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A Girl Abroad: Ending the Year and New Beginnings in Cambodia

PHOTOS AND STORY BY CAMILLA MAYER FOR THE STYLE LINE

The buzz of motorbikes can be heard navigating the

narrow Phnom Penh streets. A flashing blur in a river of metal, I am waiting for my taxi or “tuk-tuk” as they say in this region. After two weeks of winter traveling, the gleaning of the sun warms my skin with happiness. I’m here, unexpectedly on this far side of the world in the country where my mother was born and grew up.

My travels started last August when I made the biggest decision of my life which was

to leave the security of my job and the only city I had really known and move from New York City to Stockholm, Sweden. Growing up in Chicago’s north side in the Swedish neighborhood of Andersonville, I had always had a fondness for all things Swedish. It was a place I was drawn to in Europe because of their progressive policies, fashion industry, and emerging tech scene. When I had the opportunity to move, I jumped at the chance because thirty was quickly approaching and it felt like it was now or never.

Fast forward three months and many immigration meetings later, my time was up, and I had to leave Sweden and the Schengen region for another three months. For all those unfamiliar (like I was) I learned that Schengen is the name of a border treaty agreement between all countries in Europe except the UK, Ireland, and Croatia. This unified border treaty made traveling and living from one country to another incredibly easy for its members.

I’m thrilled by the warmth of the tropical heat while cruising down a busy Phnom Penh road on my tuk-tuk.

The humid air and busy street life brought me back seven years ago to my last time in Cambodia. The first summer after my freshman year of college, my sister and I took up the challenge of living and interning in Cambodia for three months in a sleepy tourist town called Siem Reap. This was my first taste of the motherland, and I was excited to see how Cambodia had changed since then.

I’ve realized that the nomad life requires an extensive level of adaptability. This was a trait that this longtime New Yorker needed to time to adjust to (properly). Every day, a new problem would arise and swift problem-solving was required. It was dreadful in many ways, but on the other hand, I was learning to slow down, focus on the issue at hand, and not sweat the small stuff. In Cambodia, this attitude was especially useful on a day-to-day level.

Cambodia is known as a third world country that is still growing and developing.

It has little to zero regulations on most things Westerners take for granted.

Globally, Cambodia is most famously known for its Khmer genocide in the late seventies that killed almost 3 million Cambodians. Similar to the Holocaust, anyone who was educated, privileged or opposed to the new dictator was immediately killed. A devastating point in Cambodian history, after thirty years the country is finally making amends.

Cambodia is most famous for its Angkor Wat temple, the largest active religious structure in the world that draws millions of tourists yearly. The famous Buddhist temple was showcased in movies like Angelina Jolie’s, Tomb Raider, and is a national pride and treasure. Discovered by the French in the 19th century, the crumbling temples are overgrown by giant-sized root trees and jungle life. Haunting Apsara faces and royal dancers lined the temple walls, rich with Khmer history. Even though I had been to Angkor Wat several times, I feel in awe every time I visit.

My tuk-tuk ride has come to an end, and the cost comes to $2.50.

I pull out my American dollars (the primary currency in Cambodia), pay the driver and thank him in my rusty Cambodian.

Once again from Sweden to Cambodia, I am reminded that I am a foreigner in a new country. Feeling slightly daunted and discouraged, I take a deep breath and remind myself to get through the day. As challenging as it can be, the nomad life is just what I need right now, but as I embark on making a new home abroad I am thankful that it won’t be forever.

“I’ve realized that the nomad life requires an extensive level of adaptability.”