30-day challenges #5days5posts Post 1

I’ll start this series of posts with writing about the 30-day challenges I am trying to complete in the next few months.

I’m sure many of you have seen this fascinating TED talk. (Of course, I’m immensely happy if this is your first time.) It has been sort of on my mind eversince I first saw it months and months ago and I suppose it has been secretly gnawing away at my obstinate refusal to try to do anything regular and stick to it.

I would never have thought to be able to something like this and I am still not sure I will keep up at least one of them. The preparation for the marathon (I wrote about it here) has put things into a somewhat different perspective though. Since I started training, I have done crazy things like getting up at 3 o’clock to be able to start off before the heat really sets in, or having a shower with the ablution hose at a public toilet because I had to do my run before I went to do a talk at a PD event.

(This image is is an illustration. Check out Sweetmaria’s Coffee Library – it’s one of the most interesting websites I have seen recently.)

I do like the idea of setting these challenges. They teach me a lot of things:
1. Enjoy success – the sense of achievement is intoxicating. When you realise that you can actually do something you would not have though possible.
2. Embrace failure – of course not everything works according to plan. Learning the lessons of these failures and finding new challenges is a great learning experience.
3. Have a different perspective of everything around me – everything is worth an attempt and there are so many things around you you haven’t done for one reason or another. Looking at things and turning them into small challenges helps understand them and my limitations and the intricacies behind them.
4. The beauty of the minute – I’m not thinking big things. I’m not going to climb Mount Everest or something. Things like, say one nice thing to or just simply smile at a stranger every day for 30 days sounds like an awesome challenge.
5. They are infectious – once you start doing this, you start having an impact on the people around you, they will start doing things differently, thinking about and approaching things in new ways.
6. These are all going to turn into stories – stories you can tell, stories you can share with your students.
7. They are self perpetuating – each challenge creates its own spawns, you don;t have to think, oh what to do next, it’s more like which to do next.
8. A life examined – these challenges also help me look at my life and the things I do with more scrutiny thus gaining a better understanding of my actions and their consequences and finding ways of making it more enjoyable and memorable

So, the first two 30-day challenges are sort of intertwined that’s why I decided to embark on a double challenge to start off with:

Challenges 1 & 2: No evening TV – Learn to Code
It has become a bad habit of mine to switch off by switching on and watching old episodes of TV series on DVD after the evening chaos has settled and the children are in bed and the dishwasher is humming away. While it’s not the most harmful of TV habits, it’s still a bit empty and pointless.

At the same time, the amount of time I spend on-line and not being able to do the smallest thing with a HTML code is really depressing for me. I have tried Codeacademy and I want more. It’s my kind of on-line course, I feel I’m learning and I can progress at my own pace.
So this is the plan for this month. Starting today.
Is it going to happen?
Who knows?
Check back on June 25 and I’ll tell you.

Over to you:
Do you think these 30-day challenges can work? Have you ever tried? How did it go? What have you learnt from it?

My utopia – #5days5posts Post 5

by Felipe Venâncio (via Flickr)

This final post is concerned with one of my longest lasting obsessions: utopian thought.

I think the roots of this mania are in the very early realisation of many things that were wrong with the world I lived in when I was a child, which was itself a utopian experiment that went tragically wrong -( i.e. existing socialism of a Hungarian variety aka the happiest barrack). It is lined with passionate belief in the unique value of every single individual and an outrage at so many people being forced to compromise their talents for mere subsistence. Delving into Marxist philosophy I gradually explored the rich and fascinating genre of utopian literature.

One of the key problems with utopias is that they tend to describe a world one would not enjoy living in, a bit like heaven which sounds like the most boring place ever, with all that singing and dancing and sitting around being happy.

The basic problem with utopias is that life consists of conflicts. Different views, values and desires render the creation of an ideal state pretty much impossible. So far, any attempts at creating them have been disastrous. The task is then to create an ideal society which is based on the total freedom of every individual to fulfil their own potential.

There are some ground rules to the society I imagine:


People start work at the age of 40.  Until then, they learn, travel, explore – all financed equally by a central authority. People don’t retire, they stop working when they feel that they have contributed enough to society. Far too many older people are forced to leave work at an age when they could still be useful just so that they can give their place to young workers. This system is failing completely these days. The proportion of unemployed school leavers and university graduates continues to rise. In some countries over 50 percent of youngsters join the dole cues, while older people are also forced into retirement.

I strongly believe that most, if not all the jobs we think of as less desirable can be performed by machines and/or replaced by technological solutions that are readily available. Also, one would be surprised at what some people would actually enjoy doing if it weren’t stigmatised by societal discrimination. In many cases it’s not the job but the social stigma that keep people away from performing certain tasks. And of course, there is also the chance of retraining if one is not happy with the job they have chosen or want to try something else.


Whole segments of industry that produce products for the sake of production will be abolished. Manufacturers will be responsible for making sure their products are sustainably produced, recyclable and high quality. Disposable materials will be suppressed. Don’t forget,  if people have a choice to create meaningful things, they will not choose to put together plastic toys that fall apart the moment you take them out of the shops, or furniture that falls apart before you assemble the flat pack. We now have the technology to produce high quality goods without completely exhausting the earth’s resources. The shift from quantity to quality has to happen before long if we want to stop the world turning into a massive rubbish heap.


This is a dangerous and difficult one and possible the one most open to attacks, especially as it has not been tried. However, I believe that everyone should be given the same salary.  It is work that should be rewarded, not individuals themselves.  Because people have chosen to do their jobs based on their love of the work, an unequal remuneration system would signal that some people’s jobs are less valuable than others’, which is unfair and demoralising.  The value people receive from their work is not measured by salary, but by the pleasure they receive from doing something they truy have prepared their whole lives to do. This is why in many countries, universities and colleges end up with teaching faculties catering for low or mediocre students, as becoming a teacher is considered a financially unwise choice.

I believe that the differentiation between individuals based on how valuable they are is the source of much of the discontent, disenfranchisement,  anger and frustration so characteristic of the world today. In my utopia, you are given the opportunity to choose whatever course you want to take. You do have to start work at the age of 40, but you get a year off every 6 years which you can use to re-train or further develop. Of course if you want to go on working that’s also possible, and your income will remain the same regardless. .


Parents can choose when they want to have children. Raising children is considered a full-time occupation paid at the same level as any other job. Parents who want to work can take children to communities of parents whose choice is to look after children. In my experience a lot of people actually enjoy working with children.
Children’s formal education starts at the age of 10. Until then they get to live with their parents (who if they are still in their 20’s or 30’s are not working yet if they don’t want to), they travel together, they spend time together and they get exposure to new experiences and people in parenting  “clubs” where children and parents get together and try out new activities. By the age of 10, due to the experiences they have had, children will be able to make much better choices regarding the activities they enjoy and want to pursue.

These are some of the fundamental characteristics of my ideal world. There are of course many aspects of life I have not had a chance to elaborate on in this post (media, entertainment, politics and its institutions, healthcare, arts, etc.) my intention was to highlight some of the key and perhaps most controversial aspects of a society that looks ideal to me. I believe the world as it is at the moment is not sustainable, it is based on social injustice that stems from a long history of colonisation, prejudice and oppression. The world we have inherited is fundamentally flawed, its foundations need to be revisited if want to survive, prosper and advance.
Crazy? Of course it is. But I love spending time daydreaming and building this little perfect state which helps me identify aspects of society I don’t like, and reinforces my love of humanity, creativity and fairness.


I’s been tremendous fun working on these posts this week. Thanks to Tyson for starting the challenge. Do check out his posts from this week: on transferability, his five takeaways from this academic year, on checking comprehension, his beautifully written letter to his students and one on 10 special words.

Mike Harrison has also written some brilliant posts this week, on empty vessels, on the dullest blog in the world, on Tweet Archivist, and on coursebooks.

I enjoyed this so much that I will try to go on with the #5days5posts for one week every month. The difference will be that the posts will be organised around one topic each time, though I really enjoyed the wide spectrum of topics I got to cover this week.

On Dubai – #5days5posts Post 4

Many were surprised when we announced that we would return to Dubai after two years in Hungary. It was especially surprising for the people who read some of the five posts I had written about why I was leaving Dubai (here, here, here, here and here).

However, the move back to Dubai turned out to be a fantastic decision. I have had one of the most exciting years of my life. Most of you would know that I came back on the proviso that I would not seek full-time employment of any kind. Despite some really tempting opportunities, I have managed to stick to this.

My current bosses

Firstly, because I have the greatest full-time employment ever: I look after my two fantastic daughters and I am learning so much from them about them, the world and myself. It’s the hardest job with the longest hours I have ever had, not to mention that it’s not paid very well ;-) but the one I have enjoyed more than any of my previous jobs.

Secondly, because I get to do so many exciting things I would not be able to do if I had a full-time job: MOOCs, TESOL Arabia, webinars, online courses (especially the Mentoring EVO), iTDi, etc. OK, admittedly these don’t put food on the table as such, but they are some of the most rewarding professional experiences I have had.

Thirdly, I’ve been able to do some great freelance jobs with Macmillan, Cambridge English Assessment, OUP and Euroexam in Hungary. It’s great to be able to take on projects simply because I’m interested in them, with the extra bonus of being paid, which helps our travel fund nicely.  Of course if this is were my main source of earning a living, it could be pretty fairly difficult.

I could probably go on with this list but 300 words into the post I haven’t written a word about Dubai. In my initial post for this series I said I would list 5 things I like and 5 things I am not happy with. So here it goes:

I like it that

1. we can afford to have me stay at home and look after the kids. Many people are forced to work to be able to pay off student loans, mortgages, or simply to make ends meet. Having lived in Hungary I do realise that this is a rare luxury and I am ever so grateful for it.

2. it is much more child-friendly than most of the rest of the world. There are great things you can do and not everything is extortionately expensive.

3. it is multi-cultural. The kaleidoscope of people and languages is truly amazing. It’s an experience that will make the kids tolerant and open. It’s absolutely normal for kids to play with other children of different religions, cultures, skin colours, languages, and customs. I love it when I see how they learn to communicate without any prejudice. Coming from a landlocked, monolingual, quite xenophobic country, this is an experience that makes Sophie and Jasmin better people.

4. it’s a good place to meet very interesting people. Well you can meet interesting people everywhere, of course. However Dubai is a special case in the sense that you have a lot of people with great energies and lot of great ideas lured to come here only to realise that it’s not really what is needed here, so they start doing their own thing to compensate for all they think is missing from their regular employment. Places like the Hub and the Shelter are fantastic places where you can meet people who initiate things like UAELN.

5. we don’t need winter coats. Well, those who lived through the impossibly long, harsh and cold winter this year would know what I mean. Especially when you have to get two children dressed. Yes, the summer is pretty hot but I would still choose air-conditioned heat over -10 in March.

To keep things positive, I decided to give you s ahort list of things I don’t like without dwelling on them too long. So here it goes:

– the censorship of the internet, and the extortionately expensive and poor quality service from telecom companies

– the social injustice and the rampant racism

– the political and the criminal justice system

– the press release regurgitating, manipulative press

– the fact that my carbon footprint is the highest in the world


I can’t say for sure how long the positives will continue to outweigh the negatives, but for the time being at least, I feel as if I am in the right place at the right time, and contributing to the world the best I know how.