Exclusive Interview with Dr Litsa Olympiou of the International School of Paphos – Cyprus in Style

INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF PAPHOS

A LIFETIME DEDICATED TO EDUCATION

MEET DR LITSA OLYMPIOU

INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF PAPHOSDr Litsa Olympiou was born in Larnaca, where she spent the first fifteen years of her life before leaving to go to boarding school in the UK on a scholarship. Following her A levels, she went to University College, London, to study languages. The third year of her degree, she spent at the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris. Dr Olympiou then completed her PhD at Durham University. In 1994, she joined The International School of Paphos as a French teacher. Today, she is the Head of School, a position she has held since 1996. She lives in Tremithousa with her husband, and has one daughter who, after completing her studies in the UK, is now teaching in Southampton.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE OF TEACHING.

My whole career has been dedicated to teaching. I have had the opportunity to teach in multiple countries and in different schools, which has given me a significant oversight of the academic world. My first teaching experience was within the English school system at a comprehensive in Washington in the UK. I reflect on that time as a wonderful experience. After three years, I was looking for a new challenge and had the opportunity to relocate to Dubai. I taught French at the Latifa School for Girls in Dubai, founded in 1982 by Sheikh Maktoum. It was primarily for the daughters of the Royal family and government officials. I stayed there for five years and met some super people. It was during the period of the Kuwait War, which was a little bit scary. Due to family pressure to return to Cyprus, I applied for a job at The International School in 1994, and I have been here ever since.

HOW DID YOU ENJOY BEING BACK IN PAPHOS?

The first year that I was back was challenging. Paphos 26 years ago was a very different place. I had been living in London and Dubai before my return. The best part of coming to Paphos is that it is where I met my husband, who worked at the school for one term. We were married in 1995 and have been together ever since. In 1996 I was offered the position of Head of School. Again, the school was very different, with only 120 pupils and located on a different site. A lot of the children then were boarders, whose parents were overseas.

HOW DID THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF PAPHOS DEVELOP?

In 1999, our current Managing Director, Aristi Andriotis, joined the school. We both shared the same vision and aspirations for education. At that time, the school bought some new land to develop an entirely new school building. I worked with Aristi on the new school plans. It was a unique experience to be involved in the project from the beginning and input my wisdom. All of our teachers at that time advised on how the new school design would work. The layout had already been decided for most of the school buildings, as they are often in old buildings. It was an exciting time for us. In 2006, The International School of Paphos moved into our new home.

WHAT FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS HAVE TAKEN PLACE?

We are continually working on the buildings and, because of this, improving our students’ experience at school. The addition of the new Sports Hall was a significant contribution to our students’ lives, as was the opening of our new Boarding House last year.

In addition to the actual building of the school, we have increased pupil and staff numbers. When I first started, we had 25 staff, but today we have over 140 members who form our team! The number of students has increased to 800. Our students come from different populations in Paphos, who are all looking for an English education. Before we opened, the people of Paphos had to go to Larnaca to get an international education. Back then, a foreign school was a big unknown to the Paphians, but today we have many Cypriot students.

Classrooms & Communal Areas

Kindergarten & Infant Classrooms

Boarding House

WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR PROUDEST MOMENTS THROUGHOUT YOUR LIFE?

As a mother, it was when my daughter graduated from university in the UK. As a teaching professional within the teaching industry, you see things all the time which make you proud. Every class offers students who show the unexpected or something different. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a child achieve their best potential. To see a child exceed our expectations makes us all very proud.

I recall a child saying to me, “thank you for being so hard on us and having such high expectations. It made me want to be better”. We touch a child’s life in tangible ways. To see the transformation of a pupil throughout their school career is very rewarding.

HOW DO YOU THINK TECHNOLOGY WILL AFFECT EDUCATION IN THE FUTURE?

Without a doubt, technology is crucial for all. Today, it is natural for children. Whereas when I was studying, we had real books, now it’s eBooks. Some technology areas are very positive, but I do worry when children find technology more interesting than people talking to each other.

There is a danger that everything, including education, could become very impersonal, and there will be no human interaction. I believe that we need to find the right balance in the future for the teaching of our younger generation. We should always want to know what the face behind a name looks like. I sincerely hope that education never becomes just a screen.

There is always the need for the human environment, and children need to blossom and find their talents, through social interaction and encouragement. If we don’t have human interaction, then children won’t have the emotional intelligence they need to grow. We need to teach children to grow holistically to develop their personalities and get along in life. A machine cannot convey the beauty of the multi-cultural society life we have here.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACE AT THE SCHOOL?

Our biggest challenge is to overcome the linguistic barrier that some of our pupils face. They need to do this to access the curriculum on offer, and also to develop as people. If a child starts at a younger age, it is easier to learn a new language. We have real multi-cultural classrooms, and sometimes, communication can be difficult. Also, other cultures have different expectations and experiences of the educational system, which we need to understand.

TELL US ABOUT A TYPICAL DAY.

No day is ever the same, but it always starts with a variety of meetings. I still teach French to the students, as I see this as very important to be involved in the classroom. It is also why I originally came into this profession, and I enjoy it tremendously. It is also essential for me to establish a rapport with my students. This means I can advise other teaching staff, and I can understand, at first hand, any issues they encounter. I hope that my team see me more as a colleague, rather than the Headmistress.

Meetings form a big part of my day with staff, pupils and parents. I often find myself staying after school closes to get the rest of my work done.

HOW DO YOU RELAX?

I switch off from work when I return home. I enjoy reading. I also enjoy watching comedies, as it takes you away from reality. I enjoy spending time and attending exhibitions with my close friends. I love speaking and catching up with my daughter in the UK, and I am fortunate to have a very supportive husband, who listens to me.

HOW IMPORTANT IS A GOOD EDUCATION?

A good education is not just about learning and exams. It is also about learning to be able to function in our society. Passing exams is not the primary objective. I firmly believe that if you cannot function in a social setting, you will not go far in life. Emotional intelligence will always help you get along. We like to give our pupils opportunities to find their true talents and gifts. Education is about having empathy for others, and trying to put yourself in the shoes of others. If we build the right foundation for our students, they will have good future relationships with others.

Working with a student is a partnership with the family. We start with our hands fully around the child and slowly open the hands over the years, to release them to find their future path.

ANY FUTURE PLANS AT THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL?

A new theatre is one of our big projects, but Covid has delayed our plans. We want to establish it as a centre for the arts. It is an excellent opportunity for the children in Paphos, as the facility will be open to all. Drama is a vital subject for children, as it helps develop aspects of their personalities. The combination of Theatre, Art and Music together, gives you civilisation. The past comes to life through culture.

The International School of Paphos was founded in 1987 as a co-educational day and boarding school, located in the town centre. The school gradually developed throughout the late 1980s and ‘90s, experiencing rapid growth at the turn of the 21st Century. Today it is a co-educational day and boarding school situated on a purpose-built, state-of-the-art campus in Anavargos Village, on the outskirts of Paphos. The Boarding House opened in September 2019.

**This interview has been updated since its initial launch (pre-Covid) in 2020. 

Contact ISOP with your Questions

Interview by Sarah Coyne

Portrait Photography by Tolis Photography Studio | Published by Cyprus in Style Magazine | December 2021 | #InStyleBusinessNetwork | International School of Paphos

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