I’m moving to Bangladesh for a year.
Just writing it makes me freak out. The last few weeks I’ve been a mix of emotions. One minute I’m smiling and day dreaming about the people I’ll meet and the next moment I’m feeling sweaty and faint, my brain processing all the things that can go wrong.
A few weeks ago I accepted a communications role in a legal firm located in Dhaka as a part of the AYAD program. I will be working with the firm to increase the efficiency of their communications, with the aim to help marginalized and poor families better understand and access their legal rights. It’s an area I’ve been particularly passionate about for a while. Being accepted in the AYAD program, along with my writing, has been my focus for the last two years and I still can’t believe everything has finally fallen into place.
Living in Asia is something I have wanted to do for a while, ever since I first landed in Singapore in 2009.
I think it’s the mixture of the old and new, the colours and sunshine or maybe the kindness of the people that draws me to Asia. I never expected it but when I’m there I feel like I’m home, like it’s where I’m supposed to be. I’ve moved overseas before but it was different. My best friend was with me and it was to London. Adjusting to the big city was pretty easy; that’s not to say it wasn’t a big move for a 22 year old who had lived her whole life in Tasmania. But I’ve realised pretty quickly moving to Bangladesh will require me to step out of my comfort zone entirely. For the first time I’m going to be on my own in a country I’ve never been to. It’s going to be a challenge.
Most of my friends and family are ecstatic for me. Others have been shocked and, with confused looks on their faces, have asked: “Why Bangladesh? Isn’t the country poor and dangerous?” In most respects they are right. Bangladesh and Dhaka in particular has large slum areas and abject poverty is evident as you walk the streets. Bangladesh is also gearing up for elections in September and there have been recent outbreaks of violence, protests and strikes. I know all this and I’m still excited to go. In fact these are the least of my concerns at the moment.
To be honest I didn’t really know much about Bangladesh before I started my application, besides it being the birth place of micro-credit thanks to Muhammad Yunus. For those who don’t know, Bangladesh is predominately Muslim and therefore women dress modestly. Bengali people can be very shy and consuming alcohol isn’t the norm. Bangladesh’s culture you could say is the opposite of here in Australia where women wear shorts and strappy tops, people are outspoken and Friday knock off drinks are a given. And more worryingly some aspects of Bangladesh’s culture are the opposite of my personality and beliefs.
This is why I’m freaking out.
I’m afraid I’m going to find myself in a situation where I will want to step in and say something about women’s rights or start a joke with “three guys walked into a bar…” I’m crazy right? I should be stressing about getting mugged, learning a new language or the city flooding but instead I’m worrying about accepting and assimilating into another culture. It’s one thing to understand a culture and another to accept it, to stand back and let things be especially when it’s not a matter of right and wrong but simply another way of doing things. In know this experience is going to be a huge learning curve and I’m going to remain open to seeing a different point of view. I have been in these situations before and I know they normally end in laughs – not tears – but I still can’t help but be nervous.
It can be hard to prepare for the unknown so I just keep telling myself I can handle whatever is thrown my way. I’ve been trying to distract myself by concentrating on getting through my to-do list which I swear is getting longer and tackling the pre-departure forms that are covering my coffee table. So far it’s doing ok although I do have a slip up now and again when I go into a panic spiral about everything I have to do, buy and scan. But I know these feelings are normal and I just need to breathe.
Despite the challenges I can’t wait to meet my team, make new friends, try spicy food and wear a Shalwar Kameez – the traditional dress for women. But what I’m looking forward to the most? Landing in Dhaka, stepping off the plane and having that homely feeling wash over me… and knowing everything is going to be ok.
Featured image by Rachel Kurzyp.