Dafina Suciu: What does the International School mean to you as a project?
Simona BACIU, founder of The International School in Cluj-Napoca: The International School is my second nature. This would be the definition of my professional career and of my beliefs. It is a larger version of my family. It is a project in which I have faith, a project in which I have invested passion and time and which brings a new hope every day.
D.S.: Where did the idea to implement such a project in Cluj come from?
S.B.: The education is my greatest passion and I think that when one’s passion and profession merge, the results can be extraordinary. I have always been interested in education and I’ve had the great opportunity to travel a lot, to visit foreign schools, to perceive the real side of the educational process, which made me wish to bring it here. I saw a light – called Education – at the end of the tunnel long before many other people. I thought that the Romanian children must have the same chance and willingness to study, to learn and to discover the education, just as the children from the well-developed schools I had visited. The International School is, in fact, a dream come true in many corners of the world, which I wanted to fulfil at home as well.
D.S.: When and where did you decide: “Yes, I must go back to Romania and develop such an educational project?”
S.B.: (The answer is very prompt – r.n.) It was at home that I decided that I wanted very much to do something different, to import a teaching method different from the classic one, which I had experienced both as a student and as a teacher. What I liked most of all was the confirmation that a different type of education actually existed. When I had the opportunity to study abroad, I was able to see that what I imagined on a small scale here was put into practice on a large scale somewhere else in the world: in the U.S.A., in the U.K., in Belgium, in the Netherlands…
D.S. : Which were the first difficult times that this project underwent?
S.B.: The first difficult moments appeared when we wanted to implement this plan as a private enterprise. Before I opened my own kindergarten and my own school, I taught in a state school where I tried really hard to put all these new ideas into practice. I built a new way of teacher-student relationship, and new teaching methods. Unfortunately, it was too soon, considering the unsettling times of the 90s. And I realised that the educational process had to start very early in order to be able to make something grow: to plant a seed, to watch it grow and to see its fruit. I tried and I managed to do a few things with my 11th and 12th graders, but I succeeded in doing much more when I worked with children of ages 2 or 3.
D.S.: Tell me a few things about a difficult time in your career…
S.B.: The difficult time was the moment I gave up my job in an extremely good state school in our city and embarked on a journey I knew little about. It was a journey that did not seem very safe. The most difficult decision was to give up my job as a high school teacher and to begin anew, without knowing exactly what to start with. Pre-school education was something completely new for me. I remember the children running around me during the first days and I remember myself pulling them from under the tables and thinking: “My God, what have I done? Where should I start?!” I think somebody heard my prayer and I was finally able to begin…
D.S.: Which were the most unfamiliar aspects you were confronted with on this journey?
S.B.: Everything was unfamiliar. It was unfamiliar because there is a lost distance between the wish, the idea, and the implementation of something you have never seen in your whole life, you have never lived or experienced. I think this is the lesson we should learn and pass on to our children: examples. To teach them that there are alternatives and they should have the courage to try something else. It is clear that every step brings about a new challenge. The risk of falling is great, but when you get up, the satisfaction is extraordinary.
D.S.: Which was the best moment in your activity up to now?
S.B.: The best moment was the moment when our school was publicly recognised as “the best school at the Gala of the Awards for Education”. We were exactly the same before and after the gala, but the fact that we had been officially recognised led to a change of perception – not only external, but also internal – on what we were offering. I think that the public recognition of the school – since the success of a school is not attributable to only one person, but to a group of people who work for the benefit of other people – gave me the greatest satisfaction. I had never believed that our work would be recognised. I doubted, first of all because the chances of a private school at such a Gala seemed very small. I am an optimist, but I didn’t have the courage to try because I used to judge things according to the older ways of thinking and to different expectations. I knew that the state schools had priority at such a gala because that was how things worked by rule. The complete reversal of this belief of mine was an immense joy.
D.S.: How did you win the trust of the parents who chose to send their children to this school?
S.B.: It was very hard! I think everything you do needs some time in order to prove its value. The education takes the longest because a change in education means changing generations and mentalities. It is fairly said that when revolutions, social movements or changes take place in a certain state, the last to change are the educational system and the health system because we tend to live according to certain patterns which we follow unconsciously. Indeed, it was difficult for us at the beginning, as well. We wanted everything to change in one day. But at present, I am happy because I know that we’re on the right track, that the education is moving on and that the change begins with us.
D.S.: Do you believe in chance or luck?
S.B.: I believe that what is meant to be will be, I believe that chance and luck appear when you use your mind and your soul. I don’t believe in the things that give immediate satisfaction and I think that if you have good intentions and do your duty with all your heart, chance and luck will show up.
D.S.: How would you define Success on the one hand and, on the other, Failure, from personal experience?
S.B.: I think I’d start with the failure in order to end with the success (smiling – r.n.). I think that everything you do makes you really enthusiastic at the beginning, but you may not like what you get at a later moment. But if you learn from what you don’t like and change what you don’t like about yourself and about those around you, you can taste the happiness of succeeding. I can’t say that it’s the success that motivates me; I’m motivated by the daily challenges. I believe I’ve come this far with the help of my team and with the approximately 400 children and their parents because we trusted each other. It took a long time because the most difficult part was to gain people’s trust. We are born trustful, but we progressively lose our faith and then we get alarmed when we are supposed to think that the others wish us well. Failure and success are inseparable.
D.S.: Is faith one of the values that encourage you in your daily work?
S.B.: Yes! What I have learnt best throughout these years: I’ve learnt who I am and I’ve learnt to accept who I am. And I’ve seen that if I don’t believe in certain things, I can’t ask the others to believe in them. I believe that we – the Romanians, who were born in this part of Europe – live in a circle of suspicion. I think that if we put more faith both in us and in the others, things would work better. Yes, faith is one of the most important aspects, apart from fear which we still have to deal with as a nation.
D.S.: What other values do you believe in?
S.B.: I believe in the values of education, which are in fact the basis of what we have created together – teachers, parents and children. I believe in creativity, in responsibility, in diversity. I strongly believe that we must accept ourselves as we are and that what we are is all right. Moreover, I believe in excellence. When I say excellence, I don’t mean elitism. I don’t believe in an elite oriented teaching system, but in a school which makes children feel as elites no matter what environment they come from.
This post is also available in Romanian