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Maija Sipola

Vice-rector for International Relations at Latvian Academy of Music


Up to the 6th grade I attended a very good school with the English language profile and children music school, but then it was decided that I need to make a transfer to the special secondary music school – I did it and received immediate shock: there was no English language, only German… Besides my classmates were already studying German for 2 years, and the German teacher was quite a nasty person with a nickname "The Rat". I did my best, but could not make myself to love the language. The last drop was the translation "Asche aus Birkenau" – I diligently translated the article wondering what the hell was this Asche doing in Birkenau and why it does not make any sense… Before the last school year I made a deal with my friend who was studying English at the University and mastered the whole English course of the secondary school in one summer. In autumn I proudly informed the Rat that I will graduate with the English language – by that time the school had invited an English teacher. I continued studies on the Piano Department at the Latvian Conservatory, but the intensive "English summer" required continuation, and I started to work with the foreign tourists as a guide.

Post-graduate courses in Moscow (present master studies) were extremely memorable experience: after entrance examinations I had to stay in Moscow for a month long sessions for 2 years. I stayed with the relatives of my piano teacher who was Jewish, and found myself in the heart of Moscow dissident society - I read all "samizdat"  literature, Solzhenitsin was printed by typewriter on tissue paper, I used to wander in old Moscow streets following heroes of Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita" (it was strictly not allowed to take samizdat outside and read in metro). Long discussions in the kitchen with the friends of family (musicians, artists, scientists, doctors – some of them had spent years in camps and psychiatric hospitals) was another "post-graduate education" – I was much better informed than ordinary soviet citizen. Besides those study sessions in Moscow were immense cultural abundance: in the 80s Moscow was famous with outstanding theatres, stage directors and actors, people queued during the nights when ticket sales were announced. As a rule, it was not possible to get tickets to Bolshoi theatre, but there was an easy solution – you had to wait for the arrival of buses with foreign tourists (Bolshoi was included in tour programmes, and always there were several lazy tourists who preferred to stay with vodka at the hotel) and be quick, because there were several rivals. I was lucky to see all the performances of Maurice Béjart ballet visiting in Moscow. My hosts used to say I had seen in one month more than they over the whole year.

After graduation in Moscow I defended dissertation about the Latvian piano music in Vilnius and started to teach at the Latvian Academy of Music.


The end of 90s was the beginning of the first international contacts, Tempus and Socrates projects, first contacts with the AEC – if previously the international department was mostly servicing international tours of the rector's choirs, everything changed. I continued to train my English in summer with foreign tourists, mastered also Italian and once had a fantastic group of the Italian priests one of whom dedicated me a poem – I still remember "nasino al pugnaletto" :)

Knowing that, our new rector Juris Karlsons asked me to help with the international projects, and I agreed. I could not imagine then that it will grow like an avalanche… For a long time I was alone, and it took some diplomatic pressure before I could have an assistant. Now we are a good team of three, although one of my colleagues is the Head of Foreign language class and teaching German, but another is responsible for all the Cultural Capital Foundation projects of the Academy. At least they manage all the flow of incoming and outgoing Erasmus students, so I can enjoy being "travel agent" for all our teachers' exchange, organizing masterclasses, managing NORDPLUS networks, European Opera Academy activities and all the rest of international projects.


Being a musician helps me to help our students to make decisions about their Erasmus destinations. I like that our Academy is not too big, and I know most of the students – I can advise them where they should or should not apply, I can advise them interesting masterclasses abroad depending on their interests. I like to see the change in previously shy and modest students when they return from their Erasmus studies ready for new adventures. And I love their enthusiasm after some successful project when they ask about the next project.

It is good to know also all the teachers and know who will respond immediately to mails, whom I should call and who prefers communication on Messenger or WhatsApp. I love those precious moments when they arrive with some ideas and need help to realize them.

I like reliable colleagues from other Academies around Europe and confidence that I will get quick help in case of necessity. And I like our Nordplus family – because it's really a family with so different characters, but one mentality and common vision.