OZB People: 10 Questions for Sarah Chown – teacher, businesswoman and architecture enthusiast

1.    Please tell us about who you are and what you do.

Born in London, I grew up in Wimbledon Park (Wandsworth), not far from the famous tennis courts. When I was 25, I moved to Paris where I lived for 20 years. Almost half my life.
I first came to Romania with a friend via a French association in 2000 that worked with children living in the gas pipes under the Gara de Nord. From the moment the plane touched down, I had the indescribable feeling that I had come home. The visit was an unforgettable, humbling experience.
Over the next 15 years, I came to Romania several times a year to work with charities, visit friends and explore different parts of the country for holidays.
I moved to Bucharest permanently in 2015. I am not an ex-pat. I’m an immigrant. I am here to stay. This is home.
That’s the very short version of a very long story.
What do I do? I am an English teacher, trainer and coach, and the owner/director of The Cat’s Whiskers SRL. I equip people with the tools they need to get to where they want to be in their English usage by blending teaching methods and NLP coaching techniques, blasting away trauma of negative past learning experiences and confidence issues. Frankly, it’s the best job in the world.

2.    Share your backstory with us. How did your business or organisation come about and what was it that switched you on to this area in the first place?

With a background in nursing that got scuppered due to a back injury, I moved to Paris in ’95 where I began working in distribution and commerce but did my back in again so needed something more sedentary. I answered an ad in the papers and got my first English teaching job in a business language school, rue de Passy, in ’98 with zero experience and zero grammar knowledge. The lovely lady who hired me was mad enough to think I’d be good at it. She threw Murphy’s ‘Essential Grammar in Use’ at me, and told me to go home and learn it as i had a lesson on the present perfect (the what?! I come from the sacrificed generation who didn’t learn English grammar at school. French and Latin? Yes. English, no) in 3 days time – 8 students from EDF. Yikes.
I loved teaching with a passion, adored creating material, devising memo-techniques, games for language practice and watching as my students blossomed with confidence, found their wings and took flight.
With no useful qualifications in teaching to open doors, I went back to school, got a BA in English Lit from Goldsmiths by correspondence, did my CELTA so I could come to Romania for a sabbatical year teaching at the British Council (2007-8), then did the Cambridge DELTA followed by NLP training with Susan Cortese (Discernys, Paris).
By the time I left for Bucharest, I’d been teaching for over 15 years in the business world.
After 3 years in Bucharest teaching for the British Council, I decided it was finally time to branch out on my own. The Cat’s Whiskers SRL was born and the rest is history.

3.    What do you think or hope the future has in store for you and your business? Where do you see yourself or your organisation five years from now?

I have no idea, to be honest. This pandemic has taught us that looking as far ahead as 5 years is a bit like shooting at mosquitoes in thick fog. All I know is that I have the best job in the world in a country I love dearly and I do not foresee changing either.

4.    How has lockdown been for you and for your business and what have you done that has helped you personally and professionally?

Lockdown was a real lesson in getting on with it. March and April were wild frenzies of mad creativity to come up with a plethora of online classes PDQ and very little sleep as a result. Using online platforms was a challenge. So much extra work was, however, a godsend that cut me off from all the fear and worry going on ‘out there’. May and June were easier, as by then I was armed and fully prepared.
Income-wise, it had very little effect. My work schedule remained unchanged via Zoom, Skype and Teams right through lockdown, for which I am immensely and eternally grateful – and painfully aware that others were not as lucky.

5.    What’s your take on Bucharest and Romania. What are the highs and the lows in your opinion?

I live in Bucharest and love the old architecture, the galleries and museums, the wide range of good theatre and music, the mysteries and surprises of doorways, courtyards and unexpected side streets. It infuriates me when people say Bucharest is ugly or there’s nothing to do. What? Open your eyes, for goodness sake!
Bucharest is a city on the go with an energy all of its own that either grabs you or it doesn’t. I was most definitely grabbed.
As a country, Romania has many regions of breathtaking, drop-dead beauty. Add to that a rich, tumultuous history and, of course, the wonderful people. There’s just so much to see, explore and discover. Romania deserves to be better known and loved – by Romanians as well as foreigners.

6.    What is your must do/must visit/favourite thing to do or show off to visitors here in Bucharest and Romania at large?

A concert at Ateneul Roman is my number 1 must – beauty, music and history lesson (from the magnificent frieze) all in one.
Beyond Bucharest, lovely Braşov would be my first choice, along with the nearby fortified Saxon villages – Prejmer, Harman, Rupea…

7.    What is your number 1 recommendation now for a book/film/series/app/ or gadget?

Books (all number ones): ‘Ora 25’ – Virgil Gheorghiu
‘Noaptea cand cineva a murit pentru tine’ – Bogdan Suceava
‘A Stake in Transylvania’ – Arabella McIntyre-Brown
Series: Unorthodox, Shtisel, The Crown
Film: 84, Charing Cross Road
App: BBC iPlayer Radio
Gadget: Last gadget bought was a thingy to make courgette curls. Brilliant.

8.    If you could eat in any restaurant in all of Romania and have dinner with anyone in the world (not a husband/wife/relative) which restaurant would that be and with which person?

I can’t choose one, so can I have a dinner party? Ion Ratiu, Monica Lovinescu, Cella Delavrancea, Toma Caragiu and Ion Luca Caragiale. A mixed bag but what an evening that would be. Where? Here at home, Romanian style. I make pretty good sarmale 🙂 I may have to borrow a larger dining table…

9.    Sum up your business in one sentence, what it is and why should people engage with it.
See last paragraph of Question 1 🙂

10.     Describe your Romania in one word.

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