Teaching Emotional Intelligence In Kosovo: The Story of US Teacher Mark Lake

From jobs around the world, Mark Lake fell upon Kosovo to teach emotional intelligence. Here is his inspiring journey.

Mark Lake was born in the mid-1950s in Texas, surrounded by oilfields and cattle. He grew up riding a horse and driving a tractor. When he was 18, he went off to university and graduated in Quantitative Analysis and Accounting with many honors from Baylor University. 

After, he began his career in 1979 as a tax CPA at the Houston office of Arthur Andersen & Co. Life took many unexpected turns as he shifted from different careers. He left tax accounting after four years and went into real estate tax shelters and sales. 

In 1987 he moved from Houston to work for AIG in Atlanta, GA, switching to investment insurance marketing. 

Then in 1994, after leaving AIG and teaching marketing in St. Petersburg, Russia, he went to work for Transamerica Financial Advisors in Los Angeles. In 2008, he retired as the Marketing Vice President of Transamerica Financial Advisors and came to Kosovo. 

This was the fulfilment of his life dream, to live and work outside the US. 

Ever since 2015, I have been one of Mark’s students and friends. His amazing journey towards seeking meaning and fulfilment was always inspirational to me.

That is why I sat with him, and asked him a few questions – so we could provide the readers with a clue on why they should invest in developing emotional intelligence.


The Origins of Mark Lake and Emotional Intelligence

How did you come up with the idea of teaching an “Emotional Intelligence” course?

Each summer since 2006, “Qiriazi” centre holds a Servant Leadership Program in Rugova, in Kosovo’s beautiful mountains. 

In 2012, Colonel Darko Kreiner, USAF (retired), led our leadership programme on Emotional Intelligence. 

I had never heard of EQ (emotional intelligence) before. It was so fascinating that we invited him back each summer to continue. 

By 2015, a long-time Qiriazi participant, said I needed to focus on EQ also in our university courses. 

He said there are many conflicts happening between people of Kosovo because they don’t understand how to deal with personal conflict and relationships. 

My long-time friend had collected scores of books and videos on the topic, and we spent weeks and months discussing ideas, until we decided how we were going to bring this idea to life, through an English conversational course.


And how was your idea brought to life? 

The topic of emotional intelligence was relatively new to me; I had never heard of it before Colonel Kreiner. 

After months of research and discussion with other Qiriazi students, I put together our first EQ course of videos with experts, workbooks and activities that I adapted to be used by Kosovar students. 

Along with this the need arose to expand the class for more students. It’s impossible to have an effective conversation class with more than 20 students. 

Teaching Emotional Intelligence In Kosovo The Story of US Teacher Mark Lake 1
Out Of The Classroom: Mark Lake with his students

Borrowing the small group format from the summer training program, experienced Qiriazi students became small group leaders in the courses, allowing a conversational class of 50+ students. 

However, one should bear in mind that EQ is a wide field. Ever since 2015 I’ve continued to research and prepare different courses related to it. 


Heading For The Balkans

Why choose Kosovo in the first place? 

I spent a summer in Europe, including Yugoslavia, in 1979 after I graduated from university. Since that time, I have been fascinated with the USSR and the Eastern Bloc. 

Then in 1993, with glasnost occurring in communist Russia, I left AIG and taught business marketing in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

I was mesmerised as I witnessed first-hand the greatest political meltdown of the 20th Century. This was when I first saw myself through the eyes of another culture as Russian friends would tell me what they observed about me and Americans. 

Since 1997, I visited the Philippines, Thailand, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, China, Hong Kong, and Cameroon. Some of these were teaching trips, others were work/observation projects. 

Throughout these trips I kept considering where I could go and spend my life instead of having to return to the US. 

When I learned about Kosovo and the teaching opportunities here after the war, it was an easy choice. I remembered touring Yugoslavia in 1979, I love mountains and being near the sea, like the opportunities in southern California. 

 What were your expectations? 

Because I had taught English in China, marketing in Russia, spent time in Africa, coming here wasn’t a surprise. I had lived in soviet architecture several times before. 

I had studied Russian history, German war history. I had lived in glasnost Russia when the entire economic system was collapsing. 

When I came to Kosovo in 2008, two months after independence, I found it to be better than Russia in 1993, so for me it felt like a step forward. 

What I didn’t expect was to meet so many pro-American, English-speaking young people who were so eager to learn. That is what has motivated me to continue teaching for all these years. 


 Learning Together

How did young people in Kosovo respond to your courses? 

Based on the large number of applications and students each semester, the topic has connected with them. 

Students continuously write to me about what they have learned about themselves and the experiences they got to live throughout the courses. 

As one wrote, he spent all his university career learning formulas and theory, never once about how to apply his earned knowledge or how he should work with others. 

He said the EQ course was one of his best experiences, where these gaps of practical knowledge were actually filled.  

Do you think there is still much work to be done, to raise awareness on the need for the development of emotional intelligence? 

Yes, improving your EQ is a life-long process, I wish I had known about it years before in my business career. 

We see lack of EQ in politics, government, business, and management as examples. Some people look at EQ as a psychological topic because it deals with emotions. 

I continue to have situations that I must stop and reflect on to respond differently than I would have earlier. EQ is more important for career success than just technical knowledge or IQ. 

Those with a perfect GPA or high IQ who know little about themselves and how they affect others will be limited in their life fulfilment and success. Learning how to relate with people above, beside, and below you is one of the greatest career boosters you can develop through time. 


The Last Word 

What is your advice for people who are trying to improve themselves in this aspect? 

Learn about the topic by reading books about EQ, EI, or Emotional Intelligence. Watch TED talks, search for YouTube videos, look for online courses and find a friend to go through the learning process together! 

Luckily, EQ is a skill you can work on, and the best skill you should be working on!

Want more on EQ? How about this?

High Emotional Intelligence: A Blessing or a Burden?

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