Don’t take yourself too seriously – year abroad in Cambodia
Off to Cambodia...
I still remember the feeling of excitement on the plane when we finally left for Cambodia. Several times I was thinking about what to expect and, looking back, I ought not to have worried so much about it, because somehow things came together all by themselves, even if sometimes unexpected, to make it a great time. But let me tell you from the beginning:
My volunteer service through the child welfare organisation “Die Sternsinger” started in the summer of 2019 and took me to Battambang, a small town in the interior of Cambodia, where the rainy and dry seasons are very pronounced.
So there was more time to learn the language.
I got a taste of this right upon my arrival. I first took a language course on the coast, and the rain clouds passed over us from the sea day after day. But there was more time to learn the language, which opened many doors for me as things proceeded.
... and then finally, the project!
When the first language hurdle was overcome , I finally went to my town. On the way, I learned how to travel in Cambodia from city to city with minibuses on the very busy streets. At first, I was unsure where I would end up, but my project group gave me a warm welcome when I arrived. The project – the Komar Rikreay Association (KMR) – is a small independent NGO that has made it its mission to care for children in need and support families on the ground. They mainly try to bring children who somehow lost their accustomed environment back to their families. But KMR’s programme includes workshops throughout the province on a wide variety of topics, including health.
My tasks were mainly to support the social education workers, to help with the public relations of the project and (my favourite task) to offer afternoon programmes to the children who were looked after by the project in foster families. We played a lot of games, and I probably learned more games from the children than the other way around; we did handicrafts, made music, and decorated the walls of the project buildings artistically. The language course helped me a lot, and if that was not enough, I communicated with hands and feet. But I quickly learned that you can get over the most embarrassing situations with a laugh.
I was also impressed by the cohesion of the project staff. In the morning, they met half an hour earlier to have breakfast together, and when there was something to celebrate, we all went to the market to get something special for lunch. I was always overwhelmed by the selection of fruits that I had never eaten before.
Everyday life in Battambang
After some time to get used to the ways of KMR, my everyday life was pretty varied. In my free time I also had quite a few adventures.
Right at the beginning of my time in Battambang I met three young adults who had grown up in the town and helped me to find my way around and explore the area. And before I knew it, the three of them had become my best friends. I later hung around with them about every other day when we would either just go to lunch together, watch a picture at the movie theatre or go on hikes together in the surrounding countryside.
Their openness in simply accepting me into their group of friends was deeply moving.
This openness of simply accepting me into their group of friends was deeply moving and opened my eyes a bit to see how I might act similarly. After I had also made connections in the church community and the sports club, I really felt at home there, and Battambang grew more and more dear to me.
Inter-religious aspects in Cambodia
I was also particularly impressed in Cambodia by how integrated religion was with the many temples throughout the city. Prayers and music were regularly broadcast over large loudspeakers, which could be heard many streets away. Contrast this with the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, the national shrine of Cambodia, whose temple complexes in the jungle are witnesses to another era.
On my trip there, I learned that a little creativity is needed to take advantage of the floods during the rainy season. I just took the boat, which took me there through the alluvial lands and floating villages.
Conclusion: don’t always take yourself too seriously
The longer I lived in Battambang, the faster time flew by. With my tasks I could try out a lot of things, bring in my own ideas but above all learn new ways of approaching everyday life. I also learned not to take myself too seriously and to let things come to me, even if that meant embarrassing myself while trying out Cambodian dances. The readiness to help on the part of the Cambodians that I experienced inspired me.
The experience of gaining a foothold in completely new surroundings and meeting incredibly nice people has left a lasting impression upon me.
In addition, the experience of gaining a foothold in a completely new environment and then meeting incredibly nice people has left a lasting impression upon me. I arrived in Battambang as a stranger and was able to learn how wonderful it can be to start over again. Through this, I learned to question my everyday habits and to see things from a different perspective.