Take a moment to reflect back on January of 2012. Whether or not you made a list of resolutions to modify your lifestyle, you may still have felt a sense of renewal, a fresh start with your uncluttered new calendar. Sheila’s fresh start was radical, as she relocated from Seattle to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to undertake a new job as General Manager of Beyond Interiors. Producing and marketing furniture and other home accessories, this small business drew upon Sheila’s longtime acquaintance with interior design while challenging her to adjust at the same time to a vastly altered lifestyle. If you had been Sheila, what questions might you have asked at the outset?
Where will I live? Most helpfully, the Australian owner of Beyond Interiors arranged for Sheila to set up housekeeping in a safe and comfortable flat within a gated compound near her workplace, good restaurants, and other conveniences.
How will I communicate? Having visited Cambodia twice in recent months, Sheila already knew that while Khmer is the country’s official language, both English and French are also widely spoken in Phnom Penh. However, she wisely understood that learning the local language would prove to be a personal benefit while also honoring the culture of those with whom she now would be living and working. Even though most of the staff speak English, she says that a lack of language facility also “limits my ability to minister and serve the people here in matters of the heart.” One of her resolutions would soon form into a determination to study the Khmer language.
How does one adopt or assimilate an entirely different culture? Fortunately, Sheila had faced her most challenging adjustment to the Cambodian culture decades earlier when sponsoring and housing Cambodian refugees in the United States. While constantly confronted with their different values and perceptions, she’d also been deeply moved “by the resilience, strength and beauty of these people.” She’d bonded with their culture years before and was gifted by God with a rare and critically important cross-cultural understanding and acceptance.
Settling in the best she could, Sheila’s next challenge would lie in the fulfillment of her role as General Manager of the business. What did that really mean, anyway?...