Lori Rubottom Karimi
‘I guess it must be reaching close to 1000.’
Lori Rubottom Karimi tilts her head and looks to the ceiling as if seeking confirmation. She’s contemplating the number of tours she has conducted for potential SIS parents in the years since 2017, when she became an admissions officer at SIS. ‘Yes, I guess it must be. I wish I had a record!’
And after talking to Lori for a little while, you are quite sure she means it. Her desire to make prospective or enrolling parents feel welcome and comfortable at SIS is almost palpable and reflects her enjoyment of the School and helping people out.
In her rhythmical southern states accent – she hails from Oklahoma, via Arkansas and Texas – Lori explains where that feeling comes from. ‘I guess I’ve spent all my life in customer service really. When I was little my family had businesses in our small town. I started helping out behind the counter of my grandfather’s hardware store when I was a kid. I’ve always just loved helping people with what they need.’
When it came to a grown-up job – after a period that saw her uproot from Arkansas and go to study fashion design in Dallas – the world of customer service won her back again, as she became part of the mobile telecoms boom in the 90s.
At that stage, Lori had never been to Europe, but that was rapidly to change when she met an Iranian working in the States who had lived in Sweden and was going to return. Lori came too. ‘It was a bit of a culture shock’ she concedes. ‘Apart from anything else, the climate is a lot different to the American South.’
But she determined to embrace her new country and now, over a decade later, recognises how her perceptions have changed. ‘Now that I can understand the language better and speak a little Swedish, I feel very comfortable here. It’s not that I feel less American, but I do note that when I’m here I feel my American influence, and when I go back to the States my Swedish influences become more pronounced.’
Finding her niche
Having been through this journey herself has equipped Lori particularly well in the roles she has held at SIS. She joined as a temporary cover working reception in 2012, a time she remembers fondly. ‘I loved the customer-facing position. You’re the first person a visitor encounters, you get so many opportunities to help people out and make them feel welcome, and you get to know all the students too. After a time, I moved to the business office to work on accounts receivable, and though I enjoyed the job and the colleagues I worked with, I missed that face-to-face, everyday encounter with our families. So I was delighted to move into admissions when the opportunity presented itself.’
When Lori did move into admissions there were about 600 students in SIS. Today it is just over 800. And that means not just more students, but more applications, more problem-solving for prospective parents, more advice for new arrivals, and more cultures and backgrounds to distinguish. ‘Apart from the purely academic aspects of processing an application for a new family, my colleague Dwayne and I are more than happy to support our incoming families in other ways. Depending on where people come from their expectations of, and reaction to, the Swedish way of doing things can be very different. I spoke with a family recently where the mom was surprised at how comfortable people are in Stockholm to have kids make their own way to school via public transport. She suddenly realised how much time that would free up for her every day, not having to do ‘‘the school run’’ from the suburbs.’
In fact, people even ask for advice on where they should buy or rent property in Stockholm. Lori gives a quick geographical overview of the city but takes a certain civic pride in saying that, with the School being so close to T-centralen, everywhere is quite accessible. And when from next year Norra Latin and Johannesgatan form the SIS city campus, that convenience and amenity will be even more pronounced. ‘Being at the heart of the city offers a real opportunity for those new to Stockholm. Many international schools in Europe have locations on the edge of cities. Sometimes that offers advantages of space but at the cost of really connecting to the community. Where we are in Stockholm, everything is on our doorstep. Culture, amenities, retail – it’s all just a few minutes walk away.’
Lori has already fallen in love with Norra Latin after just one quick visit in the midst of the construction work going on. ‘It’s a wonderful space’, she says excitedly. ‘I know families will the thrilled with the environment in which their children will be learning.
‘I can’t wait to do my first tour!’