Creator & Managing Director, Jane Berwick, tells her story...
In 2007, as the plane lifted off the ground from Edmonton, Alberta to fly to Osaka, Japan, I knew that my life would never be the same.
Not only were my feet leaving the familiar and comfortable territory of my Canadian roots, but I was embarking on a journey to live and work in a country where I didn't know the language; had no idea what my job entailed; I had no friends or contacts waiting for me, and I didn't even know if I would last a week or not. I remember getting a cold sweat down my neck, as we were about to land and an airline stewardess handed me small bottles of spirits to put in my backpack, while saying, 'Here. You are going to need these, girl.'
I thought my Bachelors degree in Psychology would have prepared me, armed with what I thought were coping strategies and knowledge I could call upon. I couldn't have been more wrong.
School couldn't have prepared me for what I was about to experience.
I was tasked with teaching English to adults in a small language centre in Kita Senri, in the mega metropolis of Osaka. Upon landing, the company I worked for gave me a quick 3 day intensive training, on the 44th floor of an office tower in the centre of the city (one of the ones that swayed back and forth when there were tiny earthquakes). Once I went back to my setting, I was supposed to have magically evolved into a fully functional instructor, ready with materials, lesson plans, and teaching techniques. 'I can do this,' was my mantra, as I made my way on the train to start my first day.
Once at Kita Senri, I discovered I would be teaching students who were retired and more than three times my age with a lifetime of rich experience; others were highly motivated and educated professionals like doctors & lawyers; some were Japanese celebrities in the entertainment industry; others were stay-at-home moms looking to pick up a hobby and university students with demanding priorities and schedules. In addition to these diverse factors, each of them also had varying degrees of English. With so many differences between us, not to mention me being a 20 something Canadian, white female with curves - I kept asking myself: Who was I to be tasked with their learning? What did I actually have to offer? Could I ever be the 'ideal' educator I envisioned? Why was this all of a sudden important to me? Did any other instructors feel this way? Where are they? Can we talk about this? (Insert freak out here).
As if living in Japan wasn't foreign enough...the role of 'educator' felt even further away.
Thankfully, my students wholeheartedly embraced me. I experienced hospitality like I never had before; they met my family when they visited Japan and I met theirs; as they shared their life experiences, I listened and absorbed as much as I could. We exchanged regular dialogue about culture, language, food, travel, and shared in some of the most wonderful belly laughs together. I gradually became more comfortable and eventually found my feet in the world of teaching. The classroom, I came to discover, was so much more than just the exchange of languages.
It was a safe place to reflect on experiences; learning from one another; share in challenges and find solutions; be validated; feel seen; be understood and seek understanding.
I was learning how to be a teacher. I had never been or seen myself as an educator, much less assume this identity in a foreign country. But, somehow, I was.
Later in my career, my curiosity for adult learning grew and intensified. I eventually decided to pursue a Masters degree in Adult Education and was able to float more confidently through different work contexts, cultures and countries. I went from teaching language learners in Japan, to training teachers in China, and then onto heading up Learning & Development programmes around Asia for international employees and clients in start-ups, for profit and not-profit sectors, and then later in luxury travel in London in the UK.
As my career was growing, I also belonged to various adult learning associations which were complimentary to my development and kept me up to date with research, policy and insights. When I moved to the UK, I also regularly attended conferences, networking events, and webinars and trainings. As I moved around, however, few of these opportunities actually seemed to satisfy the growing curiosity I had in further shaping my identity and practice as an adult education practitioner.
Any further training I found online was somewhat fragmented. Social media also wasn't the place to grow my practice, because I felt there were too many voices competing for my attention (and I would often be sold a professional development course I didn't need, at a price I couldn't afford).
While I absolutely loved my work in adult education and felt I had found my vocation, there were also challenges I continued to experience on a regular basis. In the corporate world, I was expected to operate with a commercial mindset to succeed, and yet at times this competed with my desire to operate in a way that was authentic to me, as an adult educator. I also experienced internal politics and challenging situations with my learners in public and private sectors that I wasn't prepared for, but somehow managed to navigate on my own.
Looking back, I wish I would have had a network of other adult learning professionals, who I could connect with on a regular basis, who had similar challenges to me, but who I didn't work with directly or who were in different settings to my own.
I wanted an exclusive space. A hub. Just for adult educators and practitioners - to navigate our contexts together; to be more informed in what we do with adult learners; to be vulnerable; to be our quirky and unique selves; to share in successes (and failures); and to shape our practice together, across borders, contexts, backgrounds and experiences.
I knew if I wanted this kind of community, I would need to create it myself.
And so, The Adult Learning Hub was born. It's the world's first app-based membership community, bringing together passionate adult educators and practitioners in academic settings, community contexts and corporate environments.
The purpose of the Hub is to:
- develop a more informed and flexible approach that meets the needs of diverse learners;
- build on skills that allow us to remove barriers and facilitate meaningful learning;
- proactively address workplace challenges as part of a supportive group of fellow educators,
- confidently navigate our rapidly evolving world of work and increase our impact for the learners we serve.
As the world continues to shift and change in dramatic ways, and we enter a new world of work due to Covid, this also further emphasised the need for educators to come together and develop more flexible and informed ways of working with adult learners.
The Adult Learning Hub wants to give you a voice and empower you, in whatever context you operate in. Adult educators and practitioners are better when we are together. The Hub is for like-minded individuals wanting to make an impact, build better habits to support their professional growth and transform their practice.
Perhaps you see yourself in my story or maybe it resonates with you in your own, unique journey? I believe we all have stories, experiences and ideas worth sharing. Join in on exclusive conversations already happening now in The Hub and become a member today - or join our mailing list to stay updated!
Jane Berwick, M. Ad. Ed
Creator, The Adult Learning Hub