In Jurmala, Latvia, a city just beyond the reaches of Riga, sits a house on the sea. Once tended to by a gardener for a nearby mansion, the home sheltered the ancestors of Laura Valdmanis ’10 and has become a source of inspiration and symbol of storytelling for the William Smith graduate.
Valdmanis, who made a pilgrimage to the house in the summer of 2008, will return to Latvia this fall when she begins a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship – the fifth member of the Hobart and William Smith community to receive the honor this year.
Valdmanis, whose grandparents lived in Latvia until World War II, when they were moved to a displaced persons camp in Germany before finally settling in Minneapolis, is excited to connect with young minds in Latvia, a place with such personal significance.
Having grown up with a rich history of familial stories of the land, Valdmanis seeks to bring her heritage, past and perspective to the young mind of her ancestor’s homeland. “I want to share past and present stories, lessons, ideas, and friendship through the lenses of intercultural exchange,” says Valdmanis, who knows the importance of her generation’s continuation of the storytelling tradition. “The assistantship will give me the opportunity to share my story – and those of others.”
“I am looking to challenge and broaden my experiences as an educator,” explains Valmanis, hoping the yearlong position will provide her with a means of exploring her recently attained teaching degree.
Upon her return to the U.S., Valdmanis plans to use digital media to share her journey, incorporating pictures and narratives from a writing study she plans to conduct in her classroom. Through the lenses of education, history, travel and cultural exchange, Valdmanis’ journeys in Latvia will become a shared experience, akin to the handed-down tales of her grandparents.
“At the Germantown Friends School where I’m currently working, our theme this year is journeys,” says Valdmanis. “Journeys are important not only in reading and writing, but also in solving math problems, investigating patterns in history, and in the personal journeys of each student.”
Valdmanis earned her B.A. in German from William Smith in 2010. She went on to earn her M.Ed. from the Shady Hill School Teacher Training Program at Lesley University in 2012. While on campus, Valdmanis studied abroad in Tübingen, Germany, and worked as a tour guide for the Office of Admissions. She also served as a program coordinator for the Trinity Church Afterschool Achievement Program and as a program assistant for the Intercultural Affairs Office.
Following her graduation from the Colleges, Valdmanis spent a summer as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, then as an AmeriCorps Program Associate. She currently serves as an assistant teacher at the Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, Pa.