From Russia to Tokyo sounds like a movie title – but the real life adventures of Alina McLeod are more varied and interesting than even a feature film could portray.
McLeod, now in her early 20s, has immigrated to Canada from Russia, went to school in a rural community, modeled in Japan, travelled the world, has a photography business in Saskatoon and is now in a TBS television series shot in Japan.
McLeod immigrated to Kinistino with her mother when she was four years old. Despite the fact she arrived shy and knowing only Russian, she excelled in school.
“I didn't speak any English. I remember being very shy and self-conscious about it in the lower grades but since I was still quite young, I picked it up quickly enough. It's much harder to learn new languages when you're older."
With a father determined to encourage his young ward in every way possible, McLeod was encouraged to pursue her dreams. She was able to sign with a modeling agency in Saskatoon when she was 13 years old after she expressed her interest in this field. With little opportunity in Saskatchewan, she set her sights farther afield.
At a large modeling convention in Vancouver, Faces West, McLeod found she was too young, but a year later was signed by an agency.
“There sadly isn't much work to speak of (yet) in Saskatchewan. I ended up going to a large modeling and talent convention in Vancouver called Faces West when I was 13. There was quite a bit of interest, but no one would sign me at that age and told me to come back next year. So it was the year after that when I was finally signed with TEAM Agency in Tokyo”, she reflects.
So, while still a high school student at Kinistino, Alina pursued her modelling career with stints in Japan. She found Japan was her primary market as she is not tall enough to model in cities such as New York and Paris. Additionally, she has come to love the country, and finds it a safe place to work.
Still though, safety of models is a critical issue for her.
“I highly do not recommend parents sending their children overseas alone for this sort of work before the age of eighteen,” she suggests. “For me it was thankfully a very positive experience, but I've seen too many young girls get completely swept into some very dangerous situations. When you do this sort of work you have to remember that first and foremost, it's a business. People are there to make money. You are going to be treated as an adult and there's a lot of consequences you'll have to deal with that mom and dad can't come clean up for you. It's a very big undertaking for someone who's fresh into the business and doesn't understand their rights.”
Still, McLeod has had primarily good experiences. She has done a variety of freelance work, commercials and now has finished filming a TPS Japanese TV show.
“I was shocked I got the main foreign lead in the new TBS drama called ATARU. I was under the impression my Japanese would have to get a whole lot better before I'd even be allowed to audition for these sorts of jobs, but it was actually all in English. The dub it over on the actual show of course, but we film it in English. I had to do two very long auditions over the course of three weeks, so the anxiety was built up so high that I almost couldn't believe my eyes when my agent sends me an email with simply 'You got it'," McLeod said.
“You wouldn't believe how much work and time goes into a minute of a television show. I got up at 5 a.m. on the first day of filming and didn't get home until 3 a.m. And since I was in every scene but one, I had very few breaks. It's very tiresome. But at the end of the day, I try to look at the bigger picture of where it might lead instead of focusing on the pain and discomfort I feel in the moment.”
In her spare time, she has travelled to six continents and 20 countries.
“The knowledge that I've gained from those travels is invaluable. There is no school and no book that can teach you what hands on experience can. I think it's important to do things that are out of your comfort zone, that's when you really learn who you are and what you're capable of,” she said.
You can see her webpage here.
Her blog is called Found in Translation.
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