Every day leaving my room is the most terrifying thing I do. I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer serving on the coast of Cambodia. Outside the comfort of my room, few people understand me, both linguistically and personally. Inside my room I’m not stared at, I don’t have to strain to comprehend unfamiliar social cues, and I’m not struggling to understand a new language. It’s easy and familiar inside my room. In my room, if I close my eyes, concentrate, and sit in front of a fan I can almost pretend it’s just an unseasonably hot summer day in Maine. But inevitably, every day, I walk out my door. And at the end of every single day I’m so happy I did.
I’ve been in Cambodia for nearly a year. The first two months were spent near Phnom Penh learning technical skills and the Khmer language. My official job title is a “Community Health Education Volunteer”. Which means during the intensive language training I was simultaneously learning how to say: “My name is Fiona. I like the color yellow” and “It’s important to exclusively breastfeed your child for the first six months before you introduce complimentary foods into their diet.” I don’t have a translator and very few people in my village speak English. So if I don’t speak Khmer I’m not going to get very far.
But, you know what? In the last 11 months, I’ve come a long way. I’ve become comfortable speaking a new language. I’ve gained a second family, a second place to call home, and a new name. I’ve met incredible people who inspire and push me to be a better person. I’ve eaten bee larva, ants, spiders and duck fetus. I’ve helped birth half a dozen babies. I’ve introduced my host brothers to the Pokemon Movie and taught them how to play Go Fish. I’ve danced with the village police chief at a Khmer wedding.
I taught 51 high school girls to cheer “Who runs the world? Girls!” I’ve taught expecting mothers about pregnancy warning signs and I’ve talked to new mothers about breastfeeding and childhood nutrition. I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin than I ever thought possible. I’ve learned what it feels like be immersed in a new culture and to have no idea what’s going on around you. I’ve learned how to be uncomfortable.
I would have never gotten to experience any of this if I had stayed where I was comfortable. Every single morning I remind myself that it’s okay to feel unsure, to feel awkward, to make mistakes. So every single morning I take a deep breath, exhale, and open my door.
This article was approved by the Peace Corps.