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

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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.

Settling in: Still settling in

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Feed the birds, mboan a bag. Mboan, mboan, mboan a bag. A family day out playing in the park in front of the palace

Hopefully this series has given you some sense of what our time has been like in Cambodia so far. It hasn’t been Cambodia-details rich, but hopefully sense rich. That is, hopefully it’s given you a sense of the ups and downs of settling in here–the joys and challenges. The joys have come from the new and also the not so new. The joys have even come from and through the challenges, amidst our indecision, our comparisons and our confusion. Some of these challenges recede in importance as our language improves, though the journey is slow.

We don’t feel new anymore. If you think about it on a scale, there are tourists, expats and locals. We’ve definitely moved on from tourist and we’re in the heart of expat land as we seek to improve our language through the ups and downs of language learning. We’re not out of the “honeymoon phase”, just yet. But we may be soon.

Following the great advice we were given during our missionary training in Melbourne, we are taking a break from language learning and Cambodia and heading to a nearby country for some much needed R&R. Stay tuned in August for a new blog series on our time in Cambodia.

For a heads up on when that series starts, sign up to receive an email alert by clicking the ‘Follow’ button on the right side of our blog home page.

 

 

Settling in: #9. Corks not in Cambodia

Part of our experience of settling into Cambodia has included the experience of those not in Cambodia; those in Australia who are settling in to no longer having us there. This post below is from my parents and gives another perspective on the whole settling in, a settling without. Having left home many years ago, I returned–a boomerang child–but this time with a family. We lived with my parents for two years before coming here to Cambodia. Below are some of their thoughts post us leaving:

Cork Parents

What’s it like to now have them all disappear from our everyday lives and for us to no longer be busy with the activities that were part of having them around us?

At first it seems surreal, like they are just away for a few days and will soon be running around with us again. I even came in one night and was about to tell my husband to turn the TV down so he didn’t wake the children. It doesn’t seem necessary to put away toys and left over clothes “because the children might need them”.  And then there’s a few tears as we realize the distance that now separates us.

There are also thoughts about how they are all going. Have they been able to settle in ok? Are they able to get around safely and perform the normal routines of life in a safe manner? Can they maintain their health in very different circumstances? How will the children manage such a big cultural shift? Are they feeling alone in a new place where communication is in a language they don’t yet know?

So how does our faith in God speak to us in these circumstances? We know that the best place for our children and grandchildren to be is doing what God wants them to do. We feel blessed that they are following God’s guidance for their lives. We know that God loves them and watches over them way more than we do. Our children and grandchildren are in a better place than many others that live comfortable lives but don’t know God. This of course doesn’t mean that what they are doing is easy. So we pray that our children and grandchildren will be given the strength they need to keep doing His will.

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Children and grandchildren boarding the plane, January 2017

 

Settling in: #7. Language learning is like tennis

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Wing: the place I pay my bills in Cambodia (unless I’m late and then I have to go an hour into town). BTW I now can read WING in Khmer.

Maybe God had a better plan than me when he put tennis in my background. Not maybe, definitely. I’ve found a few similarities between playing tennis and learning a new language in a new culture.

Firstly, learning in a new culture is like learning a complex skill in sport. You don’t pick up a tennis racquet and hit a serve straight away. You break down the skill into parts and work at each little bit. It feels a bit weird doing each part, but once you get good at the little bits you add a few of them together like building blocks until you work your way to the full serve. Learning a new language and learning how to function in a new society are similar. We learn to do more complex jobs based on learning simple jobs and adding them together. So now I can pay a bill–ON MY OWN–because of four smaller parts of this more complex skill. NOW I can ride a bike in a new country. NOW I know where to go to pay the bill. NOW I know how to use money in Cambodia (Go figure… 4000 Riel to each US Dollar). And NOW I’m familiar with the process for paying the bill at the shop (Wing). Put it all together and though it’s not the most complex job, I certainly couldn’t have managed it by myself in the first week.

The other way learning in a new culture is like tennis is those good and bad days for no apparent reason. In tennis you have those days where you can’t miss a ball. You hit all the lines. You’re in the sweet spot. The next day… You can’t hit a backhand. Your ball toss is all over the place. You just don’t have it. What’s changed? Often nothing. What’s the difference? Who knows? It’s just the ups and downs of playing sport.

It feels the same with language learning. Some days you come to class and your pronunciation is spot on. You remember all your vocab and you’re able to form questions with relative ease. The next day… You get pulled up for saying everything slightly wrong. Words are just lost in your brain somewhere… and don’t even get me started on trying to put a question together! What’s changed? Nothing! What’s the difference? Who knows?! It’s just the ups and downs of language learning.

The pay-off in all this skill building and up-down days is that one day you get to play a real a game of tennis–all the skills come together. The joy of all those hard days and training comes in a game well played. This is what we’re aiming for with language learning.

The bigger picture however, is that we’re not just language learning, we’re discovering a new world (Thanks MILL for that insight). That is, we’re not just doing language learning for itself, but as a means to enter into a new world. This bigger picture of participating in a new world helps put those down (and even up) days in perspective.

Settling in: #5. Growing familiarity

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Our very ‘familiar’ family time is at a hotel that has a pool and cafe for treats.

Even in a short time it’s amazing how a foreign place can start to feel familiar. The school run, though only doing it for a few months, feels very familiar. Our route to language school also feels very familiar. The Khmer meals that our house helper cooks are less new and different and there are now some meals that we get very excited about when she is making them. And we’ve gotten used to living in our Cambodian house; each week it feels more and more like home.

This was brought home (hehe) to me a couple of weeks back. We managed to get out of Phnom Penh for the first time since we arrived in January. We couldn’t have done it without our good friends (locals) who helped us experience some more of Cambodia. But it was on the return trip that something struck me: We were returning ‘home’ to something familiar; familiar house and routine. We were coming home. There was a new sense in that word having left Phnom Penh for the first time and then return.

There’s still more to do and get used to in the house. There’s still much more to explore in Phnom Penh and much more to see in the countryside. Yet, its surprising how the different moves to familiar. With familiarity comes a joy and relaxedness. The stress hormones get a slight break and you’re able to function in a different way. In this sense, there’s not just joy in the new, but joy in the not-so-new as we settle into patterns and friendships that have enough history to make us feel like we’re not at square one. Things go from new to the new normal.

Settling in: #4. Don’t compare

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A major-ish road in Phnom Penh with a large shoulder. I love riding a mountain bike down that shoulder.

There are two dangerous comparisons that I musn’t make living overseas. The first is don’t compare the new country with the one back home. Instead, live each country as its own entity rather than wishing one was more like the other.  Thoughts like “I wish Cambodia was more like Australia” are not helpful. Comparison is a slippery slope towards resentment and burnout.

Of course it’s okay to compare. I just need to think about why I’m comparing and in what spirit I’m making the comparison–less grass is greener comparison and more healthy respect for both places. So comparing, when contented, is healthy and normal and even helpful. But if I’m tired or stressed or not going well in the new place, then I should not compare. At these times I just need to let each place be what it is.

For example, I could look at the above road and wish the roads were more like Australia, where the roads are paved right to the edges. That’s the sort of comparison I shouldn’t make. A more healthy comparison is to see that the upshot of these roads however, is that when they are packed with traffic, and I’m riding my mountain bike along the side, guess who slips straight past the traffic (even past all those tuktuks and motos)?

The second comparison that I shouldn’t make is with other missios or expats (people from other countries). The reality is that every single expat is from a different place and is here for a different reason and a different length of time. These multiple differences will affect all the choices they make and will mean those choices differ from mine with varying degrees. Comparison is helpful when you are aware that there is going to be a healthy and normal difference–where we are all just trying to make decisions in light of our own background, circumstances and purposes.

This comparison thingy is also particularly evident in language learning. I often need to tell myself “DON’T DO IT. DON’T COMPARE. GO AT YOUR OWN PACE.”

I suspect I’ll need to remind myself not to compare for many years to come.

Settling in: #3. Decisions galore

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A major intersection near where I study. Which way should I go? Decisions, decisions.

Yes, there’s choice paralysis in Australia too. But there is a new stress to making choices in a new country. As you settle-in in a new country you’re constantly having to make all these decisions about how you’ll live; not only where you’ll live, but how you’ll set up your house. Do you set it up to be friendly to local friends or as a sanctuary for the family? What should you do about transportation? A car may be cheaper and safer, but are they the only criteria?

For those who don’t mind what others think, these decisions don’t have as much weight. But for those who do consider what others will think, this is one of the harder things about moving to a new country. You’re never sure what impact the choices you make will have on others. You have more certainty in the country you’re from as you know the culture and how people think. But in a new country, you have mostly no idea how people are going to interpret what you do.

Added to this is that you not only have the local community to keep in mind, but you have a international community (expats) to keep in mind. Expats can be a source of help as you settle in. But here’s the catch. Each person/family has come from a different place, with different backgrounds and different experiences, with different purposes and length of stay in this new country. The range of choices people make are from one end of the spectrum to the other. This means that you’re having to sift through every bit of advice and try and interpret it for yourself.

In the beginning there are many decisions to be made. Eventually, the number of decisions to be made slows down. But you are very aware of each new decision that you make, and begin to deal with the unseen consequences of earlier choices. Again, in some way this isn’t much different from doing life in your own country. But settling-in in a new country means you’re making a lot of these choices all at once and you’re doing it with less cultural awareness. So, in short, a condensed period of decision making brings to the fore the act of making decisions.