No-longer New: #8. Language update


This is a shot from the role play I wrote as part of a in-class presentation that I gave in Khmer.

Where am I up to after a year and a bit of language, after 40 weeks of full time language school? The short answer is: I’ve come a long way, but I’ve got an even longer way to go. A more specific question is what’s changed in this last 6 months on from my last update?


Arriving in Cambodia early last year, I had almost no Khmer. Now I’m attempting conversations in Khmer and these conversations are moving beyond the basic fact finding questions of personal data (age, family, work etc). Though I still need to learn much more vocab, I’m finding now that I’m using strategies to keep conversations going, even without having the vocab. This is one major difference between my conversational abilities now and even 5 months ago. 5 months ago, once I asked a quick question and got a quick answer, it was hard to move beyond that point. Sometimes we were just left awkwardly standing there, like one of those scenes everyone fears at a party when the conversation dies. Now with a bit more language what I’m finding is that I have more topics to turn to in general chit chat. A break through in shooting-the-breeze came recently. I’d been struggling to work out what to talk about when I meet up with a friend, beyond the personal data that I’d found out first time I meet with someone. It came as an off hand remark in a seminar, but I’ve found it really helpful. Easy go-to topics in Cambodia are “where have you been?” Or “where are you going?” Through to “have you eaten?” Or “how are family members (either where are they or how are they doing)?” This has given me a couple of topics that I can use as I seek to build my conversational skills.


The result of my language learning so far is that in general day to day life I can function doing simple tasks and having simple conversations in Khmer, conveying some information and understanding some things as well. What this means is that I’m understanding more content on a regular basis. In a recent update, I shared that more often than not I got a sense of the topic that Khmers were talking to me about. Now I don’t just get a sense of the general topic, but I get a sense of the general point they are making about that topic. I’m understanding more conversational content. I still miss many of the details, but I get the general topic and the general point about that topic.

This doesn’t always occur across the board in every conversation and it can often vary based on how quickly Khmer is being spoken (often in conversation it seems to go at machine gun rate) as well as other factors (like background noise and the topic of conversation). But more often than not I’m understanding a decent amount of content. Some of this improvement in understanding more content has come through practice (having similar conversations), some through increased vocab (in my vocab app I have about 2000 words) and some has come through an ability to use questions and responses to check I’ve understood or hear that they’ve understood me.


6 months ago I was hoping to improve my conversation abilities and fluency. And looking back even in the last 6 months I’ve seen that happen. The result is that I’m trying to put myself in more and more situations where I need to use my Khmer and I’ve got more confidence — not confidence to get it right, but confidence just to give it a go and learn something. That’s how I would summarise my conversation ability: confidence to have a go. The result is that I get to practice what I do know and in each conversation I have the chance to learn something new to add to my language arsenal.

One story before I move to reading and writing. Sam and I recently looked at one of my first videos where I tried a bit of Khmer (it was in the first month of arriving here). One of the ways I can see improvement in my Khmer is that as I listen to it again, I cringe. While I gave it a good crack for only being here 1 month, I can now see how my pronunciation was wrong and I can see how I’ve improved in this last year. I’m sure there will be more of that happening as I continue to look back.

In terms of reading and writing, I’m feeling much more comfortable writing and even writing small paragraphs of text. My vocab and reading ability will help improve my writing beyond this, but I’m happy with where my writing is up to. As I finished up with my language school, we were encouraged to keep up our writing if we wanted to keep it. Like a lot of skills, if you don’t use it you lose it. So this is my goal. But more about that in the next post. In terms of reading, while I’m progressing, one of the main difficulties is that my vocab is holding me back. As I add more words to the mix, I think this will help free up my reading. And in this next stage, as you’ll see in the next post, there will be more opportunities for reading.

No-longer New: #7. A ‘Corks not in Cambodia’ visit to Cambodia



Most of the posts on this blog come from my point of view as we settle into our life in Cambodia. One of the things I enjoy adding to this blog are other opinions, or other points of view. ‘Corks not in Cambodia’ posts provide some of that diversity in reflection. So while this post comes in the middle of one series about our life a year on, in another sense this post follows on from two previous posts concerning the experience of one Cork from afar. But this post, instead of being from afar, is about a ‘Cork not in Cambodia’ coming close. Having moved from saying goodbye and experiencing the first year as a grandparent with grandchildren overseas, this post moves to the first visit, the first reunion of parent and child, grandparent and grandchild. My mum, a Cork not in Cambodia, came to Cambodia for a visit. Below are her reflections on this first visit1 having returned back to Australia:

In December it was finally time for our long awaited trip to Cambodia. I arrived at the airport and travelled by tuk-tuk through Phnom Penh. It was then that my first reaction to Cambodia began – a feeling of being overwhelmed by the cultural differences around me. Every sense was assailed by the alternate lifestyle and conditions that prevail, and that speak of a totally different experience of life. The material wealth that supports our living in Australia doesn’t exist in Cambodia. Standards like those required by our governments on our living conditions, aren’t in place. Living areas and daily activities are not organized into orderly and logical regions like our communities are. The differences challenged my understanding about what I saw and thought.

My reaction to the cultural difference was modified by being able to join with our own familiar family. They were the buffer against the unfamiliarity and strangeness.  But this in turn highlighted the isolation that they must experience being separated by language and culture from the place they live in. And the balance they need to work at – keeping the parts of our culture that are important for their family, and blending this with local patterns.

Alongside the experience of cultural difference was the great excitement to see our son, daughter in law and grandchildren.  It was so lovely to be with them again and share a family holiday time, and to slip back into our comfortable relationships. I do wonder how it will be as the children grow older and their memories of Australia and the people there become more distant.

It was also amazing to see how much our son, daughter in law, and grandchildren, have achieved in one short year. Their familiar and automatic responses to the circumstances they are in spoke of hard work in settling into a different culture. And their language interactions were amazing and entertaining.

Of course our holiday finally came to an end and it was time to leave. It was hard to leave knowing the distance that would separate us again, and knowing that we are too far away to be of much practical support.  There were no words that I could find to bring comfort to a sad grandchild as we said goodbye. Sometimes big goals have big costs.

But we look forward to our next trip to Cambodia; being able to see our Cambodian family again, and build on our first experience.




  1. It’ll be interesting in the future to contrast this first visit with later visits and how they are the same and different. 

No-longer New: #6. When culture shock isn’t shocking


On a Skype call last year, after an hour of pouring out my heart, I hear these words from a close friend, ‘I think you’re in culture shock’. ‘Huh… that’s interesting’, I reply.

Two surprises came from those words.

The first surprise concerned my experience of culture shock; not so much that I was experiencing culture shock (I was prepared for that) but by the way it was manifest in me. I wasn’t so much shocked by my culture shock, but more surprised by the way I experienced it. The back story to this conversation was that I was emotionally empty and needed a break after a big first year as a missionary. I’d been prepared for experiencing culture shock through our wonderful training with our sending organisation, CMS. But I was still surprised when it hit. Not because I thought my friend was wrong, but because I think I had been expecting culture shock to feel different or to manifest itself in a different way.

I think my idea of culture shock was the reaction or experience of physical repulsion to a different thing (or event, or experience) in a new culture. I expected feelings of being angry at locals, repulsed over something or feeling like I was trapped in this new place. But my culture shock was for different reasons and so it manifest itself in a different way from what I had been expecting.

My guess is that there is a whole spectrum of how culture shock can manifest itself. I feel like the classic example is of physical repulsion to some aspect of the new place. For me, I didn’t really have any of that. For me, culture shock was more about running so fast and so hard for so long (a whole year, look at me talk as though I’ve been on location for yonks) that I was just worn out. I wasn’t repulsed by the new place, I was just exhausted from experiencing all the new and different aspects. That was my culture shock; exhaustion rather than repulsion.

My second surprise was my reaction to my diagnosis of culture shock. In some ways, I wasn’t shocked that I was in culture shock. It made complete sense. And the result of rightly recognising culture shock for me was a reduction in my culture shock. For me, the simple naming of culture shock helped to reduce its impact. I feel like this is the case for many hard experiences. We name something and its power is reduced. Not only this, but in a funny way my experiencing culture shock assured me. Instead of sending me into further stress, ‘Ohh no… I’m experiencing culture shock, what am I going to do?’ What this meant was that I was on the right path. The way I was feeling wasn’t because I was doing something massively wrong. It’s just a normal experience of missionary work. So in a funny way naming my culture shock assured me that I was normal and that what I was doing was normal. As a result, the diagnosis of culture shock also helped give me clues and ideas of what to do in order to manage the shock. The naming of culture shock was thus the first step and precipitated further steps.

No-longer New: #5. Trying not to whinge


When I look back at our first year in Cambodia, a word that I often find myself coming back to in describing our experience is ‘hard’. Our first year on location was hard. Quite a normal experience for a first year missionary, really. But what I struggle with is how to convey this sentiment without it feeling like I’m just having a good old whinge. I’m not despondent. I’m not looking for massive amounts of sympathy. I’m not even wanting to wish the hardness away (completely). It was just hard.

But it wasn’t only hard. There were wonderful things from last year. Many things that I’m thankful for occurred in the midst of this hard year or maybe even because of this hard year. So I’m not using the word ‘hard’ in a completely negative sense. Many of the aspects of last year, while hard, have been good for me; maybe like eating vegetables. You don’t like eating your greens at first, but you know you should have them. So you eat. After a while, you actually grow to love eating vegetables. Or maybe its like learning a new skill. At first it’s just a lot of hard work, but after a while it’s not as hard and you soon learn to love it, sometimes to the point of obsession or automation (not realising that it’s hard).

So last year was hard. But it wasn’t ‘bad’ hard. I’m not trying to have a whinge. How was last year? It was good hard.

No-longer New: #4. Expectation vs. experience

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Setting up expectations

One of the things that CMS (Church Missionary Society) did in preparation for sending us to Cambodia is to help us construct helpful expectations for our time serving on location. Having never been to Cambodia, we constructed our initial expectations of what our life might be like based on glimpses of Cambodia that we had access to in Australia. These initial experiences came from things like meeting Cambodians in Melbourne, discussions with other missionaries already in Cambodia, through to what we learnt about Cambodia from books, lectures and other resources. CMS helped us combine these introductory experiences with some planning and preparation in order to put together some expectations for what it might be like to live in Cambodia.1 These expectations served as a foundation for our experience of Cambodia.

Moving from expectations to experience

After a year of now experiencing Cambodia, I’m able to look back and contrast some of my expectations with my experience. Some of my expectations matched my experience. We were stressed, lost and it took time to start to feel settled here in Cambodia. Expecting these things helped me survive these experiences. Good expectations assist our experience. 

But even the best of expectations will miss the mark. While I expected to be stressed, the experience of stress was much greater than I ever could have expected. No surprises here. Expectations will never match our experience. For example, the experience of bullying is always different from our expectation of being bullied. Our experience of parenthood is always different from our expectations about parenthood. Experience is the full bodied expression of what our expectations are only a glimpse of.

The nature of expectations

Four things I’m learning about expectations.

Firstly, our expectations will always be a mix of on the mark and completely missing it. Some expectations will match our experience and some won’t (whether by exceeding it, failing to meet it or just being completely wrong). But even the best expectations will still fall short of matching completely the experience.

Secondly, I’m learning that experience sheds light on expectations, particularly implicit expectations. As we experience something, we have the opportunity to learn. We are able to reflect on how well our explicit expectations matched the experience. But also, the experience sheds light on some of those expectations that were less explicit. Experiencing stress in Cambodia, a new country and culture, is an opportunity for me to see what I was expecting even if I wasn’t aware I was expecting it. Experience highlights implicit expectations that we could never have predicted, even with the best preparation.

Thirdly, expectations combined with experience provide a learning cycle that can give way to new expectations. The hope is that we are able to refine earlier expectations and take these refined expectations into our new experiences. While these new expectations will never match the new experience, the aim is that we will become better at expecting, to the point where our expectations more approximate the experience.

Fourthly, wrong expectations aren’t necessarily a problem. Put another way, perfect expectations is not the goal. In fact, sometimes I don’t think its about right or wrong expectations necessarily, it seems to be more about how tightly we hold those expectations. There’s a freedom in this. The pressure is off to always set up expectations that are exact, but rather to be ready to let our expectations be moulded and changed based on the experience. Further, this can be said for those who repeatedly have high expectations as well as those who consistently have low expectations (though I know which way I normally tend to lean). So no matter whether we aim too high or aim too low, sometimes it’s about how we hold expectations. Are you in danger of squeezing too tightly? I know I am. I need to hold expectations loosely enough to be useful in experience without strangling the life out of experience.

  1.  I’m thankful for this aspect of the training and I think they prepared us as well as I think is possible for a missionary sending organisation. 

No-longer New: #3. Visitors eyes

It was wonderful to have family come and visit us. We’ve had visitors before and that had its own joys. Family visitors provided different joys on top of friends visits. Family visits make the new place feel more like home as we make ‘family’ memories with our extended family in our current home. This certainly helps the settling in, but also helps family feel more connected with our new home. One of the ways that our family visit helped us was to see the way they reacted to life in Cambodia. Their reactions became a glimpse back to our reactions a year ago. The outcome of observing them is we get to remember what it was like to arrive in Cambodia for the first time and then reflect on the ways in which our life in Cambodia is no-longer new. ‘Oh, we don’t notice [blah blah blah] anymore.’ Below are some of the ways in which Cambodia is more normal1 to us now than it was a year ago.

‘Tuktuks are faster than I expected’ Getting used to Cambodian traffic, whether it be the speed of tuktuks, getting used to the general flow of traffic or the riding principles (principles rather than laws…) on Cambodian roads, takes some time to get used to. I remember the early days of riding around. The combination of not knowing the area or general principles of riding on Cambodian roads makes those early days hair-raising experiences. For me now, Cambodian roads (generally) are no problem. In fact I thrive on riding in Phnom Penh.

‘You take a stick when walking the dog, and its not to play fetch…’ The presence of dogs and cows on our streets is now for us common place. Many of the dogs in our neighbourhood are not locked away in their yards, but rather, they roam the streets near their home, often defending it as people walk past for exercise. These dogs do not like it when other dogs walk past. Hence the stick. Our neighbour (a 7 year old boy) had his granny visit and she commented on seeing cows on the road in nearby streets. Her grandson’s nonchalant reply reminded us of the normalcy of seeing cows on our roads. While I’ve seen many country roads covered in sheep, I’ve not seen many roads in Australia, certainly not in the city, covered with cows. For that you need to visit Cambodia.

‘You’re speaking in Khmer seems so natural’ My response, ‘Great, I’m glad it looks natural, because most days it feels anything but’. Learning a new language, one of the hard things is getting perspective on yourself to see how much you’ve learnt. Just like having kids and not being conscious of how much they are growing, so too with language. You can get so used to the normalcy of attempting a new language that you forget how weird it is to be able to do it, and jut how far you’ve come in such a short time.

‘Wasn’t expecting this much rubbish’ Not everywhere in Cambodia is flush with trash. There are many trash free zones and there are many other places where trash is well hidden. Yet there are so many places where it seems like trash is almost on display. Once I’d realised the extent of it, I think I’ve started seeing it less. Does it bother me? Not like other things do. While the amount of rubbish is unfortunate, for me it’s not a constant stressor. For me what is worse is that people have to live around it or in it. Honestly, the fact that I am not too phased by it says more about me. It probably reflects the distance that I have from it. I’m removed from having to deal with it and so it doesn’t affect me. Maybe it should affect me more?

‘Wealth and poverty live right next to each other’ This is not the post where I’ll dwell on the issue of poverty. There is much that could be and should be said on this topic. That said, like the rubbish issue, there are days when I notice it and days when I don’t. There are days when I clearly see the gap between the have’s and have nots and days where I’m oblivious. Days where I feel that gap more and days where I should feel that gap more. One of the challenges of living with poverty more in your face is that its easy to distance yourself as a coping mechanism. One of the privileges of living in this sort of environment is it gives you different eyes from the eyes I had in Australia. It changes you. Do I still want stuff? Of course. Do I want it as much? Maybe not as much as I did before moving here.

Family visitors helped us to be reminded of what we were like when we first moved here and gave us a glimpse at how things have changed for us since moving here. It was a real blessing.


About hundred meters away on the other side of that far wall was a crowd of about double or triple this size all viewing Angkor Wat sunrise.



  1. By ‘normal’ I’m not making a value judgement on the place, but simply saying we are more used to life here. 

No-longer New: #2. Heat Acclimatised?

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Can you imagine sledding in South East Asia?

Coming to Cambodia one of my biggest concerns was how we’d fare with the heat. More specifically is how we’d cope with the humidity. Obviously, I’d come from a place that was significantly hot. But humidity and constant heat were the new factors. Before we came someone described coping with the humidity and they likened it to Sydney traffic (for those not familiar with Sydney traffic, think either scary or jammed). They said the heat is like Sydney traffic, you never get used to it, you just learn to live with it.

So far, this has been our experience. We’ve learned to live with it and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how we’ve gone in this aspect. Now don’t get me wrong, on those hot days when there is no power my energy levels plummet and my crankiness skyrockets. But generally, life is doable in Cambodian heat.

What do I put this down to? Part of me surviving in the heat is probably due to my tennis background. Tennis being a summer sport and fairly vigorous, I’m not unaccustomed to heat or hot places or expending energy in the heat. But a second factor has probably been how we’ve sought to set up our lives in Cambodia. Part of our1 strategy has been to limit air-conditioning use. Sure, there’s a financial (and environmental) benefit here as well, but one of the benefits is missiological (Previously I’ve discussed other missiological reasons for why I ride). Not using A/C too much helps us get out more and helps us not feel a huge disparity between our house temp and outside temp (which also limits heat rash). My riding a bike is also another significant way that I’ve gotten used to the heat. On top of this there are plenty of other strategies like taking a cold shower, or a cold shower then standing in front of a fan, through to lying on the floor as the tiles are cooler, and then more cold showers. And many of our drinks now have ice. Don’t know if I’m fully Cambodian yet… while I’ll sometimes have ice in my beer, I won’t always.

So these strategies have helped us settle in to the heat, to the point where this January we found that it was sometimes too cold to swim. That’s crazy for two reasons. First, January in Australia is peak swimming season, but it’s the cooler part of the year in Cambodia. Second, when we arrived last year (in January) we went swimming all the time because of the heat. Now we’ll probably just wait till the hotter heat.

One funny story to finish. Last year, about this time, a letter came home from our kids school saying that due to the cool mornings (think 18-21 degrees Celsius), the students should wear beanies, jackets and gloves to school in the morning. Sam and I couldn’t believe it, and laughed at the thought, while continuing to wear shorts and a t-shirt. Fast forward one year, and as our kids are getting on the bus they ask for a jumper to go with their long pants. We just had to laugh at how things have changed in just one year.

  1. I say this very un-prescriptively. This is not the only way to do heat acclimatisation. Its just the way that we’ve attempted it. There are many other ways to live and survive in Cambodian heat. 

No-longer New: #1. Series intro


Our photographer, Clare, prettied us up with a filter. Bethany joined us to celebrate our first year.

Well, its been just over a year that we’ve been in Cambodia. The year has definitely flown. So much has happened. So much change. This series takes some time to look back at the past year. Not at every aspect, but things that have stood out for us. I partly do this to give you a sense of what the year was like for us as a whole. But I partly do it to help myself settle into this second year. There was lots of un-settledness last year. Looking ahead I’m excited about having a few less things to settle into this year. I’m excited about living in Cambodia now that things are a little more settled. But I’m also excited about continuing to learn more about Cambodia in a more settled way.

The idea of settled-ness conveys a sense of non-newness. We’re no longer new. And that’s exciting in its own way. So reflecting on last year helps me feel more settled as we begin our second year in Cambodia, knowing that in some ways we are no longer new.

Mid-year musings #12: Final thoughts


At the riverside for Water Festival

Mid-year musings has taken us to 9 months on location–we’re a quarter of our way through our first 3 year term. Wow! I can’t believe its gone so quick! While we have been 9 months on location, in another way we are only 3 months through this year. Our mid-year reset means that we are dealing with multiple time periods–9 months into settling in, 9 months until our next big break.

So where are we, head wise? Well, in many ways we feel settled here in Cambodia (this earlier series explores some of our experience of settling in this year). But in many other ways we still fail to understand many things about the culture. In other words, we’re settled in a place where we still feel like, and are, outsiders (and will always be in some way). As we live here we do grow in our sense of what it is like to be an insider. Some of that insider knowledge has come from our expat saddle, yet as our language and relationships increase, we know that more of this insider knowledge will come from insider’s themselves.

The funny thing about the insider/outsider dynamic is that, as we get more insider knowledge, we will seem like insiders to new outsiders as visitors come and stay. One of the things I look forward to as visitors come to stay is seeing how they deal with things and being reminded of all the ways that I find Cambodia normal. Whether I’ve gotten used to, in some way, the heat or the traffic or the dirt. My senses will have adjusted to life in Cambodia, but visitors will give me a glimpse into ways that I have settled, that may not be obvious to me any more (oblivious to my own settling in). This insider/outsider dynamic, with new outsiders visiting, reminds me of my description of missionaries as a bridge between two different cultures.

Our settled-ness also relates to our choices and decisions about life here. While there has been a decision decrease, I predict that there will be new set of decisions to be made soon. These decisions will be less about transport and more about language learning. That is, what will be my approach to language learning after I finish up at our language school?

However, one of the biggest factors for our settled-ness relates to our children. The first six months were a great ‘test run’ at the new school, with this new school year providing a quicker settling in for them with many more known quantities in an environment that they are spending most of their time at (school). They are developing friendships both at school and in our neighbourhood. By far, the biggest factor to our children settling in is me (or us as parents). The fewer melting moments we have, the less they will have. While we are not completely responsible for all of our kid’s issues, we do take the burden for some (or many, depending on the day) of those episodes.

To me the picture above encapsulates in many ways where we are up to in Cambodia. We’re certainly settled (see Joel’s locally acquired outfit and our presence at a major Cambodian festival). Our attitude is one of exploring (see Spiderman) and yet that exploring has its difficulties (climbing up the slope). We are present at the festival with more questions than answers about what is going on. Yet our presence at this year’s Water Festival attests to our comfortability on location, which would not have been the same 9 months ago. So, 9 months in… we’re travelling pretty well.

Where to from here? In terms of the blog, I’ll have a break over Chrissy as I work on a new series, starting early next year. My early thoughts are that it will be reflections following our first year in Cambodia. Stay tuned…

Mid-year musings #11: Cork not in Cam post #2


Enjoying a catch up with Granny and Gran Gran (technically there are four generations in this picture)

Previously, my mum wrote a short piece from her perspective on how things had been going in Australia a few months after we moved to Cambodia. This post is a follow on from that one:

It is now 9 months since our son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren headed overseas. We watch their progress through internet connections like WhatsApp and Facebook, Skype sessions, and sometimes, phone calls. We can see the children growing and becoming oriented to their new circumstances.

There are many good things that can come from a grandparent relationship. Grandparents have the opportunity to provide undivided attention for a time, and can reinforce the special value of that child. Grandparents can be part of giving a child a perspective on life that goes beyond the view of their peers. So the challenge comes to us – can we do any of this for our grandchildren when we are in different countries? Can any of this be communicated in short bursts of Skype? It’s really hard to know.

The other issue we deal with is the sense of loss that comes from our grandchildren (and their parents!) being so far away. Managing a sense of loss can be a tricky thing as sadness is one of those emotions that is “magnetic” – you are feeling the loss, and every other sad or lost situation comes racing in as well, until you are immersed in a “storm of lostness”. But on the other hand the loss is real and pretending it is not there doesn’t address the situation either.

The reality, contrary to popular belief, is that losses don’t heal with time. They actually get deeper because the time you are separated from the person/situation/etc gets longer as time passes. The impact of loss lessens, in the sense that you learn to live with it, rather than it actually going away. Other positives can come into your life that help to restore a bit more of the balance between the losses and the joys. As to where I’m at–it’s still in a fluctuating state, sometimes feeling the loss keenly, sometimes feeling the joy of things that happen in life here.

We miss our overseas family. I am thankful we live in the technological era that we do, so that we can maintain contact with them.  We also need to focus on what we are meant to be doing, following the purpose that is ours in Australia, just as our overseas family are following their mission.