My Oulu: Raija Perttunen, principal of Oulu International School, is now retired – but her work continues in Morocco

The schoolyard at Oulu International School is a beloved domain full of good memories for Raija Perttunen. Image: Henna Saarenketo

Julkaistu: Kirjoittaja: Anne Maarit Laurila

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Construction workers mill about the yard of the Oulu International School at Kasarmintie. The schoolhouse is under repair, just as it was when Raija Perttunen started her career as principal in 2003. The principal, who retired in August, has put her heart and soul into the school and seen it grow to more than double the number of pupils it taught when she started.

Prior to her career as a principal, Perttunen served as a class teacher at the Oulu University Teacher Training School, the Pöllökangas school, the Oulunlahti school, as well as in Southern Finland.

One of the highlights of Perttunen’s teaching career was a year spent as an exchange teacher in California.

“Teaching in California was a long-time dream come true for me. There, I was named Teacher of the Year and received a great deal of other positive feedback,” says Perttunen.

Onwards to new challenges 

In California, Perttunen had time to consider her career direction. After several decades spent teaching, her mind yearned for a new challenge.

“I considered going to graduate school, working on a doctorate, studies in a different field, or even moving abroad,” says Perttunen.

“I had heard that the Oulu International School had been set up a year earlier, and I applied for the principal’s job at that point. However, I was not selected,” she says. 

The steadfast Perttunen was not discouraged, and applied once more, managing to secure the job that time. 
“I started with literally nothing. On my first day, just a blank computer and a set of keys sat waiting for me at the desk,” says Perttunen.

“The schoolhouse itself was in poor shape, and the parents’ association had quite a list of demands to make to the new principal. It was a pretty stressful situation at first,” she says. 

Perttunen is a person of action and describes herself as someone who excels when challenged. Initially, she worked on making the school environment more welcoming, and developed its work and culture in a temporary facility in Maikkula while the schoolhouse was being renovated.

“At first, I was showered with comments to the effect that there is no way I can succeed at this job without any experience of being a principal. To those doubters, I said I have years of experience working with schools, and I can handle this too,” laughs Perttunen. 

Perttunen has put her heart and soul into developing the Oulu International School. Image: Raija Perttunen  


The Arab Emirates years 

After ten years as principal, Perttunen felt she needed a little break. Taking a leave of absence in 2013, she was drawn to work with an education export project in Abu Dhabi for two years.

“My time in the UAE was a learning experience both professionally and culturally. I worked in a big school, with an all-women group of colleagues and a majority-female pupil body,” says Perttunen. 

“The project made use of Finnish child-centred pedagogy, British test patterns, and Australian and American curricula. It was not a perfect synergy, but the ultimate results were nevertheless quite good,” she says. 

The pupils’ varying levels of language skills were also a particular challenge with this project.

The growth of Oulu International School 

When Perttunen started at Oulu International School, there were about 180 pupils, most from a Finnish background. After years of growth, changes in the technology business caused a momentary slump in pupil numbers. 

“In those years, the future seemed very uncertain. Fortunately, that situation passed, and today, there are about 440 pupils in the school,” says Perttunen. 

“Businesses in Oulu recruit a great deal of their workforce abroad, and we can see that in pupil numbers as well. Our classes today are very large and culturally diverse,” she says. 

Pupils at the International School come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, which has posed its own challenges to the teaching. 

“Our pupils come from schools in many different countries, each with a very different curriculum from the Finnish one. Currently, we have a transitional class, as well as a smaller group for pupils in need of special support for their different learning circumstances,” says Perttunen. 

“The school’s student body as it currently stands has representation from about thirty-five different nationalities and languages. One has to be constantly mindful of building team spirit and instructing the pupils on Finnish culture and language,” she says. 

Perttunen visited her future new job in the spring of 2022. The construction was then close to completion. Image: Raija Perttunen 

Next stop: Morocco 

The school and its people are important to Perttunen, and there is a certain tinge of regret to her retirement. 

“This school has been like my fourth child, and being its principal has been much more than a mere job to me. I have put my whole heart and soul into it from the very beginning,” says Perttunen. 

However, the plans she has made for her new future make it easier to let go of her erstwhile working life. 

“I did not think I would go abroad any longer, but life has a way of surprising you,” Perttunen says. 

A new American international school has been built in Morocco, to go into operation in the coming autumn. Perttunen was chosen as the principal of the elementary school, and she is on her way to a new kind of job once more. 

“This is a good way for me to end one career. I get to experience a whole new set of challenges in my life. Myself, I feel paralyzed when everything is stable and even,” says Perttunen. 

The future job seems promising in many ways. The large school campus has classes from kindergarten to high school, with its own swimming pool, sporting facilities, and dormitories. Perttunen is excited and eager to join her new job. 

More facilities in Oulu 

Perttunen is happy with the growth and development of the Oulu International School over her career. She thinks its growth is set to continue in the future, but at the moment, the school premises have reached their capacity. 

 “We already have a queue of new pupils, as we cannot fit everybody in. I have communicated the school’s acute need for more room to decision-makers, and I can only hope they take that seriously,” says Perttunen. 

The International School is also a job market attractor. Many foreigners immigrating to Finland for work choose the location they settle in based on the schooling opportunities for their children. 

“In ten years, I believe the school will have even more pupils, and its work continues to become more sophisticated and state-of-the-art. We benefit from a professional and enthusiastic faculty and an excellent work culture. As for all of these wonderful people who have travelled with me all these years, I will miss them very much,” concludes a moved Perttunen. 

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