The Young Traveler’s Network series showcases candid guest interviews of young people worldwide and the inspiring stories of how they navigate their lives and travels. They share their stories to educate, inspire, and empower others to see the world!
This week a Young Traveler named Max, 26, shares how he went on a whirl-wind adventure, volunteering and working in a Cambodian slum at just 20-years-old and came back a new person.
Hey Max, so happy to have you in this series! Let’s start with a quick intro, shall we?
Hey, thanks for having me! I’m Max and I’m originally from Vienna, Austria. Last week I turned 26 years old and I’m currently traveling in the UK and typing this on a train between London and Manchester.
Nice, great to meet you! So, the first question. After high school, what prompted you to want to move to Cambodia? Why not go straight off to college?
Since I was 16 years old, I worked during my school years and used the money to travel. Going straight to college after high school had never been an appealing option for me.
So, I decided on another route. I backpacked all around Eastern Africa at that time and got a taste of real travel.
I came back to Vienna after a few weeks and promptly planned another trip abroad. This time though, I wanted to stay longer. I came across an organization in Phnom Penh in need of English teachers in their slum school, so I wrote them an email, and the next thing I knew I was booking a one-way flight to Cambodia!
Wow! That is bold! Did you have any hesitations before you went abroad, being so young and solo? And what did your parents think of it all?
The genius thing I did back then was that I did not think too much about what could go wrong or worry about stuff that was out of my control anyway.
Perks of being young I guess!
So many things could have easily prevented me from going abroad. Having a few essential thoughts on insurance and medical issues are important, however, you should never worry too much. My parents were used to the fact that I travel often, but of course, were a bit worried, as every good parent would have been.Having doubts is normal, but they should always be in a reasonable size—otherwise, they will prevent you from going anywhere! Click To Tweet
So, you had this huge trip planned, and you obviously followed through with it all. So what about working in Cambodia that was so fulfilling? How long did you end up staying there, and why did you eventually leave?
Well, I had never taught before, and all of a sudden I was in charge of 20 pupils and had to prepare classes on a daily basis. My kids were between 6 and 10 years old, as they are classified according to their language skills.
Working in Cambodia was difficult at first, I won’t lie.
Their local teachers did not speak English at all, so it was difficult to have an actual conversation with them. To be honest, it got to the point where I realized the impact I have on the kids is limited and I can’t do much more without more support.
So, I got help from the organization to improve the situation. In the end, it was worth it and it was a special bond with the kids and their eagerness to learn more with me as a teacher that was the most positive impact. But like all good things, my time working in Cambodia had to end at some point and my desire to explore the region grew bigger, so eventually, I set off again.
Wow! Well, did you ever go back home to pursue a higher education yourself? College?
Yes. I have studied art history, African studies, and business administration. But dropped out of them all, and in the end, I studied tourism management.
What a story! Now at 25 years old, how do you think that working in Cambodia ultimately shaped who you are as a person today? Do you have any regrets, or would you do it all again?
Moving to Phnom Penh was the first grown-up decision I had taken in my life, and that has absolutely shaped me.
I rented an apartment, had to pay rent, had a work placement in a slum in the outskirts of the city, and I had a huge responsibility when working in Cambodia. My life there was so different from what I have known so far. I have spent my time with different people every weekend and traveled all around Asia.
I got hooked to a semi-nomadic lifestyle and have never wanted anything else again. In the following years, I worked for a couple of months and traveled for the rest of the time. Then I got addicted to arriving in new countries and got the idea to travel to all the globe’s countries within 10 years. I’m now halfway there!
In closing: what advice would you give to some other 20-something-year-old who wants to do similar work or a volunteer trip, but is scared or thinks they’re too young to such a thing alone?
My advice would be, do not worry. Do not be biased. Trust your gut. And especially don’t care about what society says. They tell you to study, get a job and get in the cubicle. You can still do that–but first, travel. Always travel.
If you spend a couple of months or even years on the road, you will experience so much, which you can draw from for the rest of your life.
And just one last thing: Real-life experiences matter more than material possessions.
What travel experiences have you had that changed your life?
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