Have you ever thought about taking time out of your day job to work at an EMI office? In 2021 Emma took a year's sabbatical from her practice in Northern Ireland and moved to Cambodia. We asked her about her experience.


Current Job: Senior Architect, White Ink Architects, Belfast

Job and location with EMI: Architect, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

What was the best thing about your year with EMI?

Personally, it was the people. Since I arrived in Cambodia while covid was still a thing, the network of people I met was perhaps slightly smaller than you would expect during normal times, but this just meant that those people became not just colleagues, but friends and family too!

Professionally, being able to serve God through our work in a more literal way. There’s something very special about seeing a building you have designed used to serve those in need and share the gospel with them. 

What was the most challenging thing?

Trying to communicate with new people in a Northern Irish accent, with a mask on! I'm half joking, but it did take a lot of energy for those first few weeks! 

On a more work-related note, moving from a world where compliance is key, to a world where there is very little to comply with is a big change. Understanding and explaining the ‘why’ behind rules that we might follow in the UK was key to being able to discuss them in a different cultural and climatic context. I was challenged professionally in a way that goes beyond what we might experience locally, in a good way!

No matter what the local regulations, the value of teamwork crosses countries and cultures.

What was an unexpected joy?

Having come from Northern Ireland, where there are churches on every street corner, it was very different moving to Cambodia where Christianity is still relatively new and uncommon. However, it granted me an experience of the true global church, with people from all different denominations, colours, and backgrounds worshipping and striving to serve together in a common mission. 

During an office prayer day, we sang ‘How great thou art’ in the 4 languages represented at that time, and it felt like it was giving us a true glimpse of what Heaven will be when those from every tribe, tongue and nation will worship our great God together. 

How did you find returning to the UK workplace?

It was difficult to return to a work environment and not have the same fellowship with my colleagues as fellow believers in Christ. I missed our morning devotions, discipleship groups, and multicultural praise times. There were a lot of changes in the time that I had been away, from big business decisions and changes in staff, to major regulatory and technical changes. It has taken time to regain confidence in myself and the role I carry out. 

What’s next?

I’m back to my previous job of 10 years, continuing to adapt to how the changes within me can be utilised in this context, and I’ve started getting involved in some organisations that work with the Asian community here in Belfast. As for what’s next, I’m open to wherever God may lead me, and appreciate prayers in discerning what that might be!