Casualties in the Battle to Stay Relevant

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (Planning a Europe Trip Consulting)

After I was unable to get a work visa on the ground in Italy, I knew that teaching English online would be some kind of bridge to my next formal work or activity, or become the core of what I would be doing. I had partial approval by a company to do it but there were some technical limitations I experienced by not having strong enough wifi, but one day it occurred to me I might be able to bypass some of them by maneuvering differently on the website – and it worked! Within minutes I started getting videophone calls from all over the world, and getting a trickle of money that has made parking myself in Croatia right now viable and has put me back in the black.

According to my dashboard, in just over two weeks, I’ve logged 3,679 minutes teaching (or tutoring as it is more ostensibly called by the website – which allows for a lot more leeway and achieving the aim of conversation practice with native speakers) and have spoken to 278 students. Most of them are people passing through collecting a 5-minute free sample of the application/platform, but as your client reviews maintain a higher rating average, suddenly most of this is weeded out and you have subscriber students. In the beginning,  you do not know who will be your future base so it is wise to affect as much warmth as possible. Through the course of this, I have heard dozens of very fascinating life stories and the core theme is that everyone is striving for a better position in life and to keep up with multiple realities in a globalized economy. Particularly difficult the path is for the person who knows more or wants more than their peers in their native setting, because even once established in the target country and language, something else invariably happens that elicits a further expansion attempt.

There are many stories I could tell but I’ve been particularly consumed by the plight of a family in Brazil. It all started with the father calling me sometime in the space of the last ten days. Bear in mind the primary function of my role is meant to “teach English” but often the plot overtakes the task. He imparted somewhere in between me assessing what to study and where to focus that the reason for his studying is because he intends to sell off most of the family’s assets and move the family to the US for a year, most likely in Florida. He is in investment and trading and the wife is a dentist concentrated on aesthetics. My immediate thought was that her career is in jeopardy and this is a perfect storm to inadvertently unskill her. In a few moments he expressed that his wife was concerned about her work and I jumped in to say that is quite valid. He then explained that she had had a bout with cancer in recent years and now that they are in their mid-40s, he wanted them to go do something for a year since life is short and it would be a great opportunity for immersion for the family. If they decided they wanted to stay beyond a year, then they could take steps to formalize certifications in the US and so on.

I sent him some resources and then went about my work per usual. As a part of account maintenance I know from any other work I’ve done in the past, I sent follow-up messages a few days later to revive relationships, help in any way I could, and in general I have always called this a “stimulus package.” About half a day later he called and said he wanted to see more of my background and that he wanted me to teach the entire family with separate lessons a few times a week, and soon the two kids were popping up on the screen and hovering nearby smiling and wanting to participate.

The whole family is lovely and these conversations with the kids were more routine and while they were communicating fine, the father told me that he was worried about me being bored with the nine-year-old because I was stretching myself a lot to find what he would be most communicative about. I could and can see the kind of intellectual pressures kids of the more affluent can be under because often the parents became wealthy by being talented in abstract thinking and they full upon an opportunity, and the kids may not be wired in this particular way (conversely it is much worse to think in abstractions and not find the right market or timing and hit the bottle, fall prey to addiction, or otherwise get swallowed up by other mediocre pursuits). I explained to the father that there are many things that the kids have not been exposed to in Portuguese yet so the expectation threshold needs to be suspended a bit.

I met the wife. In the first lesson we established a plan for her whereby there would be some of the platform’s material used to support concepts for each lesson and give her structure for a sense of security and coming away with something. She was using a few Portuguese words but we were able to communicate that she is a neurotic perfectionist who would rather stay silent until she knows what she is talking about than to come out with something imperfect. I did a few things tactically to destroy that and her near fluency that existed before I ever met her is surfacing. She voiced her concerns about their move from a purely weather, social, and crime based subject area but did make a point to say how much she loves her career.

The next lesson I had with the husband he talked with me about the resources I had sent him in regards to crime statistics and real estate in Florida and then brought to light that the worst cities in Florida still have a crime rate 1/10th of that in his city in Brazil. They currently live in a gated community and have had an armored car in the past. He said in no way at night would anyone there stop at a red light for fear of carjackings or other dangers.

However, all of this has been mere decoration leading up to last night on my second lesson with the wife. She was alone in the gated community house and though I had things prepared we barely got to them. She was completed frazzled after having met up with her business partners whereby either they were wanting her to give up her stake or she was proposing to possibly sell her stake in the clinic. It was here that I learned she founded in 20 years ago this year and they had just expanded to a high end facility in the last year and now she was totally torn of how to handle this. Does one hold on to their stake if there is resistance and hope that no sabotage or disorder takes over in their absence? Does one sell immediately and walk away in case some kind of liability or trouble happens? To me the most logical thing to do is to have the wife stay there a few months while the rest of the family finds their footing and then decide, but that is not for me to say. I do not know Portuguese but she said that her wish to stay for the career must be selfish and then I started tearing up and so did she in a moment. I indicated on the screen (you can type things on the screen and the translation will appear if needed) that a true compromise and happy balance can be struck. I seriously stepped back and wondered what kind of protocols or rules there are for teaching in this case and on this platform but reached the conclusion that the humanity of the situation superseded the formality. At any rate, this is a woman that I in some strange fashion have some influence in the situation that she could wind up starting her career over again entirely at almost 50-years-old in a strange country.

It’s impossible for me to transcribe all that happened but she indicated Portugal might still be a possibility for them. I went over some of the advantages of there, but that I know a doctor often makes only about 20,000 euros a year there. A few minutes later the husband arrived back home and joined in and everything became more or less a family planning session. He had just spoken to the neighbor who told him that his family had just tried the US for two years not long ago and they were now immigrating to Portugal where they could fly to Disneyland Paris for 10 euros if they wanted and the crime is much lower than the US.

This is an evolving story but we are seeing great patterns of migration and personal transformation right now. Sometimes it feels like we must fall on our sword for the safety of our children, spouse, community, or workplace, and there are certainly rare moments where this is logical, but our impulse to stay relevant and survive is often another abstraction that is not really as urgent in reality as it seems. A joyless calculation can add so many more emotive variables that we don’t anticipate. Due to both the importance of maintaining muscle memory or manual dexterity and the somewhat perverse, unnatural competitive system that is imposed on us, we really cannot afford to step off the hamster wheel for long and remain a viable worker commodity in the eyes of employers and partnerships that are going to be favorable to us – so we must think of our partners’ ability to hold their professional space in a move. Conversely, when a partner offers affection and care to to step away from all this intensity, we also have to learn to laugh and accept sometimes because all the hierarchies, professional identities, titles, certifications, possessions, and marching around in uniform are mere costuming that have no permanent universal meaning.

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (Planning a Europe Trip Consulting)


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3 Responses to Casualties in the Battle to Stay Relevant

  1. sofiapw says:

    John, what a wonderful post. Your sensitivity and humanity really struck me. I’m also glad that things are working out for you as an online teacher. As the world globalizes, and migration occurrs in the digital age, some of my most important relationships are continuing online.

    • Thank you, Sofia. It was surreal for me to have this happen so quickly after coming into their orbit but the meaning of community continues to evolve with the technologies we are able to use. It will be interesting to see how people will be when there are periods of breakdown in the availability of these tools.

      • sofiapw says:

        I was thinking the same thing. It actually reminded me of your viewing of the future, I guess it would be over a year ago now. You said it was a peaceful, green world. It gave me the image of a lack of this kind of technology.
        In addition, I was just reading a headline about the rich Arabic texts from 2000 years ago, and how they contributed to today’s knowledge — but I remembered how their civilization was destroyed, and has not returned to it’s former glory. Not only do countries rise and fall, civilizations do as well, and ours will be no exception. In fact, I believe the extreme impact that we are having on our world will create an Icarus effect.

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