Culture shock

Blogs article written on the 18 Jan 2012

Photo: Dustin Barter/OxfamAUS

First impressions

Getting off the plane and walking through the electronic automated passport control is an apt introduction to Australia’s world of technology, order and ‘efficiencies.’ Meeting the folks and then emerging into the fresh, crisp Melbourne air is when the shock really kicks in; Australia is rich, very rich. New cars cruise along smooth, clean streets lined by huge, fenced-off houses and abundant advertising constantly reminding us which purchase will make us happy next. Fortunately, this scene is complemented by beautiful eucalypts, lush parks and possibilities lurking behind orderly facades.

Making sense of it all

Aside from being overwhelmed by the wealth of Australia, my first and foremost feeling is of how lucky I was to grow up in Australia and to be able to return at any time. I didn’t choose to be born in Australia, but by being so, I am extremely privileged. After that, there’s loads of different feelings: guilt about the inequalities of the world, relief that I can fall back on Australia anytime and motivation to do more about reducing those inequalities. Often it’s downright bizarre: someone complains about a sore back because they hadn’t adjusted the lumber support properly in their expensive car. My empathy eroded for these ‘first world problems’, I just have to laugh.

But the culture shock and variations aren’t all so deep. Every morning I walk to work in Cambodia through bustling streets; people talking over coffee, food stalls doing a roaring trade and motos zipping around every which way. Getting to Melbourne Central at 8am is quiet and tranquil, although by 9am, people are rushing around — albeit in an orderly fashion. Moto taxis and tuk tuks are replaced by trams and trains packed with a beautiful diversity of people. Short Khmer conversations make way for the potential to chat to nearly anyone about anything, amid a feeling of having tuned back into the world. It’s a mixed bag, as both countries offer their own vibrancy and opportunities in myriad forms. I love them both.

Back to Cambodia

Now back in Cambodia, I’m nearing the end of my contract. It’s a busy time, trying to finish off various projects. I feel nostalgic about the impending finish of an amazing time, but excited about the possibilities ahead. In the end, it’s all just one world, but I feel there’s a long way to go making it an equitable one.