Challenges and barriers in Manila: A Cambodian worker’s story

Kim Kotara
Though many Cambodians choose to work in the Philippines, most of them don’t last too long because they feel lonely

GETTING AROUND. The streets of Metro Manila are a familiar view for Chan Chamrong. He walks everyday from his dorm to his office. Photo by Dareth Rosaline/Rappler

Living and working abroad is never easy. Crossing another country’s border is like entering a new world. Challenges await every foreign worker regardless of their nationality.

This is a story of Chan Chamrong, 23, a Cambodian man who came to Manila to work. He shared the challenges he faced and the difficulties he had to overcome.

Living alone

Chamrong is a call center staff at PCCW Teleservice, a business outsourcing provider in Manila. He said that living away from home is difficult especially because he often feels alone.

“I am the only Cambodian guy who works here. It seems like not many Cambodians want to work here (in the Philippines),” Chamrong said.

According to him, though many Cambodians choose to work in the Philippines, most of them don’t last too long because they feel lonely.

He recalled how hard it was for him during his first few days in Manila.

“I cried on the second day after talking to my family on the phone and I don’t know why. It was a strange experience when there are a lot of people sitting around me but I could not find even one of them to talk with,” he said.


Speaking in Khmer, Chamrong talked about his living condition in Manila. He said he shared a room with a Vietnamese guy who was working in the same company. He said he couldn’t cook in his place because it was dormitory policy. Hence, he always ate out.

He also said that eating out is quite a challenge. He is mindful of what food he orders because he has to follow his Khmer diet.

Chamrong makes sure that the challenges in his living conditions doesn’t affect his work. He gets up at 5 am to walk to his office. He works from 6 am until 3 pm.

He said the training he got during his first month helped him adjust to the working conditions in his company.

When he entered the company, he had no experience working as a call center staff. Yet he quickly learned the nitty-gritty details of his job.

ACHIEVEMENT. Chamrong receives his certificate of completion after undergoing 3 weeks of training. Photo by Chan Chamrong

Language barrier

Chamrong said most of the call center agents in the company are not required to speak English but in their own languages. Cambodian talk to their clients in Khmer and Thais talk in Thai.

“The job itself is not really difficult since I will talk in Khmer to my client,” he said.

Speaking English, however, still poses a problem for Chamrong especially when he has to talk to his foreign co-workers.

“It is hard to get used to different tone of speaking since they all talk in (different accents). For instance, Vietnamese roommate talk in his own style and my Filipino trainer talks in his own way,” he said.

But he said he has learned to overcome this problem.

“The solution is I have to talk to them as much as possible whenever we are free even at the lunch break. It helps me a lot,” he said.

Living in the Metro

Despite everything he went through, Chamrong remains enthusiastic about his work. He recalled how working in Manila was unexpected.

When he was selected, he decided to postpone his studies and give up managing their family business. He came to work in Manila with the full support of his family.

Chamrong misses his home but he said he has learned to adapt well in the Philippines. He said he is slowly learning to live the Filipino lifestyle.

He plans to go home to Cambodia after 6 months or when his one year contract ends. But he said he considers working in the Philippines again. He said the job and living conditions are good. For Chamrong, this city has become a piece of home away from

Kim Kotara is a Rappler intern from the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

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