always think of all the memories I had experienced with the locals in these past five months.
With my colleagues, we started developing our friendship by sharing our food. Now, when we are working, we can chat with each other and make various joke in each other's mother tongue. In the beginning when I approached them, the atmosphere always seemed to be filled with a little embarrassment and nervousness. After five months, some of these same children are confident in approaching me. As time goes on, the experiences of living together are intertwined and strung together. It has become a state of coexistence to let us share our life, culture, and communication. Am i so lucky that I can live with everything in one country for a while?
In the last month of internship, I set a desire of not breaking my connection with Cambodia even though the internship was nearing its end. This internship is just my first step in connecting with Cambodia. And I believed that we lived together and it still to be continued.