VIPKid Journey: In the Windy City

The Hilton in Downtown Chicago was all set up for VIPKid. This hotel’s interior dates back to the 1920s, when the Beaux-Arts architectural style was very popular in affluent society.

After teaching with VIPKid for over two years, I finally attended my first Journey conference. The company, one of the largest and most famous innovators of online ESL instruction, holds conferences once or twice a year around the US.

I found companionship and camaraderie, and I had the overdue pleasure of meeting many teachers in person. A surprise visit by Danielle Simpson, founder of FeedbackPanda, was one of the most memorable parts of my trip. Getting to see iconic VIPKid role models such as Cindy Mi, Erik Chong, and Nancy Taylor was surreal! If you can get away for a few days, and you can afford the cost, VIPKid Journey must be one of your bucket-list activities.

FeedbackPanda Party! 🐼🎉

Danielle, who normally lives in Berlin, Germany, made an unexpected visit to Chicago. She wanted to personally meet the teachers who use FeedbackPanda. We had a spectacular time at the Berghoff Restaurant in Downtown Chicago. So many attended the party, so we’d like to say a special “thank you” for taking the time to visit! Danielle handed out some cool webcam covers and lip balm emblazoned with the famous Ping. We got some great pictures with fellow Pandas–do you recognize anyone?

At the Berghoff Restaurant

Movers and Shakers 💃🕺

I was lucky to grab a few snapshots with some VIPKid celebrities! Although Erik and Nancy were sought after by the few hundred people in attendance at Journey, they graciously stopped to take a selfie with me. Serendipitously, I had a chance encounter with Cindy Mi in an elevator. Because the elevator was packed, I didn’t notice she was there until everyone had cleared out.  I was too starstruck to do much more than utter a request for a selfie. (Plus, I was aware that she probably wanted to get back to her room.) To make matters even more awkward for me, I was in the wrong elevator to reach my particular wing. Cindy, as warm and classy as she is, did her best to direct me the right way.

Cindi Mi is elegant and lovely! 
Nancy Taylor is an inspiration to us VIPKid teachers!
Erik Chong is always cool under pressure. Known for his presence on social media, he is unflappable! I know exactly how stressful his job can be; I used to work in marketing and PR for a luxury cruise line, which included handling social media. 

New and Old Friends

One of the strangest aspects of working in online teaching is that you often form bonds of friendship first over social media! I met so many people whom I already knew from Facebook and Instagram, but seeing them in real life was a bonus. These awesome teachers, such as Devin Didier, Lauren Snider, Carole Elaine, and Heather Bentley, have been my cyberspace friends for some time now. Amanda List and I saw each other for a second time (the first time being at Disney World earlier this year).

Not only did I see my VIPKid online friends in the flesh, but I also met some really amazing people for the first time.

On the last night of Journey, Danielle, Devin (and his two lovely sons), Amanda, and I went to a pizza parlor for an authentic Chicago deep-dish pie. We happened to meet another FBP fan and new teacher, Josh Gandy. People like Josh clearly demonstrate how easy it is to make friends within the VIPKid community. All of us sitting around the table had so much in common. It is nothing short of miraculous that we live hundreds or thousands of miles away from each other, but somehow come together in person as if we’ve been friends forever.

The One and Only Amanda List!
Josh Gandy: A new friend, and a faithful FeedbackPanda user!
Austin–he works at HQ in Beijing as a programmer! He’s the man behind the scenes. He was also very solicitous and very interested in our thoughts about the platform.
I met this lovely lady, Heather Bentley, through VIPKid Teacher-to-Teacher feedback, believe it or not! We share a mutual student, and she asked “Teacher Gabby” to find her on Facebook so that she could relay a message to me! It is truly serendipitous how VIPKid has facilitated connections across the planet.

Downtown Chicago 🏙🌆

I am not a resident of Chicago, so I built some extra time into my itinerary. I was able to explore the downtown area for a few hours before I left for the airport. I got to see some of the highlights of Chicago, such as Cloud Gate. Chicago is also home to a world-class art museum, the Art Institute of Chicago. It has artwork and relics from ancient to contemporary. If you have kids, they will love the miniature section, called the Thorne Miniature Rooms. This museum is also where the farming couple of American Gothic resides. Although it wasn’t originally on my list of things to do, I have no regrets about spending the time and money to see such a fine gallery.

Marc Chagall America Windows

Make the Journey Once in Your Life! 🛫🚗🚌

The biggest challenge of online teaching is that you are often isolated from outside people, with:

  • Amazon
  • Grocery delivery

These things become almost too easy to hide away in our houses without even realizing we are slowly becoming disconnected. If you live in a state where meetups take place, try to attend! And if you are lucky enough to live in a city that hosts Journey, please treat yourself to a nice getaway.

Even if you live nearby, it might be nice to get a hotel room so that you have more time to join in the festivities and tear up the town with your fellow teachers. I know that is something I really enjoyed–staying up late and talking with my colleagues. We all have such specific, shared experiences that only online teachers understand. Having the chance to reach out to people who grasp the feelings associated with all of your triumphs and challenges is very important. Don’t pass it up! You can also check out this post-

Making an appearance with Ping the Panda!