Culture Shock

I was wide-awake yesterday morning at 5 a.m. I had mulled over the idea of taking an extra sleeping pill the night before but decided against it, not wanting to sleep through my meeting with the prospective landlord. Now I had five hours to nervously anticipate the meeting. I tried to sleep some more only to toss and turn, trying to ignore the howling pack of dogs outside my window.

At a more reasonable hour I triple checked my map I hit the streets in search of what I hoped was the only “Catholic church” in Siem Reap. As soon as I stepped outside my nerves began to dissipate. This is going to be my home for the next six months so it’s about time I start acting like it instead of slinking around town before running back to the guesthouse.

Without any trouble, I located the Catholic church and after discussing the various room features with the landlord signed a contract and officially became an expat. My new landlord, Phearun, gave me a lift on his motorbike back to the other side of town. I couldn’t help but smile as we sped down the road merging into the mass of motorbikes and tuk tuks I normally avoided on foot.

Back in my room at the guesthouse and alone the pit in my stomach began to form again. Realizations that I am alone here started to sink in and I could feel the initial phases of culture shock setting in. Luckily, as an anthropology major and former TA in a class designed to prepare students for trips abroad, I am very aware of the symptoms. I’m thankful I’ve had the ability thus far to step back and look objectively at what’s happening to me. I toss and turn at night, am exhausted during the day, and I’ve completely lost my appetite. I know the only thing I can do is take this day by day and take comfort in the fact that this “shock” phase will pass eventually as my mind and body adjust. I just have to be patient.

Tired of feeling sorry for myself I slipped on my shoes and ventured outside again. Unlike during my morning walk, the streets were packed with expats and tourists ambling around the markets, snapping photos. I took my time walking along the river and explored a small park near my soon-to-be home. Trying to move the culture shock process along I broke my surroundings down to its parts and decided I would probably be wrestling with these same emotions no matter where I went. Like any city, there are the born-and-bred locals going about their lives, vendors hawking their wares on every street corner, tourists fumbling with maps, and those originally from elsewhere trying to fit in. I’m certain in no time at all I will find my place here and begin to feel at home.

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