Alexandra McNesky would like to tell you a few things about living in Cambodia:
1.) Air conditioning is an absolute luxury.
2.) Fried tarantula doesn't taste bad.
3.) Cambodians are the most helpful, caring and friendly people she's ever met.
Which is saying something for the 22-year-old who grew up in "The Friendly City."
"Bradenton is my home, but Cambodia has my heart," McNesky said last week from Phnom Penh, where the 2009 Manatee High School graduate arrived in March to teach English. "It's been a life-changing experience, literally like walking into the unknown," she said.
McNesky will be writing a regular blog, "Bridging the Gap," found at
Bradenton.com/blogs starting Sunday.
McNesky's overseas odyssey began after attending college, then teaching creative writing to children at the Salvation Army.
"I needed something more," she said. "I was interested in teaching kids of other languages and came across this."
Working with an international program for teaching English abroad, McNesky was intrigued by Asia and spent months of planning and fundraising to get there.
After a month's training and certification, she isteaching 17 children ages 3 to 5 at an international school that has classes from kindergarten through 12th grade. "I'm still getting acclimated, getting to know staff and the instructors," McNesky said.
She lives in a hotel apartment near school and, because she doesn't have a car, McNesky hires one of the ubiquitous motorized carriages to take her around Phnom Penh and the area, shopping and sightseeing.
"I'd heard so much about how kind people in Cambodia are, and it's true," McNesky said. "I'm learning more of the language every day, enough to get around. If you need help with something and a local doesn't understand, another will. The people here are willing to help everyone."
That's just one of the draws.
So are the Cambodian open air markets, which carry "delicacies" such as roaches, spiders, crickets and bats.
The former Carrabba's waitress tried the fried tarantula.
"It was so heavily seasoned, but it was pretty good. I was surprised," she said. "I was more scared holding it in my hand. It's mind over matter."
The Floridian feels the same way about Cambodia's heat and humidity. Last week the average temperature was 110 degrees, she said. "Having an AC unit here is like having a Mercedes in America," she said. "It's always summertime here."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.