Community Connections

In my last post, I wrote about the loneliness that can be a direct result of teaching online. In many ways working from home gives you discipline. I, for one, wake up and start my day as if I am going to an office. I am not like some of those teachers online who are teaching in their pajama bottoms. To be fair, I live in the Netherlands and my work hours are 9 AM to 3 PM in the winter and 10 a.m. to 4 PM in the summertime. So I really have no excuse. I have an enormous amount of respect for the teachers in the US who are getting up between one and three in the morning depending on where in the country they are and then teaching children in China for 6 hours and sometimes more. In that case, I totally understand teaching in your pajama bottoms. When I first started teaching with VIPKid, we had to wear these god-awful orange shirts. I might get a little bit of backlash because there are teachers who actually like the orange shirts. Orange is not my color. I just don’t like it. But to be fair to the orange T-shirt, it took the stress of trying to figure out what to wear with my pajama bottoms at two in the morning, off the table. I also put on full makeup when I teach, because I know what I look like without it. More importantly, I know what I look like on camera without it. And trust me, that’s not a face anyone wants to see at any time of day.

Really, the positive of working from home, besides not having to commute, is that discipline. There are plenty of people who do not have it. Jasper, for instance, has to go to an office. As a software engineer, it’s not mandatory for him to be in an office setting, but he would not be able to have the discipline to work from home and get things done.

The negative aspect of working from home is the fact that you only ever see your four walls, your own face on camera, and that of your students. You get an occasional glimpse into their lives of course, especially with privacy being such a different animal in China. I’ve seen plenty of shirtless people walking around behind my students. But for the most part, it’s just you and Baobao. I am already an introvert, and to do my job you almost have to be. But even I need community.

When I realized that I was going to be moving not to Scotland, as I had originally planned, but to the Netherlands, I started thinking about how to find that community. I was moving to a country where my first problem would be the language barrier. What?, you ask. What language barrier? And you’d be right to ask. The Dutch have the highest rate of English language literacy in the world. They come in at 93% of their population speaking a very high level of English. That’s slightly better than Britain at 90%. But even so, there is a language barrier. People in the Netherlands are very happy to meet you and happy to speak English. But amongst each other, it’s Dutch for the most part. Well, with a little English sprinkled in here and there. It makes making friends a little bit difficult because you don’t want to be the one English language speaker with no Dutch in a group of Dutch speakers. It’s awkward for you and it’s awkward for them. Nobody wants to have to speak their second language just because one person in the group doesn’t speak that language. And I get it. But it makes for a very difficult transition. So I decided to start looking for that community before I even moved to the Netherlands.

I happened to be in the Netherlands in November 2016 and had decided to participate in Nanowrimo. National novel writing month Is a commitment to yourself to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. From 1 November until 30 November you are writing like mad. For those of us who write it is super fun. I found a group of people meeting at the central library in Amsterdam who were also participating and were holding a weekly Write-In.  We got together each week to write towards our goal of 1,667 words a day.  Jasper’s cousin who I had met the year before, told me about it and went with me. What started out as a group of people writing together for the month of November only, turned into a writers group that now meets every Thursday night at a bookshop in central Amsterdam. That was my first source of community.

I wanted to see if I could find other teachers who lived in Europe and taught for VIPKid. It’s an online English language teaching program so I figured I would start online. I began a Facebook group called the VIPKid EU Expats. It started off very slowly, but I am proud to report that I now have nearly 500 people all over the EU and Britain who teach for VIPKid. But it turned into so much more than that for me. I found teachers locally in Amsterdam with whom I am good friends, I have hosted several teachers at my place, And have also just met them for a drink when they’re in town just on vacation. I take every opportunity to try and meet with VIPKid teachers when I can. The Facebook group I started is a realistic bunch of men and women who realize that online teaching has allowed us to do the one thing we love most, travel abroad. It is that community that I cleave to, because as grateful as we are for the opportunity to teach and travel we realize that there are no unicorns here. VIPKid for most of us is a way that we are able to do what we love, which is travel. But it also allows us to come together every once in a while and share our stories, our successes, our frustrations, and our friendship.

What’s amazing about this group is that most of us have never met. And yet, we are friends and allies. We support each other and we look after everybody’s interests. And for the most part, my group has been drama free.  Well, with the exception of a week this summer. They also let me know when I mistakenly add someone to the group that is not a VIPKid yet (or at all). That happens when I hit the approve button too fast. As happened Sunday afternoon. My EU crew keeps me honest, on my toes, laughing, and most of all, sane. It has been a humbling experience running the VIPKid EU Expats group. Amazingly, I have made connections that are very deep with people that I have never met in person. But feel as though I have known for my entire adult life. And that’s saying a lot. You know who you are.

I realize too, that the skill of being able to connect people who have never met but share a common interest is a talent. Both in my writers’ groups and my Facebook group, I learned valuable things about teaching that I  apply to the classroom. Want to find out more? Keep coming back, that’s Up Next.

That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable installment. But stay tuned, as always, there is more to come.

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