Filipino teachers shine in Cambodia

Phnom Penh (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Their primary goal when they left the country for Cambodia may have been to earn more money. But in the end, Filipino teachers end up giving their best to that country.

Take the case of Jayson Umaquing, who left the Philippines six years ago for a teaching job that was to give him higher pay in US dollars, part of which he could send back home to his parents and two sisters. He also wanted to embark on an adventure and a life of independence from his family.

His mother would not let him leave at first, fearing for his safety, but he grabbed the opportunity after being accepted for a teaching job in a private school in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.

It was for him a a completely new world where he met people from different parts of the globe. He was able to visit the famous heritage destination Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and other places of nature. The exchange rate at the time was at least P47 to a dollar and that went a long way in sending his sister and some relatives to school.

He went through the stage of being lonely, doing all the work at home and in school, and facing a language barrier in a country where only a few speak English. But after learning the Khmer language, he was able to mingle with the local population and found that "they are a friendly and enthusiastic" people. He said he has adapted to the Khmer culture, which he described as "very rich and interesting."

In his six years of teaching Math and English to Grades 9 and 10 pupils of the Pannasastra International School, and Business and English subjects to college students of the Pannasastra University and the Western University of Cambodia, he observed that students "easily give up and get stressed."

But Filipino teachers are "patient and hardworking," he observed.

New heaven

Another teacher, Joyce Ira Yarza, 28, first taught in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam in 2005, but transferred to an advertising firm in Phnom Penh in 2007 on the invitation of a friend. She enjoyed the teaching job for two years, but felt she needed change. She went back to teaching and "found a new heaven" in the Cambodia International Academy in Phnom Penh.

Joyce brought her children to Cambodia so she wouldn't miss them. Together with her husband and children, she said she has "found a new home that will satisfy our needs."

She has not had any problem with the locals, as she has adapted to their nature and culture. She teaches algebra, science and English for middle level students. The pay and work conditions are "not as much as I get in Vietnam" but the "best thing" she likes in the city is the "simple way of life."

She works Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and spends her weekends with the family. "I am not stressed here," she added.

Most teachers in Cambodia accept tutorial services in the evenings, Joyce said, something she cannot do because she has her hands full with her own family.

Working in a multicultural community makes teaching so much fun, she added. "Every day, you learn many things from your colleagues and students. If there is one thing I consider a challenge, it's how to improve myself and my teaching to give the best for my students," Joyce said.

Another teacher, Jennifer, (not her real name), who requested anonymity, said she went to Cambodia to apply for the job that she is currently holding. For three years, she has been teaching all subjects at the primary level of a Christian school.

Exposure and involvement in a multicultural community are some of the benefits of teaching in Cambodia, Jennifer said. "Each year, I have at least five nationalities in a class. I not only teach but also get to learn and appreciate my kids' culture. I get more interested about foreign news and information, particularly about my students' countries," she explained.

There were 257 Filipino teachers in Cambodia as of Dec. 31, 2010, the Philippine Embassy in Phnom Penh said.

"Most of them work for private schools and universities at levels ranging from pre-school to post-graduate studies," according to Ambassador Noe A. Wong in his reply to an e-mailed questionnaire from the Inquirer.

Some Filipino teachers also occupy academic supervisory posts like principal or dean, he said. Their salaries vary depending on the school and teaching level, the embassy said.


Jayson said he has had memorable experiences, one of which was when he had a Christmas lunch with his students and they gave him a gift and numerous Christmas cards with heartfelt messages. He was so happy to know his students appreciated his work, he said.

But as Cambodia develops, things will not always be the same for migrant professionals in that country. Jayson realizes that for the past few years, companies and organizations in Cambodia have started to localize their work force because of the lower cost of hiring personnel.

"The wages we get here are not as big as those being given in First World countries," he said in an emailed reply to an interview. "Although sometimes, we don't get benefits," he added without elaborating.

Thus, he plans to go back home this year to explore other employment opportunities in other countries, or to finish his Master's degree.

For Joyce, she will never forget being described by her students as the "Best Science Teacher" they ever had.

She and her husband have not made plans to move to another country in the next years. But Joyce said she would come back to the Philippines only when she retires.

She said her school was being accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges so she expected the students would get quality education. "If every school here is accredited by international school-governing bodies and quality education is assured, I believe that intellectually-inclined students will be the product of our hard work," she said.

Joyce believes Cambodia still welcomes more individuals who can contribute to the welfare of their people.

Jennifer added that even though Filipino teachers' main purpose in working in Cambodia is a better financial position, they "give their best" in their work.

I think it's in our culture to be patient and resilient. Moreover, Cambodians treat Filipinos with respect," she said.

She has seen some improvement with the educational system in that country, with the influx of outside help and foreigners who volunteer to help improve education in Cambodia.

She said she and her husband are open to explore work opportunities in other countries but not in the next two to three years.



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