By Liene Salmina
Where do you come from and what’s your background?
I am originally from Toronto, Canada and I left Canada in August 2000 to start my international teaching career. It was only meant to be for two or three years, but now, 21 year later, here I am at ISR. It has been much longer than I thought it would be. I have lived and worked in seven countries, not including Canada. They are: Bahrain, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Singapore, Georgia, Albania and now Latvia.
Is being an educator part of your family path?
Yes, actually it is. There are a number of educators in my family. My mom was a teacher as were two of my uncles and three of my aunts. Being an educator has continued in my generation for three of us. The youngest part of the family is still growing, so we are not sure the paths they will take.
What criteria determined your destinations? Job positions offered or cultural interest?
Georgia was a bit purposeful because I wanted to move there, and Azerbaijan as well because a former colleague moved there and we worked really well together . The others were mainly positions offered as well as the information shared with me about the schools and location. I had to be excited about the choice I made, both the location and the position. After Vietnam, where I was introduced to the IB, I have always looked for IB schools.
This is one of the reasons why I chose Latvia since ISR was a candidate school for the IB Diploma programme. While in Albania I went through two verifications, one for DP and one for MYP, therefore I was excited to introduce the DP to another school.
Is ISR the first time for you as a Principal?
In Albania I was Head of Secondary, which is actually the same position as here Principal.
This is the first year that ISR is implementing the IB DP, what are your comments?
The students are loving it, although it’s been a steep learning curve for them. But they are very excited to be part of the first cohort and they are excited about the learning taking place and activities in which they are engaged. I am very excited to be working with them as the first DP group of students.
Why do you love the IB as an educator?
The IB has a philosophy I connect with. I like the important focus on soft skills and also the learner profile, the attributes that develop what I consider what human beings should be. The IB develops characteristics for personality development. It’s not the only thing that matters for personality development but I like their global perspective and the holistic approach to the students’ education which runs through all four IB programmes.
How are Riga and the position at ISR differ from other work experiences?
It has not differed a whole lot from the Head of Secondary in Albania, there is a different national and cultural makeup of students here. In Albania it was predominantly Albanian students while here there is much broader diversity of student and teacher nationalities.
What are the biggest differences in terms of mentality and cultures from your perspective?
The most unexpected thing and what I did not find in my research about Latvia is the strength and depth of the roots surrounding the Arts. By that I mean the artistic communities such as opera, theatre, ballet, musical events, art exhibitions, etc. … I was not expecting it at all, but I am truly enjoying it. Pre Covid you could go to some type of cultural event every evening and these events are not only limited to the capital city of Riga, but extend to smaller communities around the country. I have never lived anywhere else where this is available and find it to be unusual, but a wonderful opportunity to experience culture. To me it shows the importance and value of culture to Latvians and their willingness to support it.
I have heard you like to rent a car and travel around Latvia, where have you been?
I have been to Liepāja, Cēsis, up and around the Kolka peninsula, Jelgava, and the Ceriņu (lilac) festival in Dobele since they are one of my favorite trees. I have also spent time in Plavinas and Vietalva cross-country skiing when there is sufficient snow. I still want to travel more within the county and wish to enjoy more cultural events when they open up again.
Your observations about people in Latvia and their interactions?
I have found people here very nice and I know it might seem surprising because when I say it to Latvians they look at me with irony “What? Friendly and helpful, really?”’ They are friendly and helpful to me, perhaps it is because I am a foreigner and maybe they are different amongst each other. Once I was just looking at my phone waiting for my taxi and a man approached and asked how he could help since he thought I was lost and trying to find something on the map. It was a thoughtful gesture and to me, demonstrated the friendliness and helpfulness of Latvians. Regarding communication with people who do not speak much or any English, throughout my experiences living and travelling abroad and in different cultures, I feel I have become an expert in charades and gestures. Also, you can often understand some things because of context. Of course, we have phones with google translate today so that helps significantly. So I feel comfortable almost anywhere. Patience is a key actually. You just have to be patient to understand what is being communicated to you and vice versa, and be ready to laugh sometimes. That often goes a long way in getting help.
This is just the beginning of 2021, the time everyone set up new goals and wishes. What are yours?
My biggest wish for ISR is to have our students back and to have classes face to face again. The students also want to be back. I know that even if some do not admit it, we all miss it and each other and want to be back at the school. I will always remember back in August when we returned, one Grade 11 student said, “I never thought I would say this but I missed being at school and I am glad to be back!”