Under his mask, facial expression hidden, AISB’s new principal Viktor Novakovski recounts his experience of moving to Romania this summer. “It was very difficult at first because you can’t remember people’s faces,” he says. “You only are going on a third of what’s visible, [so] your usual heuristics do not apply.”
Previously the director of NOVA International School in Skopje, Macedonia, Novakovski started his new job in a very peculiar fashion—meeting most colleagues, students and parents over Zoom. Meanwhile, he’s also had to navigate a brand new school system, and has been tasked with something he never thought would be part of his job description: creating safety protocols and procedures to be able to keep the school open during a growing pandemic.
From Macedonia to Romania
This is the first time the family has moved countries, so Novakovski is thankful he had the opportunity to visit Romania four times before COVID-19 affected his enjoyment. “I’m lucky in the sense that I was a tourist before,” he says.
But while he may have been able to get to know the country without restrictions, Novakovski is now struggling to create new relationships—a crucial step to properly integrating into a new environment. He comments that this is partly due to “wearing masks everywhere with whoever we meet,” and “the restrictions that we face in movement and being able to get out.”
Novakovski’s two sons are encountering even greater difficulties adapting to their new way of life, as this is the first time that they’ve left Macedonia as a home. “They didn’t know what it’s like to be without your friends you’ve always known,” says Novakovski. “They were staying in their rooms with lots of screen time as you can imagine. And it was a shift. They weren’t sure of themselves and the surroundings and so this is the way that they dealt with it.”
And this is not like them, as Novakovski explains. “They are active, kinesthetic learners. They want to run around. They wanted to do things back home all the time.” Learning in front of a computer screen was not the way Novakovski had envisioned his family’s move to AISB. He says this adjustment, particularly the first month, was very worrying for him.
Welcomed by the AISB Community
“I think that AISB is an amazing community of people in the way that they supported us right from the first moment.”
Novakovski has found himself feeling welcomed at AISB, and has been pleasantly surprised at the way people have approached him and his family to help with the transition. He says that people have set up regular check-ins and playdates for the children, even with the constant risk of COVID-19. “It was tremendous and it was heartwarming to see how families wanted to make us feel comfortable even if they knew they were taking a big risk in terms of their health and safety and we responded to that.”
He finds that all of this support was the “key” to their adjustment and he thanks the AISB community for that. “We ultimately understood how much people cared for helping others, which is what I think schools as our social experiment should be about: supportive, inclusive and open communities that reach out to whomever and help them.”
A New Role
With this very particular “back to school” experience— first online then in a hybrid system, this year is far from normal. And on top of having to discover and integrate the school in a largely virtual fashion, this type of model was unknown to Novakovski. “It’s a system I never knew existed before,” he says, “so there wasn’t any experience that I could fall back on to say this is how it is best done.”
But despite the learning curve, Novakovski thinks that “everyone has made Zoom work very well,” even though he admits that he misses the live interaction. “Connecting with students and teachers is essential for a principal,” he comments.
Hopes for the Future
Looking ahead, Novakovski is not sure if we will return to a traditional campus model any time soon, as the school is dependent on Romania’s health guidelines and how the numbers evolve. However, he thinks that “we have done amazingly well” as zero cases have been reported inside the campus and he finds it “very encouraging.” He adds that “moving forward, if we notice that we can fend off any kind of spread inside our community, it might call on us for more creative thinking about how we can relax a little bit what we are doing right now.”
Once the threat of COVID finally comes to an end, Novakovski is looking forward to “socializing with people and listening to their stories.” He longs for the day he can properly meet students, parents and teachers, watch events on campus, and celebrate successes as a true community. “We’ll get there soon enough,” he says.
Thanks to Mr. Novakovski for the interview and for the pictures. We welcome you warmly and hope you have a wonderful experience at AISB!