Express Yourself

About anything and everything on the planet

January 10, 2009

Making Connections – interesting view how we are connected in the world

If all goes according to plan, I will graduate this spring from the TESL (Teacher of English as a Second Language) Diploma program from Centennial College. In the meantime, as a way to gain experience and some financial compensation, I work with two different companies that offer online ESL tutoring with students in Korea and Russia, respectively. I’ve been working for these companies since October/November, and it has been a great way to get some practice teaching; what I didn’t count on was the personal connection.

It’s strange, as I sit in my basement, plugging in my headset and logging into Skype, that someone on the other side of the world is doing the same thing; sitting in their house, plugging in their headset, logging onto Skype. For me it’s early afternoon or evening; for my Russian students it’s late evening, and for my Korean students it’s early morning tomorrow. We live completely different lives, my students and I; they are all older than I am, almost all are married with children, and most of them are CPAs. I’m working with them to gain teaching experience for when I graduate; they’re working with me because in order to be promoted at their jobs, or successful in a new job, they need to learn to speak English.

Initially, the only thing we have in common is a bit of language; it really depends on their level. I have some students who speak English extremely well, so that most of our time is spent in free discussion, working on inflection or pronunciation. I have other students who require a great deal of assistance, so that most of our time is spent looking at pdf files of dialogues and pictures, working on vocabulary, meeting in the middle of it all. Each student has expressed a certain goal: for some, it may be working on sentence structure or word selection; for others, it may be listening skills or reading skills. Regardless, each student is there for a purpose, and my purpose to help them achieve their goal.

The funny thing, however, is that while we are sitting at our respective computers, we are forming a connection across the world. We talk about our families, recent books we’ve read or movies we’ve seen, places we’d like to travel, types of food we love or hate; we get to know each other like friends, despite being unable to pick each other out of a lineup. As the sessions progress, there are some students I especially look forward to talking with, because it’s less like work and more like a gab session with a friend.

When I began these jobs, I was prepared for the work involved; what I wasn’t prepared for was the depth of personal connections I would make with total strangers. There are people in Korea who know about my musical houses saga. There are people in Russia who know that deep down, I’m terrified of large dogs. It’s strange, and sometimes unnerving to think about; in the process of offering language instruction, I have also offered a glimpse of myself. In return, I have been offered a piece of someone else. Without a doubt, I would consider these connections a sort of “job perk” – something to look forward to, and something to look back on later, when I have moved on. Who knew?

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