1 August 2016

Ethan Crowley - Expat in Ratanakiri, Cambodia

Ethan Crowley - Expat in Ratanakiri, Cambodia

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I grew up all over the world, spending the majority of my years in Greenville, South Carolina (USA), Cambodia, and Hawaii. Because of the rather transient nature of my childhood, “where are you from” can be a difficult question to answer; normally I’ll choose either Cambodia or South Carolina, depending on how much explanation I feel like giving at that moment.

Q: In which city are you currently residing?
A: Ratanakiri, Cambodia. It’s a small, wild-west city tucked away in the Northeastern-most corner of Cambodia.

Q: What do you do in your new city?
A: I’m currently working for Christian NGOs and mission organizations, assisting them in creating film and video. My projects are concluding in December, so I’m currently exploring job opportunities in other parts of Cambodia.

Q: How is the quality of life in your new city in comparison to that of your home city?
A: Overall, it’s a good bit lower than the US. But I think the sense of adventure makes up for it! Sure, the roads can be muddy, the bugs can be , and the selection of Western-style groceries anemic; but what you lose in quality of life, you gain in adventure, excitement, and culture. Not to mention the awesome stories and memories that will shape you as a person.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare system in which you are currently enrolled?
A: My current insurance (CHM) came well-reccomended, but fortunately we’ve not yet had to explore their services. Good health has reign!

Local hospitals and clinics in Ratanakiri are very poor, the cleanliness and experience is bottom-of-the-barrel. For serious medical work, we would go to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh

Q: How does the cost of living compare to that of your home city?
A: The knee-jerk reaction to this question is to say “dirt cheap!” Compared to my monthly expenses in Southern United States, life here is around ½ the cost.

From another perspective, though, you get what you pay for. For instance, though I can get breakfast and coffee here for less than 3 USD, the restaurants tend to be dirty, the seats uncomfortable, and the flies annoying. The 6 USD that I’d spend on a smiliar meal in America gets me air conditioning, a comfortable booth, and spotless table—and not a fly in sight.

Overall, western-style groceries and clothing, meat, electronics, vehicles and fuel tend to cost more than America, while labor and local groceries are much, much cheaper. A full-time maid or gardener can be had for 100-200 USD per month; locally grown rice and veggies cost almost nothing; tailoring services, tutoring, car repair, anything that involves labor is very cheap!

Q: Did you use a relocation company to help you with your move?
A: No, we coordinated it ourself.

Q: How easy or difficult was the relocation process?
A: The process was complex but went smoothly.

Q: Did you move here with any family members?
A: My wife.

Q: Did your spouse and children find it difficult to adapt to their new job and schools? 
A: Not particularly. My wife arrived in Cambodia without a job but with solid teaching credentials. She had two job offers immediately, and has adapted well to the teaching.

The difference in work culture has been difficult, and the concept of education in Cambodia is vastly different than in the West. For instance, teachers here are generally corrupt, demanding money to give passing grades; this means that students have never had to study, they don’t know how. They’ve always either paid bribes or failed. Overall, very little actual learning happens in Cambodian schools. Class attendance is very much optional, and resources are slim. Even getting paid on time is hard. So adaptation has not been without its struggles.

Q: How did the family, including you, do in acclimating to the new culture and surroundings?
A: For me it’s non been an issue, simply because I’ve lived here before.

For my wife, it’s not been without some frustration. Rainy season, in particular, is a struggle for someone used to drier climates and more sunshine. The bugs are prolific, both in size and number—she’s enduring a night of pain after a stray scorpion stung her twice on the foot. The dust has caused allergy flare-ups, and we both miss ice cream and diet Dr. Pepper.

But there’s a decent support network of fellow expats and missionaries in our town, and that has been the biggest factor in smoothing the adaptation.

Q: What is your favourite mobile app which you use to aid you in your expat life?
A: TextPlus! It allows free text messages sent anywhere in the world, which makes communicaction with friends and family feel like they’re still just across town. Amazing!

The internet has radically altered the expat outlook. Back when I lived in Cambodia in the 90’s, a letter took a month to travel the miles between America and Kampuchea. So at minimum, it took two months to hear back from family.

Now it’s two minutes. Living on the other side of the world no longer requires the sacrifice in relationships it once did.

Q: What is one piece of advice you’d like to offer a new expat in your new city?
A: It’s easy to let the culture difference drive you nuts.
Different scenery, or climate, strange food or schedule or language—that can be conquered. But a clash in worldviews can will kill you.
So I think one needs to prepare oneself for the culture clash, recognize when it’s happening, and not let it dominate your existence. Read books on culture clash and the expatriate lifestyle, research, and plan—I think it takes conscious effort to avoid it .