– Rob is a former 2Way Development volunteer in Cambodia that now works part time as our Cambodia Country Representative, whilst teaching English in Phnom Penh –
I first came to Cambodia in 2011 through 2Way development. I was on a six month placement and at the time I had no idea how big an impact my time here would have on me and how it would go on to shape the course of my life. I had always planned to spend around six months in a different part of the world after university and to then go back home and carry on with my planned life in London. I got my degree in politics and the course had made me determined to forge a career in international development. When I discovered the 2Way programme as a gateway into the development sector, I knew exactly where I wanted to go.
The history of Cambodia had fascinated me from a young age, I wanted to see the remains of the once great Khmer Empire and understand how ancient Angkor could remain hidden from the world for hundreds of years. The more recent, troubled times of the latter 20th century were also of interest, I wondered what mark involuntary involvement in the cold war, followed by a genocidal government would leave on the people.
After the initial culture shock and hesitations of arrival I found myself living with someone I had met on my 2Way prep session back in the UK and her Dutch housemate. I was ideally located near Phnom Penh’s Russian Market, meaning whatever I desired, be it food, clothes, DVDs, tourist tat or motorbike parts were all a minute’s walk away. Living next door were two other 2Way volunteers that showed me around the city and make me feel welcome. On the other side was a shop run by a Khmer man who would go on to become a great friend and induct me into the local culture. His name was Chin and he moved to the UK as a child to escape the Khmer Rouge. Once he had a family he moved them back to Cambodia in order to start his own business and settle back into his native country. We became firm friends and most evenings after work I would sit in the forecourt of the shop drinking and eating with him, his friends and the tuktuk drivers that plied their business on our street corner. Despite only around a third of them having any knowledge of English we always had a fun time as my few Khmer phrases and the international language of beer brought great entertainment.
My placement was with a Child Rights NGO as I was hoping to get into the legal side of international development. It was hard for me to adjust to a developing country’s way of working. I wasn’t expecting plush computers or the latest filing systems but the slow pace that things seemed to happen as well as the lack of communication took me by surprise. Days were full of frustration at first but a combination of figuring my way around the office, forging partnerships with colleagues and simply accepting aspects of the working culture allowed for a much happier placement further down the line. I learnt to accept that whilst I was on borrowed time and wanted to see the results of my work, the rest of the staff were in no such position. For me it was a crusade, I was fresh out of university and wanting to save the country within a limited time scale. For them it was their daily lives, they were the professionals; they knew how the legal system worked and knew that real change takes time. Once I got over my white-man-syndrome I felt much happier at work and taking a step back to see the bigger picture allowed me to learn significantly more about both the specifics to my placement and the wider development sector. At the end of my time with the NGO I knew that the legal aspect wasn’t my forte and I decided that I’d much rather focus on relief work as a future path.
The Phnom Penh lifestyle left its mark on me. I loved having friends from every corner of the globe, the chilled out atmosphere and always having something going on. It changed me as a person and I decided to spend my young life trying different lifestyles around the globe until the perfect one fell on me. When I returned home nothing was the same and I knew I had to leave, it was hard to tell friends and family of my decision and although sad they all supported my choice.
– Following soon, Rob’s experience after returning to Cambodia –