The experiences of traveling can challenge you, excite you, and even scare you at times. All these feelings can lead to personal growth, which is why we always recommend stepping out of your comfort zone. When you visit a foreign land, familiarity is few and far between and its up to you to embrace the culture.
The first time I visited Cambodia, I went south to Sihanoukville and spent two months on the beaches of Otres. I wanted to be challenged and try new experiences, but spent my first week hanging out with expats and lounging on the beach. Then I met Rosa. She was a Khmer woman married to a British man named Willie. Together they had two beautiful sons and lived on the river. Every day since meeting, I would visit with Rosa and her family and grew quite close to all of them.
One day, Rosa invited me to go to the market with her to help prepare dinner for the village. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I embraced the experience. We loaded onto her moto and headed down the dirt road to town to visit the market. I had this vision in my head of the market, where the meat is wrapped and sealed, the seafood is all on ice, and you check out after you finished shopping. I could not have been more wrong.
The market was in the basement of an abandoned parking garage, where meat hung in 90degree temps, seafood sat on tables without any ice, and if you had on flip flops, you can imagine what your feet walked through. Even still, the experience I had, was priceless. I watched Rosa go from vendor to vendor acquiring all the necessary ingredients by bargaining them down until she got what she wanted. As uncomfortable as I was with everything around me, watching her be so comfortable, made understanding the cultural differences so much easier. This was normal daily life for her, and the second I put myself in her shoes, all my western ideals that were embedded in my brain, didn’t mean as much to me. I had broken out of my comfort zone.
Once we had all the ingredients, we grabbed Ribs, off the hanging meat hooks with no packaging, and it was my job to hold them from both hands hanging down as we drove down the dusty road on her moto bike. We arrived at her house and started to prepare the meal by pouring coca cola on the ribs, peeling potatoes for home-made fries, and rinsing vegetables for the salad with the fresh ingredients from the market.
The village, which consisted of both Khmer’ and Ex Pat’s, gathered an hour later and about 25 of us sat, where you could find a place, and enjoyed our feast sitting along the river. The children played, a man strummed his guitar, and others sang along to the tune as we all sat together. It was my favorite meal in my two months there, mainly because it was the first time in a long time, I was totally out of my comfort zone, eating with strangers who spoke a different language, and have never felt more comfortable.
Wherever you travel, you can always find something that breaks you out of your comfort zone like trying new food, breaking a language barrier, getting around without Wi-Fi, whatever it is…do it. This is how you learn about yourself and others and if you’re not learning, you’re not growing!