We first met her parents, now firm family friends, in a hotel bar, in Moscow, in 2014, as set up by a consultancy in Russia. They were early; my hair was wet. I explained everything out to them and they asked a lot of questions through their translator - every little detail. I answered everything in the fullest way I could. They spoke about their daughter and I could see that the two Russian parents sitting in front of me wanted me to give the answers fully and freely; above all, they wanted their daughter to have the skill of speaking English. I remember my boss at the time being there and none of the questions being addressed to him. I remember that I was in the spotlight, centre stage. I remember the bar was quite dark. The translator was angled towards me and she asked for many details on our English Language lessons. I spoke about the curriculum and my teaching experience; I spoke about our teachers, how we recruit them and the vetting that is in place. The translator dutifully carried questions and answers between me and the couple in front of me for over an hour. They asked about accommodation and premises, about the structure of the school and the heating systems. They wanted to know about the other students; for example, where are they from? They asked me everything they could think of. I responded and added my own questions, which I also answered, freely and fully.
I found out there and then, that one of the best ways to talk about your school is not from the point of view of selling or anything similar, but authentically. I spoke with gusto, as I still do today, about the passion and enthusiasm with which the school staff deliver on the promises I make. I see them fulfil these promises, as I am there on campus to witness it - every summer, every year.
Was this good thing? Yes, because after that meeting in that hotel bar, in Moscow, in 2014, the little girl who was, and still is, so precious to her parents came to our summer language school. She arrived with her grandma; her mum and her dad would pick her up. She arrived and, oh my, she was so little – I remember bending down to hear her little words.
That little girl, with her long hair that I tried to tie up for her, taught me many things. She taught me that each student is an individual. Each parent has trusted you with their own individual child, even if they are in an organised group. She taught me that a smile goes a long way when you can’t articulate what you want. She taught me that everything is worth fighting for. She taught me that little people can be so brave.
She taught me how to say goodnight in Russian.
Her little Russian lesson from a few years ago has stood me in very good stead. She has been at every summer school of mine since I met her parents and she will be with us again for 2020. She’s not so little now, and there’s nothing she can’t articulate in English. I am so proud of her and her parents are too. I know because they tell me.
And the next time I will speak my limited Russian? At my own wedding in 2020, to those parents whom I met in a hotel bar, in Moscow, in 2014, and their precious not-so-little little girl. A teenager now. A girl who speaks English now; fast, fluently and effortlessly. A family who have become my friends. A family who know my family. A family that I met in a hotel bar, in Moscow, in 2014.
To my friends in Russia, thank you for trusting me. Thank you for choosing me.
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