A Q&A with the Director of The American International School · Vienna
As Director of The American International School · Vienna, Steve Razidlo makes it his mission to support each student. It’s an instinct that comes naturally to him, especially considering two of those students are his own high school-aged boys. During his tenure at AIS, Razidlo has focused on the school’s core values: nurture, include, challenge and respect. Within those guiding principles, he has built an enduring outreach to students, many of whom are being raised in a country far from ‘home.’ Razidlo underscores the concerns of these children as integral to the community at AIS and, because he is a father, understands a transitional family’s unique needs from a first-person perspective. Here, he shares tips for choosing the right educational experience for your child and sheds some light on the needs of families transitioning into a new school.
Steve, you were Superintendent of a large, successful U.S. school district, what made you consider moving to Vienna, Austria?
I’ve always been interested in travel. The opportunity to be at a school with our core values within an amazing cultural city like Vienna sounded like a fairy tale. I had previously spent 17 years in one community, so to come to a city like Vienna was the chance of a lifetime.
So, you hadn’t ever lived outside the United States before?
Yes, we are first-time expats. A person can learn a lot from a first experience living overseas and we are no exception. My wife, Dawn, and our high school boys have all participated in this third-culture life and worked through those first-level challenges. We learned, and are still learning, what it means to be an expat.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you moved?
When we first arrived, there was a learning curve. We did a lot of ‘first’ things in Austria twice: we went twice to the bank; we went twice to get driver’s licenses. We went twice to the grocery store, once on a Sunday (when most stores in Vienna are closed) and next on a Monday. So there were logistical things we dealt with, like learning the culture and the language. But also with finding our way through the separation from family, since my wife and I both come from big families. We found that helping our boys make their first friends was a real in-road to a new culture. As with many things in life, patience and perseverance are pretty key.
As a father and a school director, what advice can you give to a family searching for a school in Vienna?
Look, everyone wants a school with a heart that beats for their kids. Find a school where your family’s hopes for the academic, emotional and social development of your children can be met. But, let’s remember, our hearts have to be as big as our brains. Consider if the school is aware of the special needs of third-culture kids: that need for safety, security and acceptance is so great that, when those needs are not met, the learner doesn’t blossom.
Every year we tour the school for 150 new students and always the beginning attraction to AIS is its heart. I overhear parents’ conversations in our hallways saying this is the ‘nicest’ school in Vienna; I want to amplify that. When you actively put yourself out there with our core values and try to earn the worth of those values with every conversation, I can’t help but believe that we get there.
In your opinion, what makes a great school?
A great school does both: challenges the head and heart of students. We want them to be smarter people but we also want them to be better people for having been at our school. A great school feeds passions and promotes challenges, while showing respect and compassion to you and to others.
What do you most appreciate about living in your new country?
We most appreciate the opportunity to be participating in a vibrant world-capital community. It has been a challenging first-time expat experience. Challenging in a good way. One of the things we are most thankful for is the experience of being transported to an amazingly different culture, a great one. We have rose gardens in the city, festivals at the Rathaus (city hall), outdoor ice skating; there are literally 100 things to do in Vienna at any time. A big piece of happiness here is Vienna’s accessibility to families, which is profound because of the city’s safety, infrastructure and transport. So many activities here are free and this is a place where families play outdoors all year long.
What can you tell other families about how to best navigate the first six months after a move?
The best thing to do is spend time together as a family, eating meals and getting out among the locals. Don’t be a hermit. Avoid the cloistered mentality that may be more comfortable. Fight the inclination to hide: get out together and do things! During our first six months with our boys, it was important to talk with them about what we all missed about home, but also what we were looking forward to here in our new country. Having an open ear for your kids can be the best way to help them.
By Aubree G. Caunter