Welcome to another week of GibLad #LlanitosAbroad series and thanks for reading and following. This is now our 5th week in the series and the people we speak to just keep getting more inspirational and demonstrate the diversity of circumstances that can lead to us living, travelling and working abroad. Anywhere in the world.
This week we spoke to David Benaim about what started as a career in accountancy with a reputable firm based in London, which subsequently took an unexpected turn into a volunteering position in Asia and led to an adventurous relocation that leaves us with him living in Cambodia and being his own boss running a successful IT & accountancy consulting firm. But let’s start at the beginning, with a guy that didn’t believe in clichés.
I never believed in the clichés or ideals like ‘finding yourself’ . . .
GL: Why did you leave Gibraltar?
but after almost 5 years (in 2013), I left a well-paid job as an accountant at Deloitte London taking a huge risk.
I left Gibraltar to study in the UK, then I stayed there to start my career and enjoyed it so envisaged staying there long term, but after almost 5 years (in 2013), I left a well-paid job as an accountant at Deloitte London taking a huge risk. Honestly I wanted to go travelling and see the world, but I found something in the middle that would be an adventure whilst also having the excitement of being somewhere exotic. I set off to Cambodia (a country I’d barely heard of) on my 2 month volunteering placement with 2 more months of travel (that I was the most excited for) and I’d be back in Europe soon enough.
In my short 2 month placement, I was volunteering as an accountant with a CLA non-profit working to keep the traditional art forms (music, theatre & dance). During the course of my placement I realised that I loved living in Cambodia and I kept encountering many, many expats who arrived on a 1-6 month placement then just stayed for years afterwards. There was something amazing about the place that was hard to put into words. I ended up staying for 6 months, one year, two and now it’s been almost 4 years, and my consulting & training firm Xlconsulting has worked with over 50 organisations here across all sectors, and I have no plans to leave.
GL: What do you miss?
In a strange way, one of the things I love most about Cambodia is one of the things I love most about Gibraltar – community. I love the sensation of walking down main street or getting a drink at Casemates and running into your school friends, your pharmacist, your lawyer. Phnom Penh has an estimated expat community with 30,000 people (same as Gibraltar’s population). In a similar way, every bar /café you head to you know you’ll see a familiar face.
I definitely miss family & friends but with the beauty of modern technology we’re never out of each other’s lives. The convenience of being able to walk everywhere through city centre’s pedestrianised areas is also something I miss.
I also really miss the one-of-a-kind Jewish community in Gibraltar. I am writing this on the Jewish festival of Purim, which was, as a child, my favourite day of the year. I have visited many Jewish communities across 5 continents but none have ever matched Gibraltar. I even travelled to China last year to give a talk on the Jewish community of Gibraltar. I am however very involved with the small yet amazing Jewish community in Cambodia, and I regularly organise parties for young Jews in town.
Finally “Summer hours”… what an amazing invention, I love bragging about this to everyone I meet!
GL: What has been hardest to adjust to?
Every day I meet Expats who come from all over the world and are doing amazing things here and when I proudly reveal I’m from Gibraltar, they’re shocked; I even did one public talk a couple of years ago named “Gibraltar – people actually live there?”
One small thing I love is that hay fever doesn’t seem to exist in South-East Asia!
GL: What are the most notable cultural differences?
Cambodia in present day has been shaped by its unfortunate recent past, the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime which governed in the late 70’s & killed about 3M people. Although it’s been around 40 years since then, certain aspects like education, infrastructure and development still lag behind its neighbouring countries. On the flip side however the people are extremely kind and many speak near-fluent English, even compared to surrounding countries. The GDP growth rate is one of the highest in the world and it seems every time you close your eyes there is a change in the city, so development is definitely underway.
Cambodia is also one of the easiest countries in the world for a foreigner to get a visa & work. A 12 month multiple entry working visa costs $250 and takes about 15 minutes to arrange. Foreigners can do almost anything here including emigrate without employment, own a business and even own land in certain cases.
GL: What is the best thing about being a GibLad/Llanito abroad?
Foreigners move to Cambodia for various reasons, many work in journalism, teaching, the non-profit sector or start their own businesses. But there is one thing that they all seem to have in common, everyone is truly passionate about their work and it’s always really interesting to listen to what they are working on.
When I tell people living in the West that I am living in Cambodia, I sometimes get asked “why would you live in Cambodia”. People assume that I am really “roughing it”, but in central Phnom Penh, I have access to all modern conveniences that I would want here, we even have some extra ones (like 4Dx cinema) plus because there are a lot of young people here on their “living abroad adventure”, there is never a boring day without several events happening!
GL: What has been your proudest achievement since your move?
I feel like I had a lot of accomplishments to list out, here is one. I do volunteer mentoring with start up accelerator & incubator programs (like with Impact Hub Phnom Penh), and I love the feeling of using my expertise to help others.
GL: What are you goals for the year?
Continue building my business Xlconsulting, and getting more involved in data visualisation
GL: Do you see yourself staying there, eventually coming back or have other travel plans?
I definitely don’t see myself staying in Cambodia forever and I don’t see myself returning to Gibraltar for now, but I also don’t know where I would go next. Cambodia was never part of the plan, so why should the next place be?
GL: What would you say to any Llanitos who are thinking of making a move abroad to travel or chase a dream or experience something new?
Some living in the West find my life fascinating and say “Wow that’s amazing for you, I wish that I was brave enough”. There are always excuses like “I have kids” or “I have a good job/property”, but many of my friends living here are in the same boat. With Phnom Penh’s modern conveniences, there is virtually nothing in my everyday life that has anything to do with “being brave”.
If you’re considering moving abroad, I encourage the “try before you buy” approach. If you choose to volunteer like I did, do something you’re trained in and don’t be a “voluntourist”, its extremely harmful to Cambodia’s development for foreigners with no experience to spend 2 days building houses or volunteering at an orphanage, you’re taking jobs from locals (who are probably much better than you are at it) to produce a worse result. I volunteered for 2 months as an accountant with a program (afid) that sets up accountants with non-profits who need their help, and there are many similar jobs available for all types of professions or even creatives looking for a new challenge, find a volunteer role where you can actually add value and not just feel good about yourself. If any Llanito wants to get in touch about possible opportunities I’d be more than happy to chat.
I never believed in the clichés or ideals like “finding yourself”, or “find a job that makes you happy”, but in 2013, I ended up building something I never knew I wanted, (my own business) using skills I didn’t know I had in a country I barely knew existed. And so began the best four years of my life.
Are you a Llanito abroad or travelling or do you know someone that we should hear about? To get GibLad to feature you or your friend and get involved e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org!