Expat Q&A: I wish I had known that I would stay

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.

Juliette at the temples

Juliette exploring Cambodia’s archaeological past.

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.

3 Responses to Expat Q&A: I wish I had known that I would stay

    Lina says:

    Just because it’s not fun for you anymore doesn’t mean it’s not fun for the rest of us. ;)

    martin says:

    So true, life is Phnom Penh was fun in the 90s, early 2000s then it became just another place to go to work and stressful with all the traffic and construction chaos. I recently returned after five years for a couple of days ( I lived in Cambodia from 1992 to 2007) and was shocked by the changes but more so by the aggression of the Tuk Tuks around Wat Lanka. having worked with former KR, this was all new to me…happy now to be away…All the best to anyone who wants to live in Cambodia now!

      Loren says:

      mr. Martin, ms. Lina is very right.
      and maybe you have lost your mind?!..
      bcoz frankly, Cambodia before year 2000
      was a helly mess, while after 2000
      it’s becoming nicely developing
      while keeping all or most of the traditional
      and other good stuff, and most things improving. maybe you like Detroit in U.S.?.. or somewhere Laos or Bangladesh?..
      I wonder.. hehe..

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