1 August 2016

Carol Nowlin - Expat in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Carol Nowlin - Expat in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We had a chat with Mrs. Carol Nowlin, a 37-year-old American NGO worker living in Cambodia. Mrs. Nowlin and her family moved to Cambodia 6 months ago for a job offer from an International NGO company. Before moving to Cambodia, Mrs. Nowlin was considering the possibilities of moving to West Africa or Uganda, but ultimately accepted the job offer she received in Cambodia.

Mrs. Nowlin shared that adapting to the culture and way of life in Cambodia has been the hardest challenge she and her family has faced so far, but their living situation has greatly improved by moving to a better place of accommodation. According to Mrs. Nowlin, “One thing that has really helped everyone was moving into a three-bedroom apartment recently that is quieter, cleaner and more spacious than where we first landed. Having a place to call home that feels like a real home has helped us all.”

Having the right type of living accommodation could change a lot of things for expats especially if the move is for the entire family. The best way to get settled quickly is to find proper housing and property or living accommodations that suits the entire family. Home life can change a lot of things when it comes to moving into a foreign land.

For more stories about Mrs. Nowlin and her family’s expat life in Cambodia, read on below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: The United States.

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: Job offer from an international NGO.

Q: Where are you living now? Phnom Penh, Cambodia

A: How did you come to choose this new country of residence? I was interviewed for jobs in West Africa and Uganda, but eventually received an offer for Cambodia which I accepted.

Q: How long have you been living in Cambodia?

A: Since October 2013; about nine months.

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in your host country?

A: There were a lot of difficult things that happened when I first moved, but I remember finding it very difficult to simply find the goods and services I needed for daily life at first. Things like buying shampoo, getting a haircut, and buying groceries were incredibly stressful until I got transportation figured out and knew where to find everything—and accepted the fact that I might have to go to a separate place for each item on my list and return home with only half of it. Another very difficult adjustment was the noise levels in our city; windows are often poorly sealed, so even indoors we could not escape the sounds of trucks, sirens, dogs, roosters, construction, and early morning/late at night weddings, funerals, and karaoke.

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in your host country? What was your experience with these?

A: No, but my employer handled these things.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: With my family.

Q: How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: After a few months my husband got a good job with another NGO, and our two kids attend a local international school. We have made some good friends and are doing well. One thing that has really helped everyone was moving into a three-bedroom apartment recently that is quieter, cleaner, and more spacious than where we first landed. Having a place to call home that feels like a real home has helped us all.

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people?

A: It is easy to meet other expats, since there are many in Phnom Penh. Cambodian people are also very friendly and welcoming in general.

Q: Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Cambodia? How did you manage to find a social circle in Cambodia?

A: We socialize with some Cambodian friends through work, but do most other socializing with other expats. I knew some people who lived here before we came, and they introduced us to quite a few people. We also started going to an Anglican church, where we have made some really good friends.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area?

A: There are a lot of good cafes with all kinds of food in Phnom Penh. Chartering a boat and going for an evening river cruise in the area of the royal palace is also really fun.

Q: Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: If you are going to live here, you should definitely make it a priority to visit TuolSleng and/or the killing fields; even though it is not “fun” it is essential for understanding and having empathy for the culture and experiences you encounter.

Q: How does the cost of living in Cambodia compared to your home?

A: Lower for most things.

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in Cambodia?

A: Friendly and open to foreigners for the most part. It is very different from my American culture though, and often communication is more indirect than I am used to. It is also very hierarchical and male-dominated, so you have to bear these things in mind when relating with others.

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Cambodia?

A: I enjoy the Cambodian people, the abundance of great food and coffee, the low cost of living, and the affordability of services like house help and drivers that I wouldn’t have in my home country. Some of the negatives are the extreme heat during the months of April and May, lack of good medical care in-country, noise in the city, and the craziness of traffic in Phnom Penh.

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Yes, we do.

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: We Skype with our families; we are also looking forward to home leave in December.

Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Not sure.

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Phnom Penh is a dusty, dirty city with very little green space. We live in an apartment, so it is difficult to adjust to not having a yard or grass nearby. I don’t know if this is the hardest thing, but it has been a big change and one our kids have really dealt with.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: If you make the effort to learn Khmer, you will find people much more open and everyday life much easier.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: Cambodia Parent Network (CPN) is a Yahoo group which is full of helpful information. Phnom Penh Post is a good source for daily local news.