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Russia’s latest secret agent

Juliana Gamouletskaia explains to Melanie Butler how her experience studying abroad as a child has helped her build a unique service to allow others to follow in her footsteps

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JOB SATISFACTION Juliana especially enjoys helping children settle into new schools and seeing them achieving their goals (Courtesy Svetlana Masterova)

Your own background of studying abroad gives you a particular view on the British educational system. How do you know it so well and how does that help your clients?

My first experience of education in the UK was at a summer language school. I then studied for seven years at Westonbirt School [an all-girls boarding school in Gloucestershire, two and a half hours from London by car] from the age of eleven until eighteen.

I obtained top grades upon graduation, four A’s in my A-Level exams. This allowed me to successfully apply to one of the top universities in the UK, the London School of Economics (LSE), to study law for my degree.

My parents remained in Russia throughout so I have had to navigate and work out a lot of things in school and university for myself, be it cultural differences, social or academic goals. Thankfully, I was up to the challenge, in fact I thrived. This invaluable experience now serves as the foundation for advising clients and being able to understand the process from both the child’s and the parents’ points of view.

My job does not end with a successful placement of a child in a British school. I stay in constant touch with the parents and the child, offering ongoing support and guidance. Even if the parents are just considering a language school placement as opposed to full-time education in the UK for their child, at the outset I find out as much as possible about the child’s personality, their interests and strengths as well as meeting the child personally. This insight into the child then guides me in proposing a small number of best-possible options for the particular child.

In my opinion, it is important for the child to be involved in the decision-making process and to ensure that their concerns are heard and addressed just as much as the concerns of the parents. I find that this approach goes a long way to building the right relationship from the start, providing clients with the knowledge and individual guidance that they can trust.

How did you first get involved in this work?

It was a lightbulb moment! Before setting up Artria London with a school friend I worked in the property sector, so initially this was the main service I was offering to our Russian clients. Most of them knew about my educational background and it was only a matter of time before I was being asked more and more about various schools and the application processes, summer schools and finding tutors.

I realised that my knowledge and experience was not something you can pick up – you had to have lived it. I found working with children incredibly emotionally rewarding, helping them settle into their new schools and seeing them happy and achieving their goals. To this day, it remains my driving force. Providing services in the educational sphere has complemented our other services perfectly. Nowadays I only ask myself, “Why did I not think of doing this before?”

What do Russian families most want from the British educational system and what most confuses them?

There are some major differences between the Russian and the British education systems. Once this is known to the Russian families they look to the British educational system to fill certain gaps usually found in the Russian system. I describe below two clear examples, but there are others.

The British system does not solely focus on maximising the academic knowledge and achievements of children, but just as importantly it focuses on the development of their personal qualities such as self-discipline, confidence, respect and the ability to critically analyse issues. The children are motivated to share their own thoughts and ideas and to be able to critically support them. The focus on these crucial aspects is often lacking in Russian schools.

Most private British schools have incredible infrastructure for the development of a multitude of children’s interests, be it in sport, music, art or drama. This all helps to identify and nourish each child’s potential. In Russia, this burden is often borne by the parents, who enrol the child in numerous external clubs in order to develop their interests.

In terms of what confuses Russian parents, it is the sometimes seemingly rigid discipline and strict rules that the children must adhere to!

What explains the Russian passion for British education?

For every family it is different. Often our clients look for the personalised individual support where their child’s specific talents and strengths are celebrated and developed to their fullest at school. Put simply, it is the all-encompassing approach to their child’s education.

What is the one piece of advice that you would give a Russian family about UK education and what would you tell British schools about dealing with Russians?

For Russian families, my advice would be to bear in mind the timeframes for registering at top British schools and the amount of time required to properly prepare the child for complex entrance exams and interviews. For British schools, I would recommend a lot of patience, especially when the parents request extra lessons in every subject, thinking that it is completely normal!