Going online makes the entire world her classroom

Representing Udemy in Jacqui’s German village.

Kristen Palana and Jacqui Seidel were each doing their own things as Udemy instructors and business owners before they happened to cross paths on Facebook and found instant chemistry.

Kristen is a multimedia artist, university professor, and author as well as a wife, mother-of-two, and expatriate American living abroad. Currently based in Rome, Kristen took a leave of absence from her university position last summer in order to travel and pursue international projects that speak to her passion for social responsibility and ending global poverty. Soon, she and her family will relocate to a duty station in Myanmar for her German husband’s work with the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

Jacqui opted to learn German as a student growing up in Australia, talked her parents into hosting an East German exchange student, later moved to Germany and married a citizen, and now lives in the Vogtland region teaching English as a second language to business people. As a child, Jacqui’s family moved frequently to places like Papua New Guinea and Samoa for her parents’ work with the UN’s Development Programme, and she learned to see her life relative to the bigger picture of the world. In Australia, she felt like a “third-culture kid,” living in a country that was the homeland for both parents, yet seeing the world through a global lens.

Taking a Facebook connection to the next level
Kristen and Jacqui were both active participants in a Facebook group for women Udemy instructors and got to chatting. They discovered they had a number of things in common: both are expats married to East Germans, both moved abroad in 2006, both had 6-year-old sons, and both were teachers. What really brought them together were their similar quirky senses of humor and shared commitment to social causes. They “drank wine together online,” kept talking, and, eventually, Kristen suggested a joint project.

A year later, they self-published “Free At Last: Live, Love, and Work Abroad as a 21st Century Global Citizen,” full of the tips and advice they picked up during their own international adventures. Now they’re interviewing people for a follow-up book that will go into more depth on working in a foreign country, and they’re in the process of creating companion courses for Udemy.

Collaborating in Rome

Their collaboration has given each the opportunity to visit the other’s home to meet in person. For example, Kristen traveled to Jacqui’s village to shoot the talking-head video for an upcoming course, and Jacqui has spent time in Rome so they could write together. The two women have become fast friends, though they continue to wage war over important issues like whether to use British or American English (they’ve agreed to go with the preferred style of whomever’s computer is being used at the time) and the relative virtues of the Oxford comma (Kristen’s a proponent and seems to be winning that battle).

Udemy as a platform for doing good around the world
Fortunately, Kristen and Jacqui also have compatible goals for their Udemy courses and books, and raking in the dough isn’t a top priority for either. To be clear, both are doing well on Udemy, but they’re more excited about what their Udemy earnings enable them to do for others now.

Kristen started offering Udemy courses as a “fun hobby” while she had a full-time salary and no pressure to supplement it. It’s been a gradual build to her current catalog of 15 courses, which, along with her freelance design work and other projects, allows her the flexibility to travel with her family and reach more students by doing things like a recent stint teaching animation in Ethiopia. Another example, she published a Udemy course on crowdfunding and made an e-book to go with it. Since the material was geared to helping charitable organizations, she decided to give the book away for free when it first launched to everyone enrolled in the course.

In Jacqui’s case, she feels strongly about “doing her part as an expat” to contribute to the community she now calls home and help improve the lives of people in need. She puts the earnings from her 13 Udemy courses toward rent on a flat where she started a clothing collection center for Syrian refugees. Like Kristen, she’s “not the kind of person who posts numbers” in the Facebook groups to impress other instructors. Instead of comparing how much others have earned, “I ask them, whose life have you changed today? Who have you touched?”

Clearly, Jacqui and Kristen both possess an inner drive that would have led them to great accomplishments with or without Udemy. But they never would have found each other and gotten to collaborate on their books and courses, support each other’s work, and enjoy a new friendship. With her Udemy courses performing well, plans to launch new ones, and e-books for sale on Amazon, “I have a great foundation,” Kristen says. “I feel so much freedom on the cusp of this move [to Myanmar],” knowing she can keep working from anywhere, doing the things she cares about, and sharing her expertise with people around the world. Furthering her work to support access to education, she connected with an NGO called Aid Myanmar and has set up a crowdfunding project to enable 23 orphans in Yangon, the town where she’s moving, to attend school.

Jacqui agrees and continues, “It’s not easy to balance running a business with having online courses, creating new ones, customizing materials for my personal clients AND being a fantastic wife and mom AND writing books AND collaborating with someone else—it’s really bloody hard! But we’re demonstrating what’s possible because Udemy and the internet keep us connected. We can get work done and accomplish a lot—and not just from a money-making perspective.”

“This couldn’t have happened without Udemy,” Jacqui concludes. “I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity.”

Kristen teaches MFA students at Addis Ababa University.