Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 28

Valeria Laitinen, International Educator and Administrator

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Show notes

After graduating from Harvard with a B.A. in Government, Valeria Laitinen continued her studies for an M.A. Law and Diplomacy, International Negotiation/Conflict Resolution and Complex Emergencies, and went on to complete a ME.d., in Educational Leadership and Administration. Valeria’s career in education has taken her to international positions in Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Slovakia and Ukraine. Currently, she works at the American Community School in Athens, Greece. You can reach out to Valeria through email at


Key points include:

  • 12:28: Working in Slovakia
  • 17:29: Moving to Ukraine
  • 35:41: Being a part of the Foreign Service community

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Valeria Laitinen, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman and I’m here today with Valeria Leighton, who at Harvard, you may have known by as Valeria Scott, Valeria. Welcome to the show.


Valeria Laitinen  00:20

Hi. Will, thank you so much for having me. I’ve really been enjoying listening to all of the episodes. And I’m thrilled to be here today.


Will Bachman  00:30

Well, that is so kind of you to say. So if you just look at LinkedIn, you have had the itinerant adventure. I mean, I see the places listed. Bangladesh, you’ve worked in Slovakia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine. And I understand that you have some upcoming trips to Armenia. Tell me about your journey. Since Harvard,


Valeria Laitinen  00:54

I would be happy to Yes, it has been quite a zigzag. And I remember, at some point hearing from a much, much older gentleman, that it’s not a career path until you’re at the end, and you take a look back. And so I’m hoping that at some point, I’ll look back. And it all makes a little bit more sense. But sure, it’s been it’s been really fun along the way. So I graduated, hopefully, like many not really knowing what to do. And I ended up in this boutique consulting firm. That was all of the work and none of the pay. So really long hours, and not a lot of compensation for it. And I lasted about a year and a half. And I ran away to France, where I studied French and pretended to look for a job. While I was there, I got a call from a former rugby teammate of mine, actually my coach when I played at Harvard, and then I played with her after college on a women’s team. She was on the US team, and they were going to play the World Championship in Scotland and one of their managers had dropped out and they quickly needed somebody who could run logistics for them. And so I ran off to Scotland for two weeks, watched the best rugby of my life, filled a lot of water bottles, braided hair so that their hair wouldn’t get yanked in tackles, made reservations at Italian restaurants for the team and generally just had a great time. So that lasted about two weeks. And then I went to Italy because I was interested in getting my Italian citizenship. I was born in Italy to an Italian mother and an American father, but at the time I was born. The citizenship laws made me an American, and it wasn’t possible to be Italian. So I thought okay, well, the laws have changed. Let me head over there. So I went to Italy. I was a nanny for a few months. And then I landed a job that no Italian wanted, because it was part time with no benefits. And to me, that sounded wonderful. It was flexible. I worked for a doctor who was head of a European immunology society, and I just kind of organized events for this group. I played rugby in France. I played rugby in Italy, which was really fun. And then I was so I was in Italy for two years. Then I decided to go to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts.


Will Bachman  03:27

Wait, wait, hold on. I got Yeah, this. Was this rugby, like a little pickup League? Or is this like semi pro or something? Tell me about this playing rugby in France.


Valeria Laitinen  03:40

So it was nice, sort of somewhere in between actually a pickup League and semi pro. I mean, these is this was a Women’s League and France. I don’t know how many teams they had. Because when I lived in France, I didn’t have health insurance. And so they begrudgingly let me practice but they wouldn’t let me play. And I didn’t really care because you could see the Eiffel Tower from their practice field. And to me, that was just amazing enough. And then when I got to Italy, I did get some health insurance. And I played on a team there. And what was fun in Italy is that there were only 10 women’s teams. And you know, I was a pretty average rugby player in the US. But in Italy with so few women playing rugby, I wasn’t that bad. So that was fun. So I played for this team outside of Milan, called the Rosa. And we played teams in Rome teams in Bhagavata teams in Venice teams. All of you know the 10 teams that were there. We sort of traveled around so that was a lot of fun.


Will Bachman  04:44

Did they pay you?


Valeria Laitinen  04:46

Oh no. No, no, not at all. It was really it was that’s where the amateur comes in. It was definitely amateur you pay dues to the club to you know where their jersey basically okay,


Will Bachman  04:59

but you’re playing in front Have you’re playing in front of crowds? So


Valeria Laitinen  05:02

how well women’s rugby didn’t really draw that many people. But yes, like, I suppose so. Okay, you’re a play, right? You’re playing, playing and having a great time. That’s awesome. That’s at that age. That’s all that matters.


Will Bachman  05:15

And that was your Italian at that point. Were you able to converse with the other players? And


Valeria Laitinen  05:20

yeah, so I lived my first 13 years in Italy. And so I’m a fluent Italian speaker. Yep. So that was, and I made a point when I got there to not have any American friends at first, because I wanted to make sure that I regained my more than vocabulary more than the accent, I had the accent, but I needed to sort of I left at 13. So I needed to bridge the gap of sort of become an Italian adult as opposed to an Italian child.


Will Bachman  05:52

Okay, great. Okay, so I cut you off, you are just about to go to Tufts Fletcher School.


Valerie Laitinen  05:58

That’s right. So I got to Tufts and wanted to study international relations. I was a gov major at Harvard. And so I did the two week course, I met the man who then became my husband, the very first day of school.


Will Bachman  06:14

And that was very efficient.


Valeria Laitinen  06:17

Right. And the funny thing about this grad program is a huge number of couples actually emerged from this program. That’s not I didn’t know that going in. But it was an interesting statistic while we were there. It was a two year program. In the summer in between I went to Bosnia, to work for the OSC II as a voter registration supervisor. And that was extremely eye opening. When we graduated, my husband, my fiancee at the time, and I went to DC, knowing that we wanted to get overseas at some point. So we, we used DC as our starting off point, I worked for ISIS, which is in election consulting firm, they work with countries around the world with election systems. And a funny story there is one of our projects was in Nigeria, where the Nigerian government wouldn’t allow us by law, we couldn’t open a bank account there. And I had to fly through the Lagos Nigeria airport with $10,000 tucked away around my body and my, my socks, my underwear, my bra. And, you know, it was super scary. And I didn’t tell my husband until I returned that I had done that because I know he would have been super worried. Anyway, I made it through, nobody checked me to I didn’t get patted down or anything. So that was a pretty wild experience, and then going to change that money, you know, $10,000 in us, money isn’t a very big stack necessary compared to the three giant bags of Naira that it it got converted into that I somehow had to very safely in a taxi, get back to our headquarters. So that was that was you know, when you’re young and foolish, and you do those sorts of things, because your path that your boss tells you to do. We stayed in DC for three years, I think. And then my husband joined the Foreign Service. And so Bangladesh was our first assignment. We were there for two years. And there I worked for the Asia Foundation, again, continuing with voter registration, election monitoring, and civil participation. And our daughter Maya was born while I was there, though, I came home to have the baby. I wasn’t Intrepid, like the Dutch who have their babies at home, no matter where they are in the world, which is incredibly impressive. But I came home to York, Maine to have my baby. And then after Bangladesh, we moved to Ottawa, which was really tame after Bangladesh, but we were missing the cold and the snow. And we knew we wanted to have another baby and not be separated for the time that you’re required to by the airlines. And we loved Ottawa, we loved Bangladesh, and we loved Ottawa. And in Ottawa, I decided that continuing this sort of random career of democracy and governance was going to be pretty difficult as we navigated each country. And so I went for a teacher certification through George Mason University, and became a teacher and we lived in Virginia for one year so my husband could study Slovak before going to Slovakia and then we moved to Slovakia for three years and that’s where I had my first teaching assignment. And it just amazing you know, I knew nothing but I’d my student teaching was actually my first year of teaching and man, was it scary? I had second graders but I was more scared than they were then first. You know, few acts of school. Then I got my groove and started to enjoy it. After Slovakia we realized we needed to do a domestic assignment. And so we came home and lived in Silver Spring, Maryland for three years. Okay,


Will Bachman  10:13

I want to Lavaca a couple questions. First, what kind of school are you teaching in? Was it like an American school? Or is it school for a Slovakian kids or?


Valeria Laitinen  10:23

Yeah, great question. It was an international school, it was called quality schools, international Bratislava. And it was it’s part of a group of schools that basically opened schools in all of the newly emerging democracies in the 90s. And so they’re in some pretty fascinating places. And in fact, when we get to it, I’ll just give a little hint. But Armenia, the next country that I’m going to, I’m going back to one of these quality schools international, because they have one there as well. So it was a pretty small school, probably about 400 students from junior kindergarten through 12th grade. And so there was just one class per grade. And I taught second grade. My first year, I had seven students, which actually was a great way to ease into teaching. And then the next year, I had 22, which was a bit of a shocker. And a difficult adjustment, but whatever. So throughout, I’ve worked at international schools, and it’s been really a wonderful experience. And they, they all have a slightly different approach to teaching. So this one has, their approach is a mastery learning approach. And their belief is that all children can learn. It just takes some a little bit longer. And so you learn how to differentiate how to reteach and how to reassess to make sure that everybody gets to the end of the year knowing what they need to know.


Will Bachman  11:56

And we’re teaching on English like to mostly to, was it it was an international school, so is what like all sorts of expats and so forth sending their kids there.


Valeria Laitinen  12:08

Yes. So there were Americans, Israelis? Definitely Slovaks there were some Russians, Koreans, Japanese, French, so a variety of nationalities, but the instruction was in English. And then I think two or three hours a week, they would have the local language.


Will Bachman  12:28

Oh, wow. Okay. And what’s two or three things that I ought to know about Slovakia? Which I probably don’t, because I, that’s one place I haven’t been to, I’d love to go. And my knowledge is pretty much like it used to be Czechoslovakia. And now it’s split up, but Right. I don’t know much about it. So what should I know about Slovakia? Well,


Valeria Laitinen  12:51

hopefully this is still true. But when we were there, it wasn’t very much on the tourist tour itineraries. So it, it’s a wonderful place to explore because there aren’t that many tourists. And the things to explore are castles in various states of Ruin, some still pristine and others really just a pile of rocks, because it was all part of the Austro Hungarian empire. And so they built castles and palaces and, and chateaus sort of throughout the country. There’s skiing there, the hiking is good. You know, we had small children at that time. So we might not have explored it as much as we would have wanted to. But I mean, I think we got around. Once, when we have visitors, then that gives us the opportunity to jump in the car and just go, you can drive from one end to the other sort of within a day. Long day, but you know, it’s it’s definitely worth seeing. It’s really, it’s quite beautiful. All right.


Will Bachman  13:54

So you finished up your tour in Slovakia, and we’re heading next.


Valeria Laitinen  14:00

And we came back to the US. Okay, sure. Tour first. But first opportunity for my kids to learn what it means to be an American to live what their passport says they are. But it was great. You know, it was my daughter was going into first grade my son in preschool and then we stayed there for three years. So they did Community Soccer, they did scouts. They did, poor kids were in before and after care, because that’s sort of what I discovered America is all about, you know, when you have two working parents, you drop them off at seven and you pick them up at seven and luckily they were in this daycare program called kids after hours. That was just wonderful. They It was sort of old school in the sense that they would play dog ball and other sort of games that are not considered okay anymore. And my kids loved it. They were really not very happy when we came Pick them up, even though they were among the last to get picked up. Because I ended up getting a job. We were living in Maryland, but I got a job in Virginia. So that’s the other thing I learned about the US, which was the commuting distances. And I discovered books on tape and podcasts and language tapes. So I know we knew at a certain point, we knew that our next assignment was going to be was Becca, Stan. And so I checked out, Teach Yourself Russian from the library, and I used my commuting time to sort of repeat whatever was coming out of the CD. And it was funny because sometimes you get so in the zone, and you get to the end of the CD, and you think, oh, did I just finish that? What was that? What was the vocabulary of this particular CD? But anyway, it helped. Okay, so really, how


Will Bachman  15:50

often was Beck Uzbekistan? So talk? Yeah, tell me about that.


Valeria Laitinen  15:55

So it was Becca, Stan is fascinating. It was a great place to have kids in elementary school, because at the time, I mean, it’s opening up a little bit, but so it hasn’t changed completely. But at the time, it was a complete dictatorship that was extremely safe, and clean. And the people of Uzbekistan are just absolutely lovely. such nice people, very interested in people from the outside because they don’t get a lot of visitors. A lot of ancient, beautiful cities along the Silk Road to visit. The school was our greatest community it was, you know, that sort of the in the Foreign Service, the more difficult the country, the tighter the community, because you have to be each other’s entertainment and support. And so, and then on top of that, if there’s a school, and this school had beautiful grounds, and so my husband and I started a baseball team there, and I started a Girl Scout troop that’s still going today. And that’s awesome. A friend. Yeah, it was, it was great. A friend of mine, and I started the cross country team that they still have now. So it was it was an opportunity to I don’t know, we just threw ourselves completely into this community and got so much out of it. I would say some of our strongest friendships are, are still from Uzbekistan.


Will Bachman  17:26

And then what happened next?


Valeria Laitinen  17:29

So then we moved to Ukraine, which was handy because we could even though in Uzbekistan, they speak Uzbek as their primary language? Well, I mean, at their official language, and then in Ukraine, they speak Ukrainian as their official language in both countries, you can use Russian so we were able to continue speaking and learning Russian when we went to Ukraine. So So in Uzbekistan, I taught third grade. For three years, we were there at an international school that was about the same size as the one in Slovakia. And then we got to Ukraine, again, similar sized International School. And I again taught third grade. And I was we were there for four years. And that was because my husband had a three year assignment. And then at the end of that he went to Pakistan for the fourth year, and we managed to stay in was in Ukraine, because Pakistan was an unaccompanied assignment. And because I was teaching at the school, and we already had our community set, we decided to stay there rather than come back to the US for a year. And Ukraine is also very beautiful to visit. They have mountains, they have some beaut, well, they had some beautiful cities, we’re, we’re all suffering with them for what’s happening right now in Ukraine. But, you know, it’s very much a part of, of our lives. And also my grandfather was Ukrainian. He came from a Ukrainian Jewish family that left in the 1890s. They fled the pogroms and moved to Chicago. So, part of my time in Ukraine, I tried doing some genealogical research, but unfortunately, so many of the Jewish records had been destroyed. And so we maybe stumbled upon a cemetery that maybe had some relatives, but it was very difficult to, to confirm that. And then move to Ukraine.


Will Bachman  19:40

What was it? Sorry, what was it? What was the time period that you were in the Ukraine, I’m sure in Ukraine, the Ukraine we


Valeria Laitinen  19:45

were in Ukraine from let’s see 2014 to 2018. So we got there just after the MEID on the The Revolution of Dignity. And so when we arrived, in fact, the mighty Dawn was still an encampment for the fighters of freedom. And there was very much in optimistic feeling of, you know, we’re breaking away from Russia. We’re looking towards the west, let’s rebuild. So it was a very exciting time to be there. We were also there when the mullah Malaysian airline was shot down. You know, so there were there were periods of positivity, and then periods where there were things happening in the world that were directly connected to sort of Russia pulling the reins back a little bit.


Will Bachman  20:57

So you got there sort of just after the Russia had invaded the Crimea? And


Valeria Laitinen  21:04

no, no, before before? Well, no, no, you’re right. You’re right. Just Yeah, exactly. Because we were not able to get to Crimea. Yes. So just we got there just after. So


Will Bachman  21:16

that’s a period where, I mean, it was such a period of transition, where they were, I guess, really arming to defend themselves against the further attack, which obviously has now has now come tell me a bit about some of the maybe friends that you’ve made with made with Ukrainians. And what what’s been, you know, how you’ve been following the, you know, the Russian invasion?


Valerie Laitinen  21:44

Yes. Well, my international friends that were still at the school have, they mostly left the country. That and that, you know, obviously, it’s hard for them, because they’re leaving all of their things behind, but at least many of them had places to go. I have Ukrainian friends who have left and are trying to rebuild their lives, my daughter’s piano teacher has left and she’s now in Slovakia actually. And is just trying to find work as a piano teacher. And so she’s reaching out for recommendations and connections. And but again, as a as a third country citizen, I have some friends who are still there, and they’ve decided they’re going to stay in their country and fight both men and women. And because it is their country. And so if there’s a there’s a whole range. I’ve tried to support different organizations that are working in Ukraine, with the effort. I mean, obviously, because of my husband’s work with the US government, I can’t support any of the groups that are providing money for weapons, but I really like world central kitchen and the work that they’re doing. And then some of the local Ukrainian organizations that are working with displaced people know that Ukraine is one of them, that I’ve been working with, as well. So just trying to support them financially. But again, you know, sometimes it feels like just a drop in the bucket. And sometimes, you know, I feel like when I post things on Facebook, it’s, it’s great, except the fact that, you know, most of my friends on Facebook are already aware. So I’m, I wonder often what is something else that I could be doing? The former Peace Corps director has been very, very active, and really highlighting the work of all of his former Peace Corps volunteers. Each of them are running projects in the communities that they lived in. And some of them are arming, you know, supporting buying weapons and other material for military purposes. Others are supporting individual families or the communities that have lost buildings, hospitals, schools, things like that. So you know, I should probably do more. But mostly, it’s just trying to keep in touch with the people that I know and make sure that they’re still okay. And to let them know that people on the outside are still are still care about them and and are doing everything that we can to support them.


Will Bachman  24:35

Well, thank you for that work that you’re doing in support of Ukraine. Tell us where you went next.


Valeria Laitinen  24:45

Okay, so from Ukraine, I, we moved to Greece, which was very unexpected for us because we’ve always sort of had our eye on all developing countries. And this was just a really neat opportunity. Ready to go to Europe. I mean, I suppose Slovakia is as well and Ukraine would like to be part of Europe, but a different kind of Europe. And Greece has been a really wonderful experience. So again, we did three years. And then my husband got his onward assignment to Armenia. So this past year, he has been in Armenia, and I remained in Greece with our son who needed to finish high school. And so again, because I was working at the school, we stayed four years, instead of three. And it was a, it was great for my son, he had a really good senior year and got into a great school. And so it was, it was worth being separated from my husband for the year. And we were lucky because there was a click, click three hour flight between your Yvonne and Athens. And so we made frequent use of fat. The other thing in Greece, I started out as a fifth grade teacher, and then I decided to go for the vice principal position for elementary and got it, which was great. And so concurrently, I completed a master’s in educational leadership from Endicott College, and it was great to be studying while sort of learning on the job, and using what I was learning as case study material for my courses. So I was in leadership at the American Community School in Athens for three years. And that was, that was really fantastic. And so next year, or now in August, I’ll be moving to Armenia to join my husband, where we will have our first assignment without children, which is pretty exciting. Yes,


Will Bachman  26:47

both kids off to college, you’re both kids off to college. Yeah,


Valeria Laitinen  26:51

my daughter is going to be a junior at Barnard, and my son will be a freshman at Northwestern. Which installation fair. Thank you. Thank you. And then one more thing, I just wanted to plug, I’ve just started a new business. I’ve always, well, faith in in Bangladesh, actually, I was asked to teach a course on job searching to graduate and undergraduate students. And I did. And it was a super fun six module course on resume writing cover letters, interview skills, case study interviews. And since then, I got this bug for I’ve always helped people with their resumes, and whether it’s colleagues or friends or friends, children, and I finally decided to just try to do it as a business. And so I’ve this summer, I’ve been trying to come up with a name, my new business is called C V, as in like resume synonym, but also, since Valaria, you need something you need help with something CV, working, obviously, it’s not coming out quite as smoothly as I would like. But that’s the idea. The idea is still in its nascent stage, and I’m sort of working through, you know, what it means to how do you start a business? And how do you register your name? And how do you make a website and all of that, but I have had some customers already without that. So that’s kind of my my new side gig, which I’m very excited about,


Will Bachman  28:33

I am so thrilled to hear that. And I will do something I don’t normally do, which is a self plug, we have a guide that I created on how to set up your own consulting practice. And the lessons are applicable to what you’re doing, and I’ll get you access to it. It’s on and perfect 90 short videos on how to set up your own business. So


Valeria Laitinen  28:58

wow, that’s fantastic. Thank you so much. I look forward to taking a look. Absolutely. There’s so much that you don’t know


Will Bachman  29:05

and listeners you to let me know if you’re interested in getting access. So that is very cool. helping people with their resume and with a career search very valuable. And so what tell me about Armenia you visited a few times tell me about the you know, what, kind of where you’ll be living and what what, what you’ve seen so far if that country?


Valeria Laitinen  29:28

Yes, so we’ll be in year Yvonne, my husband is the deputy chief of mission at the embassy and so there’s a deputy chief of mission residence. And what I really love about Armenia is the hiking it is in fact, CNN just listed it as the 23rd on list of 50 best places to go hiking actually. So the hiking is really beautiful, not particularly well marked. In many places, so you definitely need to have a map and a GPS. But there’s a pretty good app that some Armenians have developed for the hiking routes. And there are beautiful monasteries, because Armenia was the first country to become Christian as a country. So they they declared themselves a Christian country back in, I don’t know, the A long time ago, I don’t have the history right in front of me, but so they have these beautiful churches and monasteries. And they’re really known for their stone carvings that decorate the monasteries. There’s a big lake called Lake Sivan. I don’t know what the water’s like I haven’t, I’ve only driven past it, we haven’t stopped yet. But I’m excited to explore this country. The neighbor, Georgia is a country that we visited a few times from Ukraine, and it’s a five hour drive up to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, the other neighbors are not as friendly with Armenia, and the borders are not open between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Turkey and Iran. So we’ll have to maybe fly to some other places, rather than try to cross the border there. But anyway, I’m, I’m excited to to do more hiking, I will be teaching at the International School, I’ll be teaching fourth grade. And I’m excited to get back into the classroom. After three years of telling my teachers what I think they should do in the classroom. Now it’s my turn to see if they actually work. So I’m really I’m excited to do that and report back to them to tell them oh, well, maybe this one wasn’t really such a good idea. Or Wow, remember, when I told you about this particular approach? You should try it because it really works? Well?


Will Bachman  31:54

What does someone like yourself? Who has lived in this range of countries, many of them developing countries? What do you know, now that you didn’t know, then about how the world works? Or how has it? Or how has it shifted your kind of perception of the world?


Valeria Laitinen  32:20

That’s such a good question. I think that I always had an interest to see many countries and to travel and live in lots of different places. So that has remained constant. When I was really little, I thought I was going to be an international correspondent. AND, and OR when I was even younger, I thought I was gonna become a stewardess, a flight attendant, I thought that was very glamorous when I was a small child. And then I would have an apartment and all the major cities and sort of country hop, which I don’t think is actually how it works. But so but I didn’t pursue becoming an international correspondent. But I always knew that I had this interest in, in visiting so many different countries, and not so much visiting, but really living and understanding the cultures. What has shifted in my perspective, I’m not sure that I can really put my finger on a shift, but I’ve just maintained this appreciation for learning new languages and learning cultures and foods. And, and, and really, it’s the language in particular, I think, one I can’t remember who it was, but somebody on your show was talking about how she tried to learn the language before she travels. And and it’s so true, because it gives you such a different outlook on how language how they use language, how do they greet each other even? Or what do they say before they have a meal together? Or how do they do they refer to family members? And it helps you understand the culture on a level that you wouldn’t if you don’t have access to that language. What else? I mean, I guess I’ve it has, it has emphasized that people are nice everywhere. People are mean everywhere, you know, they’re that that there are certain character traits that we all share. And so it’s important that we don’t generalize one culture is a certain way and another culture is in that way, and that we just try to find people within each culture that we can connect with. Food is a big connector. Children are a big connector. So actually, it’ll be interesting being without children at this next post. I think that you know, when kids especially our elementary school aged it’s so much easier to connect with people as you move from place to place and then when you become a adults without children, you lose that crutch or that that in to a certain club and you have to work a little bit harder to make friends. I’ll have to let you guys know how that goes.


Will Bachman  35:13

Tell me a little bit what it’s like being part of this foreign service community. And yeah, what’s that? Like? Do you get to invited to other people’s houses or parties? Or is there a lot of interaction between the missions of different countries? What’s that, like being abroad and being part of that community?


Valeria Laitinen  35:41

That’s a great question. It really depends. It varies from country to country. And, and sort of how I would say, in the more developing countries, where you’re having to make you’re more of a social life, there is a lot more interaction between nationalities. And so a lot more people get invited to the National Day celebrations. So each country has their National Day celebration. And that’s such a great opportunity to meet diplomats from all over and sample really delicious food. In countries that are more developed, where people have their own lives, and it’s easy to find your own entertainment, there’s a lot less interaction on a diplomatic level where spouses are involved. I think in this next assignment, I will be much more involved because as the deputy chief of mission, he will have more responsibility to host Rebs representational events, and also attend them. And he, because of his role, he will get a plus one invitation. And when he does, I tend to pick and choose based on the food or, you know, depending on what I have going on, because it’s been very important for me to have a job everywhere that we’ve lived. And that’s partly why I got into education. When I first started teaching, I wasn’t even sure if I was gonna like it. And it turns out that I absolutely love it. And I’m much better at it than I was at any of the other jobs that I’ve had prior to teaching. But it’s, I see that spouses that do not work are they have to work a lot harder to be happy and to find activities for themselves. And I that was, I knew that would just make me go nuts. And so teaching has been a great opportunity for me to make sure that I am gainfully employed, and I’m making my own friends because in some spouses are able to work within the US Embassy, which is a great program. And I really am so pleased that the State Department has created more and more opportunities for spouses to work because that is it’s important for us to be fulfilled as well. But I wouldn’t necessarily prefer a job at the embassy because I’d rather have my work, my issues, my friends, and then at dinner, we can share what we want rather than go into the minutiae of what’s happening at the embassy. But I but you know, he’s very excited for me to join him in Armenia after spending his first year there. Without me, we are a complete set. And so I think that parties and receptions will be a lot more fun for him as well, if I’m there with him, so we can share these experiences together. Party on


Will Bachman  38:43

that sounds like fun. Were there any courses or professors that you had at Harvard that have continued to resonate for you?


Valeria Laitinen  38:57

I really enjoyed the Cultural Revolution course by Professor MacFarquhar. And I’m not sure that it’s necessarily had laughing. I mean, it made a lasting impression on me just in terms of my interest in history. My interest then I absolutely love reading historical fiction about any time period in any country, but I thought he was just so amazing. Again, he started as an international correspondent in China and lived there for many years. And I just remember this one class, we were in Sanders Theater, and he was trying to help us understand how all encompassing the Communist Party was and how they really pulled people in. He stood at the podium with the red little red book in his hand, and he started chanting, and he told told us what to repeat. And his chanting got more and more frantic. And the whole Sanders Theater kept repeating and increasing volume and increasing sort of intensity until, like, we had no idea what we’re shouting. But when we finally got to the end, we all felt like we had been part of this incredible indoctrination. And we were all ready to sign that Little Red Book and take it and go forth with the communist sticks, you know, agenda, which, you know, was not at all, what, what most of us really were purporting at all, but he was so powerful. And he was such a great speaker, he had such a great voice. And he picked really great readings as well. So I really loved that course. I really loved also the Civil Rights course with Julian Bond. And I mean, maybe I just really liked courses with professors that had great voices. Even. He did, he then did. Was it a burned series on the civil rights. Or anyway, his voice is also great, but also, it was so eye opening, not having lived in the US until high school, where I had to do a lot of catching up in terms of American history and understanding really what the US is about, kind of like I did to my kids, it was really important for me to understand or understand that period of history. And he was really fantastic. And then I took a course that I never would have thought at the time would have be relevant to me at all. But it was called television and children’s development. And it was taught by one of the creators of Sesame Street, and it was at the Ed School. And at the time, I just took it for fun. But I found myself sort of trying to go back to some of those readings as I became a teacher to just kind of, you know, obviously, things fall out of fashion and, and, you know, what’s television anymore anyway, but it was it. It was a neat, beginning to my education career, I guess, having taken that class. So I mean, I really I liked Harvard, I loved it. But I had no idea what I was doing. I was a gov major, but I felt like I was a sheep following everybody else ever. You know, it was the biggest major and I really didn’t know what I wanted to major in. And that sounded good enough to me. It was I sort of started specializing then later in grad school, first at Fletcher, and then for my master’s in leadership. But anyway, rugby was was everything to me at Harvard. That’s pretty much for that was my my whole life. Plus my roommates,


Will Bachman  42:56

beyond spinning two weeks as a manager, and then playing rugby in Europe. How else have the lessons from rugby stayed with you?


Valeria Laitinen  43:09

Yes, that’s such a great question. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, because my daughter is playing rugby. She’s playing she’s on the Columbia team at Barnard doesn’t have their own team. And she’s a match secretary. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I was the president of the Radcliffe rugby team for a year. And what I’ve learned in rugby is how to be tough. And because in rugby, you get tackled, and you’ve got to get up and your team needs you. There’s no stopping of the clock if someone gets tackled. And so I learned to be scrappy, and and get up, brush myself off and look around and see okay, where’s the ball now I need to go get the ball again. And as well as kind of what it means to be a club sport that doesn’t have any funding. So as a president, I had to figure out whose cars were we going to commandeer for the weekend because we needed to get to our tournament and you know, who has family in Connecticut that we can all crash at their place? Because we’re playing a tournament down there and you know, how are we going to eat and all of those logistics and so I think that really helped shape a lot of my work ethic I guess. And and just in my Drive and you know, this kind of need to prove that okay, I’m little but I’m tough. So you know, don’t mess with me kind of thing.


Will Bachman  44:45

Valeria. Where can listeners find you online? Perhaps be they interested in your resume service or just wanting to reconnect with you? Where would you want people?


Valeria Laitinen  44:57

I have my very first email address. us that I got back in 96. So it’s I do have a Gmail address, but I forget to check it. So Hotmail is the best place to start. I’m also on Facebook, I’m on LinkedIn. And I will, at some point, after I’ve taken your course, I will have a website set up for my business. But right now that’s in progress. I’m on Twitter, but not really. So probably Facebook, LinkedIn, and email are the three best places to reach me


Will Bachman  45:39

many ways to find you. Yeah. So listeners, if you go to 92, you can sign up for an email where I will let you know about the latest episode. And if you are so inclined to give the show a five star rating on iTunes that helps other people discover the show. Valeria. Thank you for joining. This was so much fun hearing about your journeys around the world. Incredible what you’ve done, and congratulations and good luck in Armenia.


Valeria Laitinen  46:10

Thank you so much. And I really appreciate that you’re doing this. It’s just such a pleasure to hear from all of our classmates. And again, it’s been super refreshing to know that I’m not the only one with impostor syndrome. And you know, just It’s great to meet virtually all of these classmates that I keep not being able to meet at reunions, because I’m always overseas, but I hope to make the next one. So thank you so much. Well,


Will Bachman  46:38

fantastic. Well, we hope to see you there at the 35th Blair Yes. Thanks for joining