The value of immersive 1-1 tuition (& Ikigai)

There is a concept in Japanese philosophy called Ikigai (ee-key-guy) that combines the terms iki, meaning ‘alive’ and gai, meaning ‘benefit’ or ‘worth’.

When combined, these terms mean that which gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose. In France, they might say: ‘raison d’être’, or reason for living. In the UK we might call this a vocation.

The basic premise is that Ikigai can be found at the intersection where one’s passions and talents converge with what the world needs and is willing to pay for.

Growing up I did not think I would be a tutor, although looking back, it makes sense that I find myself working full-time as one now. My grandfather was a housemaster at Eton College and my father grew up in the boarding house.

They both founded and started a tutorial college in South Kensington which still operates today. Perhaps education was always in my genes.

At school I was a precocious debater and naturally grew up wanting to be a lawyer. After studying at Duke University in America I returned to the UK to study Law with a view to becoming a Barrister. I was drawn to the criminal Bar as a way of helping others; as a way of helping people not only by being their voice, but by helping them find their own voice.

I worked in the USA for Reprieve assisting with capital trial appeals. As the son of a Texan mother, the state’s bloodthirsty ‘eye for an eye’ approach to crime never made sense to me. However, it was that same passion to help others; to make complex information simple without being simplistic that drew me in.

Once I graduated with a First-Class degree in Law, I received a place on the prestigious Inns of Court Bar Course. I had a decision to make. I had been tutoring part-time in the holidays and alongside university for over eight years.

It was a rich and rewarding job and getting to know students and their families over a long-term period appealed. If I’m honest, the state of the Criminal Justice System in the UK went a long way to persuading me too.

Growing up, I was privileged to have the opportunity to travel. From a young age, my parents instilled in my siblings and me the value of new perspectives. Tutoring offered the chance to travel and to explore the world. My mind was made up. I chose to pursue tutoring as my full-time career. Fast-forward a year and today I have the privilege each day of helping my students to grow and to find their voice. To nurture a seed of curiosity and watch it grow into a passion is incredibly rewarding. I work with students all over the world, from Hong Kong to Ghana, Singapore to New York.

For the last two months of this summer, through Bonas MacFarlane, I have worked on a residential assignment in India. I have travelled with my student and his wider family all over the country and been exposed to a completely new culture. I have seen the national flag raised – as an awkward Brit – on Indian Independence Day. I have planted native trees in the forests of Rajapalayam, lived in an Ashram in Tirruvanamalai, and visited a meditation centre in an experimental ‘moneyless’ society called Auroville.

Cows in the middle of the road and eating with my hands have become norms. My English presumption that queuing is universal – think supermarkets and airport check-ins – has been shattered. Most importantly, my faith in the value of immersive 1-1 tuition has been strengthened.

There has been tangible growth in my student in terms of his 11+ scores, but beyond numbers on a page, he has developed a willingness to learn, an inquiring mind, and a desire to apply and bring that knowledge to his day to-day life (often during intense ping pong matches) and to the dinner table. To me, to his parents and grandparents, these developments have been priceless.

Currently, between residential tutoring jobs, I live in Bali, Indonesia and teach students online. I also consult on all aspects of university entrance and specialise in guiding students from British schools through to gaining places at top American colleges. Thanks to Bonas MacFarlane’s global network, I have the freedom and flexibility to travel and work from anywhere in the world. In Bali I also teach English to young children living in the direst straits of poverty.

For them, English language skills can help to lift their families out of the circumstances they were born into. I find this work fulfilling alongside my 1-1 clients.

Today I have found my Ikigai. It is thanks to Bonas MacFarlane that I can keep it wherever I find myself in the world.

by Will Marsden, Tutor at Bonas MacFarlane Education