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: #6. Ambiguity tolerance

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What does this sign mean? I have no idea, despite using the road everyday. This is me exercising some ambiguity tolerance. (BTW my confused face looks a lot like my undecided face)

I remember hearing the phrase “ambiguity tolerance” in training down in Melbourne. Then, on the first day of language class here in Cambodia, our teacher shared that good language learners are those who have ambiguity tolerance (or who work on having good ambiguity tolerance). That is, there’s much that we don’t know. But if we stop to try to understand every single detail before acting–or speaking, in the case of language learning–then we won’t get very far without being constantly frustrated.

I think what this looks like in a new culture is that we’re acting or speaking without knowing the full extent of what we are doing or saying. For example, in just using our favourite and usual tuktuk driver are we being loyal to him or showing an unhealthy favouritism in a collective culture? We’re just never really sure what our actions are saying or the effect they are having on others.

Now, this is actually how we ALL live, all the time, whether overseas or not. But this fact is highlighted more in a place where you know very little about the culture. Sometimes I do well at tolerating ambiguity. At these times, ambiguity tolerance enables me to relax, given I’m not going to have all the info I need before making decisions. At other times, the ambiguity is harder to deal with. Here’s one example:

My tuktuk driver said something to me and I had no idea what he said. He’d been driving us most places, most days for close to a month. We were seeing each other a lot; some days I would be in the tuktuk for 3 hours. I had started speaking in very poor beginner Khmer to him. He often said things to me that I didn’t understand, but I usually nod to be polite (a fairly usual pattern for us here in Cambodia). This particular day was a Friday and I didn’t think too much of it.

Anyway, the following Monday, one of his tuktuk driver friends showed up instead of him. I thought, ‘he must have just wanted a day off or had something to do’. A few days went by and the friend kept coming, not our usual tuktuk driver. I started to wonder whether he’d told me something important on that Friday. Was he displeased with us? Were we paying him enough? Was he going to come back? Did we have conflict I was unaware of? I wasn’t being tolerant to this ambiguity, and it was affecting my tolerance in other areas of life here.

I didn’t realise how much the ambiguity was affecting me until the 4th day when the tuktuk driver was late coming to pick us up. I started to hope. My regular tuktuk driver was often late, but his friend was always early. When I heard the tuktuk driver come down the street late, I was hoping it would be him (one of those times when you’re happy someone is late). And it was. My friend was back! I was so happy. I was happy because he was back. But I was also happy because the ambiguity of that situation was resolved. Unfortunately I couldn’t really tell him why I was happy.

This is just a small example of ambiguity tolerance. But this is one of the main ongoing lessons of living here so far. To survive in a new place, I’ll need to grow my ambiguity tolerance.

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.

Settling in: #2. The joy of early wins

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My first wet night ride. Notice my poncho goes into my helmet; thongs/flip flops as essential wet weather footwear (essential footwear in heat as well); and the trail of water behind my bike–the water was easily 20cm deep on our street. Not even wet season yet. Oh yeah, that’s two pieces of trash floating along right there.

Who’d have ever thought riding at night in the rain in ankle deep water was a kick? Such is the joy of settling into a new place. Simple things can give you such great joy.

Have you ever started a new sport or hobby before? One of the joys of starting that sport or hobby is that in the early days you see lots of improvement. You make what seems like big wins.

I was a regular bike rider in Australia – both for recreation and transport. I loved it. But riding in a new place is a joy, an early win in a different way. Riding, to explore and have some independence in a place where you rely on others for transport–win. Riding, after your first fall (with minor cuts and scrapes) in a new country–win. Riding in the wet at night, not just in sprinkles, but in water almost up to your pedals–WIN.

After you’ve been playing or hobbying for a while, those early wins diminish slightly. But in the early days, they’re more regular, more visible and more joyful.

The joy of settling into a new country includes getting good at living in that new country. Completing simple tasks provides easy wins, like learning how to buy food, learning how to get around (particularly without a car or obvious form of transport), learning how to pay bills, or setting up a bank account. All these things come with a sense of satisfaction that you might not have in a country where you are able to do more things. In the context of very obvious inabilities (settling into a new country), growing abilities provide a great source of joy. Bring on the early wins!

New Series heads up: Settling in over first impressions

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The Wat near our house. It encapsulates the feeling of this post, BELOW.

‘First impressions’ or ‘Settling in’. I’ve had these two taglines rummaging around in my brain, peering at me from my notes when I make observations about myself or about Cambodia. Since before we arrived in Cambodia I’ve been hoping to do a series that gives you a sense of how it’s been for us in these early days. I kept coming back to these two phrases, again and again.

The more that I observed and reflected, the more these two phrases separated in my thinking. Early on they’d almost been synonymous. But as we’ve ‘settled in’ (so far) over these last three months they’ve taken on different meanings. This separation helps to explain where I’m currently at.

I wanted to give you a taste of what Cambodia is like for us, through our new eyes. But I don’t think I’m quite there yet. The more I reflect on our life here, the more I am able to talk about what we were experiencing. Yet at the same time I also feel less able to speak confidently about Cambodia. Not because I don’t like it here, but more because I want to give time to my observations and reflect some more before I make some of them public.1 The Wat (think temple, i.e., Angkor Wat; pictured on the flag above) near our house provides an apt illustration. We’re used to the Wat, we’re settled. However, I don’t feel I could really say much that is helpful about it, just yet. I hope to soon.

So… I feel I’m able to speak about our experience and how we’re going–settling in–in a way that has clarity and is hopefully helpful. Thus, I lean closer to the term ‘settling in’. ‘First impressions’ seems to require more local knowledge than I have yet to do it well; context sensitive.

So this first series will be about our settling in. There will be glimpses of Cambodia in this series, but mostly it will be about our experience in a new culture. In that sense, the learning will be more general than specific to Cambodia. Although I’m sure it’ll have a Cambodian flavour. So in this series you’ll hopefully get a sense of what it’s been like for us so far – some of the joys and challenges as we’ve settled in to Cambodia.


  1.  The proverb that has been running around in my head is ‘In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.’ (Prov 18:17) Not that I feel I’ll be cross examined for what I say by others. This is more just a cross examining from my later ‘me’ (which is bound to happen anyway).