In this series we talk to Cambodia expats about what they wish they had known when they first moved to Cambodia that they know now.
This week we talk to Juliette Rousselot, who moved to Cambodia in 2012 and is working as a consultant for a local human rights NGO. Originally from France, Juliette lived in the US for 15 years, most recently in Washington, DC, where she was doing advocacy work related to Africa and international justice mechanisms for a human rights organization.
MTC: Juliette, what do you know now that you wish you had known when you first moved to Cambodia?
JR: “I wish I had known that I would end up staying here indefinitely – maybe I would have packed a few more clothes. I came here to volunteer for three months, with plans to leave after that (albeit slightly iffy plans that included unemployment and my parents’ couch). That clearly didn’t happen, as I’ll be celebrating my one year Cambodia-versary at the end of the month.
This is a fairly common thing here – people show up, not meaning to stay very long, and next thing you know, it’s been a year, you’ve settled into a great apartment, you have your habits and your routines, your close friends and you’re on a first name basis with the delivery guy from your favorite Indian restaurant.
I wasn’t so sure about Phnom Penh when I first got here. After having spent close to a month on Koh Tao, the bustle of Phnom Penh, the dirty streets, the incessant “tuk tuk lady!” being shouted at you, it was all a bit too much. But it eventually drew me in, as it does with most people. For some, it takes a few weeks or even months; for others, it’s just a matter of days.”
At the end of the day, expat life in Phnom Penh is just that: life. You have an apartment (no mud huts here). You get up every morning to go to work. You go to the gym (if that’s your thing). You cook dinner (or order from Door 2 Door). You fall in love. You get dumped. You meet up with friends for a drink (or 20). You go grocery shopping and run errands. It’s life.
But there’s something about seeing motos piled up with bags of vegetables and balancing in a way you would have never imagined possible, or – my favorite – with a big gigantic pig strapped to the back, on a daily basis. There’s something about riding your bicycle home and finding yourself in the middle of a sea of motos blocking an intersection and actually managing to make your way through, 20 minutes later. There’s something about looking out from your balcony and seeing a couple taking wedding photos on a regular street corner like it’s the most romantic place on earth.
Most days, you go about your day just like you would anywhere else in the world. But sometimes your attention is caught by something – something you wouldn’t see back home – and you remember why you’re here and why Phnom Penh drew you in the first place and why you decided to stay, so many many months ago.