Čau/Ciao! (or “Where Have I Been?”)

 

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No worries, I’m still chilling in Riga with a drink in my hand!

Hello everyone! I apologize that it has been a hot second since I have posted on my blog. In all honesty the past month here has both blurred by and crawled by. I have gotten to the part of the journey where my days have fallen into a pattern of what school I teach at, when orchestra rehearsal is, when I help with the Latvia Weekly news blog I have been writing for, when I call my family, when I socialize with the new friends I have made, go to church, etc. But that doesn’t mean that my patterned days are void of the normal feelings of missing home, struggling with the murky November weather, or feeling like I need to escape all that routine for some fresh spontaneity. In many ways I suppose I have entered into a life here that is pretty normal with its ups and downs.

However, whenever I face challenges here, I have usually found that the solution I come up with or the lesson I learn has overall improved how I see my world and this experience. So, I thought I would make a quick list of what things have been exciting me and challenging me since I last posted.

  1. Teaching:

This, of course, is the main thing that I am doing in Latvia. I am placed at two schools and am officially in an assistant educator role at both of them. Unofficially, I teach a full-blown university course that I self-created to 4 sections of students at Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music. I also co-teach with another instructor the set English curriculum standards to my secondary students at Riga Teika Secondary School.

The good news?

I absolutely love it!! I have found that I can really sink into the creativity and flexibility that is needed to create lessons, plan activities, and pass knowledge and ideas onto younger students. It is wonderful that I am fresh out of university as I feel I can really connect with my music students at the conservatory and am not far ahead of my 11th and 12th grade students in secondary school. I also love learning more about my students and Latvian society from being in the schools regularly.

The challenges?

No joke, teaching is difficult. Obviously, I knew that but I mean that it can be really difficult. A special shout-out to my education friends at Luther College and my past teachers as they have specifically decided to take on this as their profession. But, in all seriousness ….  figuring out how to grade students on my own, pass or fail them, create an attendance policy, form lesson plans efficiently, give makeup exams, and get a feel for the educational philosophy of the institution is tough work. I am certainly still figuring that out. I am just grateful that this journey allows me to work independently through difficulties and that I have a passion for learning. That makes things so much easier.

2. Extracurricular Projects

I am not always teaching. In fact, I am probably keeping myself more busy  with the other things I work on. These consist of playing violin in orchestra; serving on a committee that is planning a 2019 Academic Conference at Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music (more on this later); writing news summaries and other material for a news blog, Latvia Weekly, that is officially run by another former Fulbrighter living in Latvia; expanding my academic experience while serving as a research assistant/intern for the Baltic Security Strategy Project (also more on this later); and lastly, co-leading a U.S. Embassy sponsored conversation club two times a week.

The good news?

These things give me immense joy and the variety keeps me sane. I am a pretty independent worker so the fact most of these commitments are self-directed gives me room to explore these varying responsibilities at my own will. I have also been adopted into a few social circles pretty quickly. I see other young adults and graduate students my own age at orchestra, work with other Fulbrighters on continuous projects which fulfills our goals for the fellowship, and meet new Latvian students and professionals every week!

The challenges?

There are a lot, to be honest. For one, I have struggled to determine what my exact place or position is within some of these organizations. How do I provide my skills and insights gently and usefully? Is what I’m doing making a difference? Are people enjoying working with me? Besides these questions of self identity and meaning, I also have a lot of questions about the “how and why and who and what and when” of the different projects. I guess I am just still getting a feel for how things work or have been previously set-up before I came. I also do a lot of writing, which is one of the reasons you haven’t heard from me as of late. This isn’t a negative as I love writing, but freelancing and researching is time consuming.

3. Small Wins = Larger Victories

I have found that earning small wins translates to gaining larger victories in the life of someone living abroad. Since you last heard from me I have hired a private Latvian tutor to help me with language acquisition, checked-out library books from the library, refilled my transportation card, paid my phone bill, sent packages back to the U.S., replaced a light bulb, and found duct tape at Latvia’s version of “Home Depot.” These wins have greatly increased my quality of life although they were difficult to achieve.

The good news?

I have become more trusting of my innate learning ability bit by bit. This is the first time I have ever been out of school but I have found that my brain DID actually retain some tools for how to teach myself pretty much anything (thanks liberal arts and philosophy degree)! There is immense satisfaction in accomplishing small tasks when they are new and you are on your own. I am also proud of my language acquisition. I was worried before I came to Latvia that either a new language would be impossible to learn or that I somehow just didn’t have the gifts, talents, or abilities to pick-up Latvian or Russian. Luckily, I have been proved wrong as practicing them everyday and using the resources around me has ensured that I will keep improving a little at a time.

The challenges?

Small tasks usually take a lot of effort and chunk of my day to complete. Usually more time than planned for. I have to say that I kind of hate living in the city and taking public transportation everywhere. It is great I live so close to many of the things I need and like to do. However, I miss having a car and driving myself around. I miss the freedom and the fact that it took under 15 minutes to get anywhere in Decorah or Austin. Other challenges? It is also hard to learn new languages, make a fool of yourself while practicing in public, try to mime to someone what duct tape is at a customer service counter in a store, or build-up the courage to finally ask about something you have been previously avoiding. Frankly, it is exhausting. Especially now with the sun only out at 8:30am and setting at 4:00pm, often times all I want to do is one small task before I crawl back into bed. But I trek on, knowing that many small wins lead to larger victories.

Well, I think that is all for now. Thank you for reading and sticking with me through the good and the bad. Stay tuned for posts up soon about my upcoming trip to Ukraine this next week, explorations of Christmas in Riga, and thoughts on Latvia’s Centenary Year. I send my love to everyone reading from back home. I miss you all so much and thank you for supporting me on this journey.

 

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