Jaromír Sedlár (33) is Head of Department of Entrepreneurial Leadership at LEAF Academy. After working and living on three different continents he is back in Slovakia.
How long did you live abroad before coming back to Slovakia?
I left Slovakia when I was 17 to go to Brno in 2001. In 2005 I went for what I thought would be a one year study exchange in the USA. I left in 2015 to spend a year in South Africa. Altogether it was 15 years, almost 10 in the USA.
You studied but also worked abroad, where and how did the journey start?
I studied Political Science and International Relations in Brno at Masaryk University. Then I studied Organizational Leadership at Fort Hays State University. After that I worked for the International Leadership Association, and then went for a PhD. program at the University of Texas where I focused on Strategy, Management and Leadership.
What was the biggest lesson learned from living and working abroad?
This might sound like a cliché but I learned how to appreciate the beauty of Slovakia. You really have to be away from the Slovak mountains for five years to realize how beautiful they are. When you are abroad you are able to look at your country from a distance.
You realize how much world is out there and that we really are just a small place in a relatively small area of central Europe. But just because we are small geographically does not mean we cannot make an important contribution to this world.
So after all these years, what made you come back to Slovakia?
I did not come back to Slovakia. I came to work for LEAF Academy. And to me that is important. Because it is good when you think of returning to Slovakia as some sort of charity or duty. And there is certainly a place for that.
But what I find amazing about LEAF Academy is that to me it is the best place to be in this world if you want to change the way education is done at high school level. And I think this is what we should strive for as a country: to create world class opportunities that everyone around this world, whether they are Slovak or not, would love to be a part of.
At LEAF Academy, you are a teacher of Entrepreneurial Leadership. What does EL mean to you?
Starting something new that matters. EL has two components. E stands for entrepreneurial and that’s what we do, starting something new, something that matters, as I said. The L part, leadership, is that while doing things you develop others and yourself.
Before you got the opportunity to work for LEAF Academy, were you thinking of coming back to Slovakia, maybe looking into what to do here, or were you more focused on your life abroad and on staying there?
Interestingly enough, when I went to the USA I thought I was going for just one year. I never imagined living there. And I struggled with that, I really wanted to go back home. However, after so many years I got to the point that I was organizing my life around the fact that I would be staying in the United States.
And as I was finishing my PhD, lining up jobs, and finding a place where we are going to be based as a family, suddenly this opportunity came up.
What were your first thoughts when you found out about it?
That this is interesting. A couple of things happened around that time that made LEAF Academy attractive to me. First, I never thought that I would be working at high school level but then I talked to a friend who told me that in his opinion it might be more effective to develop student leadership at high school. That made me think.
Secondly, my son entered the school system. And even though he was at a really good school in Texas I noticed that the schools there are not working for their students really well. It should be the school working for the kids, not the kids working for the school. I think that increased my motivation to go into high school education. And then this opportunity came up.
How would you describe LEAF Academy in three words?
Potential. Ambitions. And let’s wait for the third one.
How do you feel about Slovakia, about living and working here, since you came back?
I love every day of working at LEAF Academy, I enjoy it a lot. As for the country, I see improvements. But I think there is a lot of unused potential in this country, including in Bratislava. People may not like this, but when you think about it, Bratislava is not yet on the map for anything – whether it is culture or innovations.
So what we need to think about is, can Bratislava become a destination to go to for something? What kind of destination can Slovakia be the place to go to? We are on the way there in some areas.
How did the move to Slovakia affect your family?
We are a family of three people; each of us was born in a different country, on a different continent and has a different first language. So managing that is already interesting. One thing I have learnt is that the older my son is, the harder moving is. But we have found a really good school and it is all working out.
What can be the one thing that can attract Slovaks abroad back home?
Good opportunities. It is also a little bit about the sense that people have of the country. If they feel like the country is on the right track of improving they might think more about coming back. It is a little bit like attracting investors, there has to be something attractive in the country.
Of course you can give people a large amount of money to come back but will that make them stay here for a long period of time? So I think it is the whole environment, the way the country works. Also, if people abroad see that those who came back are doing well and are successful, they themselves might see coming back as a good option.
Are you putting a deadline on your stay here?
No. One thing I have learned in life is that you cannot plan your life too far ahead.