Why Apto? CEO Traci Snowden Explains...
Adapting to Life in America Isn’t Easy…but It Can Be!
Growing up in a cross-cultural, bi-lingual family, I remember the magic…and pain…of not quite fitting in. Being different was cool – until it wasn’t. It’s not easy feeling like you are on the outside looking in.
“You lived on a reservation? Oh cool! What was that like?” “Ummm, I don’t know. I was a kid…it was normal.” But as psychology tells us – we gravitate towards what is normal. And normal is very relative. But to me – learning how to be myself and yet still fit in in any culture WAS normal – even when it was painful and hard to adjust. Learning a new language in a new environment means learning a new culture and vice versa.
My life has been a series of one cross-cultural experience after the next. Being a poor kid amongst my rural, working class Indiana family…growing up Native…moving to upper middle class white America, after leaving all my best friends who were African American, Native American, Hispanic, Indian…Studying abroad in Germany…becoming best friends with a Brazilian…working with clients from Mexico, Japan, China, Korea, Russia. Living with a Nigerian-American whose best friends are Polish, Indian, Bahamian…you get the picture. Makes you want to sing “It’s a small word after all” like they do on the Disney ride.
But it’s these experiences that made me who I am - made my heart and mind fertile ground for the international community. In fact, these experiences are some of the greatest contributors to my life-long happiness and for internationals who re-locate and adapt successfully – most feel the same way. You can’t beat the feeling and knowledge you gain from living outside of your comfort zone. You build relationships and create memories that you can hold onto forever – that make you a more fulfilled person.
After studying abroad, I came home determined to put my foreign language skills and experiences to use, but what I found was an overwhelming demand for ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers – not foreign language teachers. I worked as a private ESL tutor for a company that paired me with ex-pat families who would come to America weeks in advance of their actual re-location date in order to experience American English and culture firsthand and prepare themselves and their families for their new lives in America. Of course, these families were the privileged, fortunate few. The majority of relocating expats never have that opportunity. And it was from these experiences that I gleaned that spending time in-country and learning culture and language in scenario based contexts is hands-down the most efficient and effective way to learn to adapt and thrive. Over the next decade I honed my teaching methodology working with hundreds of ex-pat learners and their families; but more than that, my life became happier and more enriched. I woke up one day and realized that I had friends from all over the world, some of whom had become like family to me. I also realized that my contribution to their life had made them happier, more fulfilled people in the process – giving them a quality of life in American culture they may not have achieved on their own.
Imagine how exciting but scary it would be if you found out tomorrow that you were moving to Thailand in 2 months. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to explore Thailand, but you don’t speak the language and you’re not really familiar with the culture. Your head begins to reel with unanswered questions. What happens if I get sick or there’s an accident? What will I eat there, and how will I make friends? Now, imagine that same scenario if you knew that there would be a friend who spoke both English and Thai who could help get you prepared. Imagine that friend would pick up the phone and come over to help teach you anytime you needed them. Any scenario you were concerned about they could use to help you learn the language and understand the culture, and even better, they would stay with you until you were comfortable you no longer needed their help. This is the heart of Apto. Apto is designed to simulate your target country’s cultural-linguistic experience; it’s also designed to be that friend/teacher who walks you through the experience and explains as you go along. Apto will be there for you before you leave, after you arrive, and for as long as you need it, through any scenario you can imagine.
So, why Apto? Why did I assume risk, debt and spend most of my savings (along with my co-founders savings to get this off the ground?)
One of Apto’s key differentiators is that we are just as much a social enterprise as we are a business, and that means that user needs, goals, and experience drive development to create value that is lasting. It also means that we deal with the informal and regional language skills that other companies do not. Why? Because we know those skills are significantly more relevant to our learner community’s success after re-location than any formal language options available. Because adapting to life in America as an international isn’t easy – but it can be! We wanted to create something bigger and better than your average online English lesson. We truly understand the magic and pain of fitting in in a new culture. Because we care…about you and yours.