WMN of Apliteni: Meet Sonya, Apliteni’s People Ops Manager & Founder of an Elementary School in Portugal

WMN of Apliteni: Meet Sonya, Apliteni's People Ops Manager & Founder of an Elementary School in Portugal

Our primary strength at Apliteni lies in our team. We empower them by equipping with all essential tools and knowledge and ensuring that they have a comprehensive work-life balance so they can pursue their passions outside of work. We spoke to Sonya, our People Ops manager and Founder of an elementary school in Lisbon, to learn more about her journey.

Apliteni: How did you get into HR?

Sonya: I’m fortunate to be among those who have managed to find work in their field of study from university – people management. During my freshman year, I discovered my passion for engaging with others. My professional journey began by assisting children at international summer camps before progressing to guiding teenagers. Eventually, I transitioned to collaborating with adults. That’s when I had my epiphany – this was my calling.

Immediately following university, I began a career in Human Resources, specializing in education and development.

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Apliteni: What is the hardest part of your job?

Sonya: Initially, I was apprehensive about collaborating with complex team members. However, as I began regularly interacting with them in my job, I discovered that these were the situations I enjoyed the most. The challenge of identifying the right approach to connect with them excites me. I relish the task of conveying my ideas in a manner that would ensure they were both heard and understood.

I recall an amusing incident from a previous job where I conducted a communication training session. Among the attendees was an older, highly experienced employee who was convinced he had nothing new to learn. Unsurprisingly, he often faced communication barriers and misunderstandings with our predominantly younger team, which he attributed to a generational divide. He was cynical about acquiring new knowledge. However, after participating in our eight-hour training on interpersonal communications, he departed with a newfound appreciation that the issue might extend beyond mere experience and the generation gap. He still knew it better than most, though. But his communication with the team got much better.

Apliteni: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Sonya: Training sessions on seemingly apparent topics, like effective feedback delivery or proper rest techniques. These workshops provide a valuable platform for discussing issues, narrating personal stories, and exchanging experiences and methods, fostering a stronger connection among coworkers. 

This is particularly crucial in distributed remote teams, where members may never meet in person and miss out on casual water-cooler conversations. The emphasis of these sessions isn’t just on imparting best practices and transforming an employee’s life into a before-and-after scenario. Rather, it’s about sharing experiences and creating additional opportunities to bond with colleagues. Such events encourage small, incremental steps that cumulatively lead to substantial, positive change.

Apliteni: Can you tell us more about it?

Sonya: Sure! I prefer the system that is based on replenishing the four main energy types, each playing a critical role in overall well-being:

  1. Core energy is connected to understanding your future, making sense of your personal story, and understanding your role in the meta-processes. To replenish that, one can engage in activities that are larger than oneself, such as meditation or community involvement. Spending time with positive and supportive people can also assist with that.
  1. Intellectual energy can be depleted by informational and sensory overload. Counteracting this involves simple practices like closing our eyes for a minute during a busy day or consciously unplugging from electronics at the end of the day. These moments of sensory deprivation help reset our senses. One can also try experiencing the beauty of nature or appreciating the arts. Transforming the workspace with inspiring images or art can also contribute to reawakening creativity and innovation.
  1. The full charge in emotional energy manifests in having the time and space to express feelings honestly and reducing the habit of pleasing others. It requires authenticity in expressing emotions and sharing difficulties that are often kept hidden. Being truthful about one’s feelings is a critical component of emotional rest. You can also take breaks every two hours during the workday to slow down and decompress. Keeping a notepad by the bed to write down thoughts that might prevent a good night’s sleep helps clear the mind and reduce stress.
  1. Physical energy can be replenished by passive physical rest, like sleeping and napping, and active physical rest, such as yoga, stretching, and massage therapy. These practices also improve the body’s circulation, flexibility, and physical health.

Each type of rest contributes to a holistic sense of recovery, which is crucial for maintaining balance and health in one’s personal and professional life. Recharging all four types of energy during the workweek helps one stay sharp and feel rested.

Apliteni: You’ve mentioned before that you have other passions outside of your job. What are they?

Sonya: My husband and I always aspired to start our own business. A few years back, he assisted in establishing a private school in Russia, which was a pivotal moment for us. It crystallized our dream into a concrete plan: launching a private school together. 

Roughly a year ago, in collaboration with another couple, we launched an elementary school in Lisbon, Portugal, primarily for children of Russian-speaking expats. With a recent influx of expats, including ourselves, there was a growing need for a smoother cultural and linguistic integration for their children than local schools offered. Our school facilitates this transition by conducting most classes in Russian, with other subjects taught in Portuguese and English, ensuring a gentle assimilation for these young minds.

We had a humorous incident recently during Halloween. The children from our school went trick-or-treating and engaged with the neighbors in Portuguese. One neighbor was surprised by their visit and had no candy to offer. But she was charmed by their communication skills. And in appreciation of their effort, she later visited our school with a bag of candy. 

We believe it’s vital to encourage our students to interact with local community members, as these experiences enhance their language skills and enrich their cultural understanding.

Apliteni: What do you do there?

Sonya: My primary responsibility at the school was recruiting teachers and staff, a task well-suited to my skills and intuition for identifying suitable candidates. It’s crucial, especially in the initial stages of team building, to bring together individuals who are diverse yet aligned in their work philosophy and objectives. Exposing children to a variety of educators is immensely beneficial.

The foundation of any successful enterprise lies in its team. While we, the four founders, function primarily as administrators, the essence of our school is the enthusiastic, open-minded teachers who interact directly with the students. These educators are the heart of our institution, equipping our students with the skills and knowledge to seamlessly transition to other educational environments, proficient in languages, and on par academically.

Currently, I oversee the Saturday school program and occasionally communicate with parents, as this best suits my schedule. 

Sonya brings a unique blend of expertise in people management, a deep understanding of personal well-being, and a commitment to community engagement. Her story is a testament to the impact one can have through a career driven by passion, empathy, and a desire to make a meaningful difference in others’ lives.

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