Decision to Leave Cambodia, Part I: Chinks In The Plan

Yeah, you read that right.

It started a month ago, when I got back from Malaysia. You might have noticed that posts took a detour to Bummersville. It was my first time out of Cambodia since I got here and it gave me the space to reset, to take a look at how my months here had been.

Not great.

Not terrible either though. I wasn’t miserable, I was plopping along happily enough in my day-to-day. I had a job I didn’t hate, that paid me just enough to survive. I had friends and routines I liked; I was going to kickboxing classes. I’d finally moved out of that phase of gnawing loneliness I suppose all expats initially go through. Every week I’d figured out something else, some new little trick to make me life easier—I can get a jug of water delivered for $1!—and that felt good. Things were, you know, okay.

But I hadn’t come here for things to be “okay.” I’d come with Big Fucking Plans, Big Fucking Expectations. (And you know what they say about expectations.) I was gonna immerse myself, I was gonna support myself freelancing, I was gonna write a book. On a topic no one discusses. Without any connections or financial backing or relevant training, other than my own life experience.

I got back to Phnom Penh last month and observed my days: wake up early; teach for 4 hours; have lunch; come home and nap through the worst of the heat; putter; avoid direct sunlight, walking around or anything that might cause heat stroke; try not to spend money; work out at dusk or meet a friend for dinner; come home and read or write or watch DVDs. Not exactly what you’d call cultural immersion, eh?

The obvious answer was that I had failed. If I’d just tried hard enough, if I just hurled myself into the mix, everything would be going according to that plan in my head. I’d be making good money, or if I wasn’t, I’d be doing something so absurdly fulfilling it wouldn’t matter. I looked at other friends for whom life here seemed to be flowing—getting articles published, dating, learning Khmer, having local friends—and I judged myself harshly. Obviously, I was at fault.

“I haven’t tried very hard,” I admitted to a friend.

“No,” she answered, with the unsentimental honesty I’ve come to value her for. “But there’s gotta be a reason for that.”

I wasn’t willing to look at that yet.


So I’d give it a month, I said. I was down to the last $500 I’d come over here with. My friend in Hanoi told me that the summer schools there would be hiring in early June and getting a quick three-month gig would be easy. I decided I’d throw all my chips in, to give Phnom Penh my all—I was gonna network and hustle and give it my best shot to establish a more sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle here. Maybe all it would take was going balls-out.

But if a month passed and I was still in the same position, I had an out.

6 Responses to “Decision to Leave Cambodia, Part I: Chinks In The Plan”

  1. 1 Naomi May 24, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I’m glad you posted this. Your last few articles about immersing or not (especially the post about expats not learning Khmer!) give a lot of food for thought – why we try when we do, what makes expats delve head first into a new place and why some hold back. You’re friend is right, though: there must be a reason that you ‘haven’t tried very hard’. Maybe you just need a different setting!

  2. 2 bbecares May 24, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Interesting article and brave from u to recognize ur mistakes in public on this way. Why u think u didnt integrate enough?? Maybe u didnt fell really confortable. Maybw this was not ur place. You can just move somewhere else, more inspiring for u….

  3. 3 phillegitimate May 25, 2012 at 4:12 am

    Hey, just catching up on your last few posts. I have to say – and this is probably very cold comfort – that you’ve done a great job of documenting the realities of expat life. Even if that’s not what you were going for. There’s a trajectory here – one that’s far from finished – which makes for good reading.

    Anyway I’m sorry to hear you’ve been hit by the full force of expat disappointment. For what it’s worth, i think the best expats aren’t necessarily the best travellers. The people I know who’ve really immersed – married locals, mastered languages, gained residencies, etc – also tend to do the least exploring. Big generalisation, I know, but might partly explain why so many travellers do get so frustrated by expat life? I don’t know. if you ever figure it all out let me know – I’m a serial expat and I still haven’t mastered either it or travel.

    • 4 Zoë May 26, 2012 at 8:48 am

      That’s an interesting observation about who does the least/most exploring. I think I tend to agree with you. Coming up on my first year of expat living (admittedly not long at all), I think I’ve integrated fairly well. But I also haven’t done a lot of exploring. In many ways, I’m a creature of habit and I dislike change. Once I figure out a routine, I stick to it. There may be something to your theory.

      • 5 phillegitimate May 26, 2012 at 8:03 pm

        Ha, well I’m not this is much of a theory – it’s more a huge generalisation. But I guess there is something to it; nomads and expats seem like pretty different species.

        Sorry Lauren – will stop hijacking your comments now.

  4. 6 heathersharmony May 25, 2012 at 11:16 am

    I appreciate the honesty in your posts, I am heading out to being my life as an expat in July and while I am excited I know I’ve got a load of struggles and learning ahead of me. Reading honest posts about others doing the same helps! Thanks

Comments are currently closed.

Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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