I leave for Cambodia in a matter of days, and my heart cannot stop racing. I am excited, nervous, confident, and terrified all at the same time. There is no doubt in my mind that this journey I am about to embark on will be challenging, liberating, and life-changing. But despite all of these, more or less, positive emotions, one thought continues to cross my mind: what if it does not live up to Scotland?
For anyone who for some reason does not know, last year I spent four months living in Edinburgh, Scotland completing an internship at the Scottish Parliament. While some moments of self doubt and discontent were peppered in, I ended and look back on my experience with the utmost fondness and categorize it as one of the best periods of my life. The ability to go to Scotland and discover that I could travel alone, live independently, and experience the lifestyle I imagined my “grown-up” self would have empowered me.
However it also makes me slightly paranoid that nothing could possibly compare, and no matter what I do and where I go, I will always crave the crisp Scottish air and long for the sound of bagpipes in my ears. Part of me believes that my feelings for Scotland resemble that of a first-love; they will always hold a special place in your heart, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t love again. I previously wrote about how I decided to open my heart and allow myself to fall in love with Cambodia, and I am genuinely happy and excited to welcome it into my life and let it shape me, and I have no doubt that it will.
That being said, Cambodia will be different. I don’t mean in the literal geographical and cultural sense, although of course that applies as well. My Cambodian experience will be different from my Scottish one because I have changed. Much like a Pokemon, I have evolved over the last year since I returned from Edinburgh. I have matured, hardened, softened, and completed a slew of other metamorphoses that have transformed me into the person who types these words at you today. Cambodia will be different because I want it to be.
In Scotland, as much as it pains me to admit it, I did not push myself to leave my comfort zone. Sure I traveled alone, went to new places, explored entire cities by myself, but I did not do the other things that I know would have enriched my experience even more. I remained somewhat shy, timid, and brought my routine with me. I only halfheartedly made friends, did not push myself in my internship as much as I knew I could, and failed to get to know Scotland itself as much as I would have liked to.
When I travel to Cambodia, I will not try to replicate my Scottish experience. I want to push myself into the experience that I truly want, and not be afraid of it.
I want to make real friends
In Scotland I lucked out because my program provided me with seven automatic friends. I got to know people because I had to, but once I left the relationships dwindled because I hadn’t put in the effort or the time to really get to know people. I did not travel with anyone, did not make the effort to make more quality time. But whenever I did, I loved it! When Hannah and I had our girl’s day out, it was incredible and one of my fondest memories. I chose too often to spend time alone than let myself connect with others, and I want to change that in Cambodia and make lasting friendships with people I want to stay in touch with.
I want to throw myself into my work
While I look back at working at the Parliament as one of the coolest and most impressive sounding jobs I have done, it was not always exciting at times. Looking back, I think this was because I did not push myself enough to ask for more opportunities to do the things I wanted to do. The things I loved doing, like going to a human rights meeting, writing an article, and going campaigning all happened when I took a sliver more initiative. In Cambodia, I want to do that. Sure things will be different and likely harder with the nature of volunteer work, but I still want to try.
I want to get to know the locals
As embarrassed as I am about this, I made almost no effort to get to know any Scottish people personally in Scotland. Outside of the staff in the Parliament, and the program coordinators at UCEAP, and even there my efforts were not as much as they could have been, I knew no one. In Cambodia, I want to know everyone from the program coordinator to my tuk-tuk driver. Now I don’t mean that I think I can possibly know everyone on a personal basis, but I want to try more to immerse myself in the local culture, and I think getting to know the people is one of the best ways to do that.
I want to really see Cambodia
I got to know Edinburgh pretty well, however I spent a lot of my time in Scotland traveling to other places rather than experience more of Scotland itself. I never toured the University of Edinburgh, a place I now want to go to graduate school for my masters. I never went to the Scottish Highlands and saw the fairy pools or the cute highland cows. I never tried whiskey, just for the sake of trying it since I was in Scotland! I don’t want this to happen in Cambodia. When I leave in July, I want to feel like I really got to know Cambodia, up close and personal.
Cambodia will be different from Scotland, because it has to be. I am not traveling across the world to repeat one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am traveling there to create another one.