Goodbye (Achievement Unlocked)

It was a long and wonderful five and a half months. I met so many great people, Cambodian and foreigner. Kids and adults.

Everyone’s always smiling, always friendly. There are always exceptions, of course, and even some darker stories beneath the surfaces. But I can’t help but appreciate how this attitude just makes things better in a day.

(It’s not that people in America aren’t friendly, but too often we don’t pay attention to the people right across from us at the checkout counter, right next to us at lunch, right behind us on the street.)

I’m back in the US now, and it’s weird how disconnected my life here is from my life in Cambodia. After a twelve-hour flight from Asia…“was it only just a dream?”

What will I take away from this experience? I don’t feel like it “changed my life” in the way that it does for some people. But I did gain even more respect for teachers, especially primary school teachers. I affirmed up close that some people have almost nothing, and that sometimes they’re happier than we affluent materialistic Americans. I made friends with my students, with the other teachers (and staff), with other volunteers, and with my host family. I didn’t singlehandedly change anyone’s life, but I think I did help some kids (and some teachers) learn some English…and hopefully some learning skills as well.

My original reason to go to Cambodia was because I’d never lived outside of the US in my life—heck, I’d never lived outside of the San Francisco Bay Area.1 I’ve been a tourist plenty, in the US, in Europe, and in Asia. But now I’ve lived for five months in Phnom Penh (which…isn’t exactly so drastically different from the US the way the provinces could have been). More importantly, I now have a second family. That’s what I will take away from this experience.


Like Berkeley, I’ve made a list of achievements that I’ve accomplished in Cambodia. And like Berkeley, the list doesn’t really capture any of what’s made it so special. I have so many friends that I know I’ll be coming back.

Thanks, everyone. Som aoi sok sabbey.

  1. Before I was three doesn’t count. ↩︎