If a man with an accent shows up at your door selling educational books, do not be alarmed.
It’s just Ilja the Education Man, as he calls himself on his Facebook page.
A 26-year-old Latvian who is entering his last year studying to be a gym teacher and handball coach at the Latvia Academy of Sport Education, Ilja Skopincevs arrived in Thompson in the last week of April and has been going door-to-door peddling educational materials for Southwestern Advantage, an educational publisher and direct selling company.
Skopincevs has done this sort of work before. His first time was six years ago in the United States.
“It was challenging,” he recalls. “I didn’t know English very well. I was just working super had and getting a lot of rejection. That was really hard.”
Since then, however, he has improved both his English and his salesmanship and says plans to remain in Manitoba until his work permit runs out in September and it is time for him to return for the last year of his bachelor’s degree studies.
He got his Canadian work permit last year and went to the Carberry area in September.
“I liked it, so I thought, ‘OK I’ll come back in the spring and summer,’” Skopincevs says.
Since returning on April 3, he worked in Neepawa for a few weeks while staying with a host family in Minnedosa.
He arrived in Thompson April 25 and has been staying in an Airbnb. Skopincevs plans to be in Thompson for at least another week, maybe longer if someone steps up to be a host family.
“I’m trying to learn the culture of people who live here,” he explains. “The best place to learn about it is from a host family. I cannot learn it from a hotel.”
Selling books door-to-door, which Skopincevs says he does up to 13 hours a day, six days a week, in a second language is not easy, as people have busy lives and he needs to make a fast and favourable impression.
“Every family sees me, first time in my life and last time in my life, so I need to be the best version of myself,” he says.
He takes selfies with many of the families who buy books from him or simply listen to his sales pitch because it can help raise awareness of who he is and what he’s doing when people see posts of him with their friends.
“It just helps me to get people to know about me.”
It also helps his family back in Latvia keep tabs on him, he jokes.
“My mom back home sees that I’m working, not drinking beer,” Skopincevs says, recalling that when he first went to the United States his parents were skeptical about his choice, saying that it was too far away and potentially dangerous. Now they just understand that that’s what I do.”
A former members of the Latvian national under-18 and under-21 handball teams, Skropincevs doesn’t have any plans to necessarily be a salesman after he finishes university. Right now, he thinks he might do a master’s degree or another bachelor’s degree after he finishes his first. But the experiences he has had and will continue to have are valuable to him.
“When you need to go door-to-door and it’s raining or it’s snowing outside and people say ’No, no’ all the time, it’s something that keeps your character building and that’s kind of the challenge of it.”