PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – As countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) prepare to be "one community" in 2015, students in Cambodia—this year's ASEAN host—are trying their best to learn English.
And they're learning fast, thanks to their teachers from a Southeast Asian neighbor, the Philippines.
Highly-regarded for their good English, many Filipinos teach in language schools and universities in Cambodia. Some 800 Filipinos here work as teachers, according to the Philippine embassy.
Gina Lopez, a university professor, is one of them.
In 2004, Lopez left her hometown Bataan for Phnom Penh, unsure about her fate. She worked for a non-governmental organization in the Philippines that catered to Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees, and never planned to be a teacher.
When she arrived in Cambodia, Lopez landed a job at an English language school, and then transferred to the University of Cambodia. After only a year in teaching, she became associate dean of the College of Management.
"Cambodians know that when it comes to English, Filipinos are good," Lopez told ABS-CBN News in an interview. "They admire and respect us. They know they will learn something from us."
One of her students, 23-year-old Sor Kalyan, says he is awed whenever he hears his Filipino teachers and their families speak in English.
"I used to be a student at Battambang province, where there are maybe 2 or 3 Filipinos. Their daughter and their son speak English like native speakers," he says.
Kalyan, who lives in a monastery, has been studying English for 5 years now. He believes it's his ticket to a better future.
Besides, he says almost everything on the Internet, which he uses for doing research, is in English.
"I want to be a teacher and also a businessman," says Kalyan.
Lopez believes Filipino teachers play an important role in helping Cambodians meet the challenges of globalization, after many years of the isolation and social instability in their country.
Many Cambodians are very eager to learn English, she adds, treating it as their "weapon" to compete in a globalized world and overcome poverty.
"Education is the foundation of progress. So if you're one of those building that foundation, your role is very important," Lopez said.