Recently we had the pleasure of speaking with Erick, a fellow language enthusiast from the USA who came all the way to Latvia to learn the Russian language for 8 months. So, let’s dive in and hear firsthand from Erick about his language-learning adventure in Latvia.
My main motivation for coming to Latvia to study Russian was to gain a more in-depth understanding of the cultures of Latvia and its Russian-speaking community. I grew up in the Latvian-American community and was always interested in my heritage. So I wanted to explore that further. Living in Riga would allow me to strengthen both my Russian and Latvian language skills and connect with my ancestral homeland.
I believe that my Latvian roots have given me a unique perspective on the languages and history of Latvia. Having attended Latvian summer school programs in the United States throughout my childhood, I already came to Latvia with a strong foundation of knowledge. My Russian immersion experience has accentuated my learning, helping me better understand Latvia’s interesting cultural dynamics and approach issues with deeper insights.
My experience learning Russian in Latvia has been both challenging and rewarding. The language is very different from English and Latvian, with many rules and exceptions that can be difficult to remember. However, with the help of my teachers and fellow students, I have improved significantly, and I now feel more confident in my ability to communicate in the language.
Attending a Christmas Eve service at Rīgas Vecā Svētās Ģertrūdes baznīca was a very special experience for me. This was the church where my grandfather attended services when growing up in Riga. The service itself was incredibly moving, touching on the hardships experienced by Ukrainian refugees (similar to my own family’s background). Listening to the beautiful music and participating in the service made me feel a deep connection to my roots and my family’s past. I also enjoyed volunteering for the “ENGtegration for Ukraine” program each week, often using my Russian skills as a bridge language to teach English to Ukrainians.
In my view, Latvians are much more introverted than Americans and don’t feel the need to share their opinions as much. They tend to take more time to think before they speak and are comfortable with silence. As an American, this can make it difficult to make friends and engage in free-flowing conversations with people. However, once you get to know them better, Latvians are extremely friendly and are some of the most loyal friends you can make.
My favorite Latvian tradition is the celebration of “Jāņi” or midsummer. During this time, people gather around bonfires to sing, eat, drink, and celebrate the longest day of the year. Other holidays I participated in were Latvian Independence Day and Lāčplēša diena. People fill the streets of Riga, celebrating the independence of Latvia and commemorating those who had sacrificed their lives for liberty. They sing traditional Latvian songs and march together, creating an atmosphere of unity, pride, and joy. It was truly inspiring to experience.
We want to extend a big thank you to Erick for taking the time to share his valuable feedback and personal experiences with us. We hope his insights and advice have been helpful to anyone out there who is considering learning a new language or studying abroad. Thanks again, Erick!