Vassar Quarterly - Spring/Summer 2017 - 19
A Cottage in France
Caroline Zilboorg '70
CAROLINE ZILBOORG '70 has become what Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky
calls "a micro-entrepreneur." Originally from New York City, she has
lived in Europe since 1995. In 2000, she bought a house and adjacent
cottage outside Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France, and gutted the
cottage. ("It was a pig sty-literally, a stable for pigs!" she says.) In 2003,
she listed the cottage as a short-term rental. In addition to bookings
through its own website, it can also be reserved through VRBO, Trip
Advisor, and Airbnb.
Zilboorg, a retired writer of academic books and biographies, says
earnings from her rental supplement her small pensions. This places
Zilboorg among the 37 percent of Pew Research respondents who said
they use the income "to fill in gaps in their other sources of income."
She makes about $10,000/year through her cottage, which sleeps
up to four people and is in a short-term-rental-heavy area. Charging
$90/night, Zilboorg, who has hosted hundreds of visitors spanning the
globe, says most guests stay for seven nights, yet, "even those who stay
for a fortnight say they wish they could stay longer. It's a really nice feeling that they had a good time and are sorry to leave!"
While Zilboorg enjoys hosting, she says it's a lot of work. (She does
all of the cleaning and laundry herself.) But she likes connecting socially
and being helpful to those who pass through.
"I have met nearly all my guests and like welcoming them in person.
When guests seem particularly interesting, I often have them in for a
glass of wine. I've driven guests to the local garage when they've had car
problems, for example, and I've made dinner reservations for guests
who don't speak French."
Language Learning with italki
Jim Leu '94
JIM LEU '94 KNOWS A LOT about the importance of language and communication. He is the Director of Services
and Operations for the Shanghai-based language-learning
company italki. Founded in 2007, the company began as a
social network for language exchange and by 2009 had
launched a teacher marketplace.
"Every expat who goes to Shanghai is trying to learn
Chinese, and almost every single Chinese person is trying
to learn English," says Leu, who was born in Taiwan and
raised in northeastern Ohio. "As an online sharing forum,
italki connects people wanting to learn a language with
As part of the company's mission "to help people become
fluent in another language by communicating with people
around the world," italki has more than 4,000 active teachers giving language lessons in more than 70 languages-
English being most popular, followed by Spanish, French,
Chinese, and Japanese. The site even offers endangered
languages such as Native American Blackfoot and South
According to Leu, as long as you speak a language fluently, you can be a teacher. "Anyone who has become fluent
in a foreign language has spent time
"Anyone who has
speaking with real people," says Leu,
become fluent in a
"not playing online games and memforeign language has
orizing words and grammar."
At italki, teachers determine
spent time speaking
their own rates, teaching schedules,
with real people."
and courses. Rates are often as low
-Jim Leu '94
as $6/hour-unheard of in the United
States. "If you're a Chinese teacher in the middle of China
or a Spanish teacher in Venezuela, that's a great teaching
rate," says Leu. Among the students, tutors, and professional
teachers, italki has created a global network of nearly two
VA S S A R Q u A R T E R LY