When Familiar Becomes Foreign

While I was visiting my family and friends back home I heard a lot of, “You always write about the things you do, but we have no idea what your actual job is!”

Officially, I am the communications officer for PEPY Tours, an educational travel company. I am also part of the communications team for Learning Service, an advocacy group started by PEPY Tours promoting responsible volunteering practices. Besides managing our social media, which is essentially me talking to myself:

PEPY Tours: Check out what Learning Service is doing!

Learning Service: Thanks for sharing, PEPY Tours!

PEPY Tours: No problemo!

I also maintain our relationships with partner organizations, which includes writing a lot of articles, guest posts, etc. This past week I wrote an article for one of our partners, Everyday Ambassador, about the importance of keeping connected with our community back home even when it’s hard to relate:

When Familiar Becomes Foreign 

Weaving through Angkor Archaeological Park, we zipped past the mighty Angkor Wat on our way to a remote pagoda. I swiveled on the back of my friend Sreyneang’s motorbike to catch one last glance at the ancient temple before it disappeared from sight. Tourists lined streets, buying up elephant pants and snapping photos.

We stopped at the end of a dirt road and climbed the steep, concrete pagoda stairs. Sreyneang chatted with a brightly robed monk, asking in rapid Khmer if he would perform a water blessing for us. He set out a donation tray and motioned for us to have a seat on the woven mat in front of him. Raising his voice over the chatter of young monks watching a boxing match he recited a series of chants, tied red strings around our wrists, and instructed us to change for the water blessing.

Moving to another country introduces new ideas, beliefs, and cultural practices. At first, everything is foreign and confusing, but gradually the “otherness” begins to fade. The once shocking sight of women going about town in brightly colored pajama sets blurs into the background, and drinking from coconuts and hopping on the back of motorcycle taxis becomes part of your daily routine.

Please hop over to EverydayAmbassador.org to read the rest!

I know it’s not a complete run down of my day-to-day life, but hopefully this gives you a better idea of what I’m doing with the majority of my time (and the reason why blogging when I get home is usually the last thing on my mind…).

The 9 (more like 8) to 5

Recently one of my friends accused me of not having a job. “I’m curious, what is it you are actually doing over there?” he asked. So instead of writing about my Khmer boxing class (my knuckles are still bruised), I believe it’s time to set the record straight: I do have a job and it’s awesome.

Our office is on the top floor.
Our office is on the top floor.

First, a little background…

As you may already know I have a dual degree in public relations and anthropology, which to many doesn’t make sense but makes me uniquely qualified for positions like the one I’m in currently. Officially, I’m the Communications Officer for PEPY Tours, a social enterprise dedicated to responsible tourism and learning service (as opposed to service learning).

Borey Prem Prey, otherwise known as "Charming City Tourist Market". No, I'm not kidding; that's what it says on the sign.
Borey Prem Prey, otherwise known as “Charming City Tourist Market”. No, I’m not kidding; that’s what it says on the sign.

Last week I attended the first lecture in a series on the topic of social enterprise. In the past, I’ve worked primarily with NGOs so the whole concept is still a bit new to me. On a scale, social enterprises fall in between not-for-profit organizations and socially responsible businesses. The particular social enterprise I work for uses the profits from our tours to fund our sister NGO, PEPY’s (Promoting Education emPowering Youth) education projects in rural Siem Reap. If a particular tour group visits one of our other partner NGOs, like Cambodian Rural Development Tours (CRDT), a portion of our profits go to them as well.

Our office.
Ever committed to the environment, we don’t use air/con in our office. It’s so bright, we usually don’t use lights either.

Everyday I’m becoming more familiar with concepts I’ve always believed in, just didn’t know the name of. For example, Daniela Papi, the founder of PEPY Tours and PEPY NGO is also working on a separate project called Learning Service, a term she coined to represent the idea of learning before helping. Especially with the growing “voluntourism” more and more people are rushing out to work on short-term projects without giving thought to the long-term effects. Too often than not, communities in developing countries see more harm than good come from volunteers eager to help out on their vacation.

In addition to managing our social media accounts, responding to trip enquiries, and helping prepare participants for their upcoming adventures, I am working on a media pack for an upcoming Learning Service contest. Starting in January we will be releasing a series of videos over six weeks, each one containing information about how to choose responsible volunteer programs.

Sometimes I brave the big, scary bugs and work on our balcony.
Sometimes I brave the big, scary bugs and work on our balcony.

I can feel myself stepping onto a soapbox, so I’m going to back-up a bit. I promise I will have a lot more to say on the topic of responsible tourism in future posts.

The PEPY Tours team is incredible, and I’m not just saying that because I’m Facebook friends with most of them and they might read this. Between the five of us we represent four different countries and cultures: Cambodia, Colombia, the England, and the U.S. Everyday before we venture to the market for lunch (or Latte House if we’re feeling particularly Western) we set aside 20 minutes for language learning. Mondays and Wednesdays we have English class and Tuesdays and Thursdays are dedicated to Khmer. I’ve finally gotten the numbers down but my basic conversational skills need a lot of work…

Notes from Khmer class.
Notes from Khmer class.

So there it is, proof I am actually working here.

If you still need convincing, check out our Twitter account and Facebook page. I’m posting regularly but still haven’t gotten the hang of switching between the PEPY Tours account and my personal one and somehow keep “liking” my own posts on PEPY Tours as PEPY Tours… Real professional…

Life in the Yellow Zone

or Just Like Riding a Bike

or Please Don’t Run Over Me

or Don’t Eat That Pepper

After getting hopelessly lost on my way to work this morning I knew the day get only get better. In my defense, I was using the out-dated directions from the website and had almost made it to the old office…

Thankfully Yut, one of the PEPY Tours tour guides, rescued me on his motorbike, delivering me to the office in one piece. Aside from a relaxing lunch at the market, I spent my day learning about PEPY Tours and reading articles about responsible tourism to get a feel of the “PEPY voice”.  I will apologize in advance, in the future, my posts will probably be very “responsible tourism” themed. I feel like I’m learning a new language, discovering words and terms for ideas have always held and am now able to express. Two uniquely PEPY terms have been on my mind all day: Fun B and Yellow Zone.

Fun B refers to activities that are difficult in the moment, such as hiking up a hill, but provide lasting enjoyment, i.e. the sunset seen from atop said hill; as opposed to Fun A or immediate enjoyment like eating an ice cream. I can already point out several Fun B moments from the past few days and am thankful I stuck it out.

Yellow Zone is my favorite term, referring to a 3-zone scale: green, yellow, and red, in which green is your comfort zone, yellow the learning zone, and red your panic zone. By design all of PEPY Tours’ trips take place in the Yellow Zone, providing participants the opportunity to learn and experience new things in a safe environment. One of the big differences about my time in Cambodia versus someone passing through, my Yellow Zone will eventually turn green.

Although I did have a few brushes with the red zone today.

I finally took my landlord, Phearun, up on his offer to borrow his bicycle. Like Sarah told me during our brunch, locals never walk anywhere, and after sweating through multiple shirts I understand why. Looking back, I probably should have eased into cycling around town instead of diving in during rush hour traffic… at night… but hey, Fun B!

The whole ride into the city center two sides of my brain duked it out for control. One side calming telling me, take it easy, get comfortable while the other screamed, FASTER! You can make it through the intersection before that bus!

I made it, by the way.

Exhilarated from the ride, I met up with Jenna for some much-needed curry at the Golden Temple. Busy making plans to explore Angkor Wat and scope out cute backpackers I crunched into something that definitely wasn’t a carrot. Worse than the time I was cooking curry and managed to get pepper oil in my nasal passages and eyes (I thought my face was melting off) alarm bells starting clanging in my head. Not wanting to seem rude and spit out the ball of fire disguised, I continued chomping, tears streaming from my eyes. I felt like I had swallowed hot coals and could feel the burning mass descend slowing towards my stomach where it’s still smoldering. But other than the molten lava pepper, the curry was delicious.

Cycling back home in much lighter traffic I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering. If life in the Yellow Zone means making new friends, conquering Siem Reap’s rush hour, and taming demon chili peppers, I don’t want to live anywhere else*.



*Note for my Mom: By “I don’t want to live anywhere else” I mean I want to constantly experience new things. I will come home.  : )