Author Archives: Garrett in Latvia

About Garrett in Latvia

Hi, my name is Garrett Burgess, and I am a current Senior at West Virginia University where I study International Relations and Russian Studies. This summer I will be in Riga, Latvia conducting an internship made possible by the Gilman International Scholarship.

Same Place, But a New Adventure

I have been to the Baltic nation of Latvia before, but this time feels different. Before leaving I didn’t know if this feeling was of adventure or of fear. Two summers prior I had done a language study in Riga, Latvia where I studied Russian language and culture. I fell in love with its vibrancy. The city is so rich with its historic landmarks and nouveau architecture. The river, which cuts through the heart of the city, always appears so calm as the local steamboat captains offer discounted rides and sometimes even meals aboard their ships. Riga was calling me back since I had left, so once I found that I had been accepted as an intern at the U.S. Embassy, I jumped on my chance. Yet, as the days approached I realized that I was going to Riga under different circumstances with new responsibilities and new challenges. Pushing these thoughts aside, I packed my things (which happened to be, of course, 10lbs over the airline weight limit) and headed on to my new journey.

Arriving at the airport, I was not greeted by my host family as I had been two summers ago. Instead, I was there as an adult, no longer dependent on others to guide me through my first stumbles. Getting to my apartment was no easy task. Having hailed a taxi, I was unable to thoroughly communicate with the driver. Knowing only English and Russian (Latvia speaks both Russian and Latvian, yet many know English) I feel prepared to tackle most all social interactions. Yet I may have gotten in the car with the only taxi driver in the city that didn’t speak either Russian or English. I am familiar with language barriers and respect the circumstances, yet trying to find an apartment in an area that I had never been before by pointing and waving only goes so far. But, eventually, I made it.

 

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The “House of Black Heads” was a guild for merchant and craftsmen who shared in a brotherhood. Destroyed during a bombing raid in WWII, it was rebuilt in 1999.

 

My first few days at my internship were marvelous, I assimilated rather quickly and they continue to teach me things that both interest me and confuse me. Yet there is value in this confusion. After my supervisor overheard me talking about the crowded bus I ride to work that often violently throws its passengers across the platform, he surprised me in the parking lot with his old bicycle. The transportation roadway system has proven to be the biggest challenge for me to date in Latvia. In my home state of West Virginia, the mountains often prevent us from riding bikes outside of recreational activities. To be frank: I am not very great at riding a bike, often issuing brake checks that result in me slinging myself above the handle bars. Bikes are normal vessels of transportation here, and this was my new challenge that I was going to win. So far, I can proudly say that I am taking on this new challenge, and fitting in with the other morning commuters with only a few scrapes and bruises.

 

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Freedom Monument. The monument guarded by the Latvian military servicemen honors those who perished during their fight for independence in 1918-1920.

 

I have found that the second time around in a country, you are more apt to notice the smaller things. I pass average street vendors and notice the differences in the produce they sell compared to the average markets back home. I have noticed the difference in style, music taste, and social interactions between the people that I previously did not catch. I have also noticed more and more similarities between the United States and Latvia. Specifically, I have noticed the similarities in politeness that I have only seen in my small town that I call home in West Virginia. Strangers giving up seats, holding doors, and smiling as they walk past you on the street, all of which are no guarantee in any city. Sometimes these faint gestures remind me of what awaits back home and pull my mind elsewhere. But one glance around at my surroundings and the opportunities that I have been afforded anchors me back into this new adventure.

 

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The gardens outside of the Opera House offer great views when walking through the central city.

 

I am looking forward to learning about the history of Riga in greater depth (I believe I have exhausted the food circles for me to try). This weekend is the free museum weekend in Old Town Riga. While wandering the city, and exploring the various museums, I also aim to find what makes the people of Riga tick. My goal is to interact, in some fashion, with a new person every day. Whether that be a smile, a quick conversation, or scheduled luncheon, I want to explore this place through the conversations and memories of its people.

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