As I think back to arriving in Cambodia, the thing that I was least prepared for was the dirtiness of the place. I was ready for the stifling heat even though I didn’t know how much it would sap you. I was ready for grind of language learning despite not fully realising how slow it would be. I don’t think I was prepared for the dirt. I knew it wouldn’t be a clean place, like more developed countries. But I was thinking it would be more like what rural Cambodia is currently. That is, mostly natural vegetation and beauty. And even though I’d been to cities in Asia before, the dirtiness of the place still caught me off guard the most. Don’t get me wrong, Cambodia is a beautiful place. Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is not. A close second to the surprise of dirt is the amount of rubbish that you find dumped everywhere.
I first saw the dirt when flying over the airport as we were about to land for the first time. We then experienced the dirt first hand when our house needed to be mopped twice daily just to stay clean. And we are not clean freaks. In Australia we mop much, much, much less. What I found intriguing on my bike rides to class was the shop owners watering the road just outside their house. I haven’t checked this, but I assume it’s to dampen the dirt so less dust comes into their shop.
I rode my bicycle every day in Cambodia. What this meant for me is that for the three years I rode a mountain bike. The quality of the roads goes hand in hand with the dirtiness and so rather than switching to a road or racing bike in the city, I ride mountain bike because there is still a need for it on many of the roads I ride on.
On reflection after our first term, the other thing that I least expected was how much language you can pick up. I thought that to be good at language meant being immersed in the culture and community; going to a local church, local school and living amongst locals. What surprised me is that we didn’t do this as much as we thought and yet I was able to make significant gains. This is partly because CMS frees us up to really learn language in the first term. But my thought had been that we would need to be ultra immersed. And true, that would help. But immersion in the way I thought it is not the be all and end all. In fact, the more I think about it, it was because we weren’t as immersed as I thought that enabled me to do as much language as I did.
Our video captures this aspect of surprise from our first term.