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What I Learned in Latvia

Choosing to move abroad for any reason is difficult and actually making the move doubly so. When I studied abroad in Latvia there’s a lot of things that I would’ve loved to have known. Of course I had a great time there, but it’s amazing when I think about the worries and hassles I could’ve saved myself. Or how lucky I was to have avoided some of the things that I wasn’t prepared for. Let me walk you through my trip to Latvia, from the moments of its inception to the heights of my cultural immersion. I’ll try to keep things fun and interesting while pointing out what I should’ve done better.

Give Minor Destinations a Chance

When you ask most Americans where they’d love the travel, there are some usual suspects. Almost everyone will tell you Italy, Spain, France, or China. A smaller, but still substantial, number will consider the UK, South Korea, or Morocco. And a handful of adventurous travelers will let you in on their plans to visit Vietnam, Columbia, or Poland.

Certain countries are unpopular because of the danger associated with traveling there. Other destinations, like Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Latvia are untouched because of their perceived boredom compared to “the greats.” And wrongly so, I submit!


Rundāle Palace easily matches any of the castles in more popular destinations.

I’ll confess that it was only circumstance that led to me Latvia. I had an internet pen pal from the country and he sang its praises convincingly enough that I was motivated to make it my study abroad destination. If not for this bit of luck I would’ve likely been sucked into one of the hotter destinations and spent my entire time abroad surrounded by other American students. (I’m not a natural go-getter when it comes to cultural opportunities.)

So here’s the first thing I would’ve done differently: look outside the box and think about less popular destinations. Not only are they likely to be much better than you expect, you’ll also avoid the tourist culture that’s sprung up in major travel spots and find yourself in more direct contact with the local culture.

Plan Your Move Carefully

As tempting as it is to just up and go sometimes, there’s a lot to be said for having your bases locked down before making an international trip. Even more so if you’re going to be residing in a foreign country long enough that it’s no longer foreign.

What I did was pack a week’s worth of clothes (plus a few heavier items for the coming winter), a camera, and my laptop. I felt so prepared at the time, but I just feel silly looking back on the move. What I should’ve done was probably something more akin to this list. It’s amazing and lucky that I didn’t have a medical emergency overseas because I would likely have been completely unprepared to work with the doctors in Riga, all of my medical history an ocean and a half away.

Get a Local Contact

It can be a pen pal that you’ve known for years or someone that your aunt’s roommate’s friend once hung out with, but you need somebody local who can show you the ropes. The fact of the matter is that locals are going to know their region better than any travel website and are going to be able to get you in on cultural happenings.


A torchlight procession in Vienkoču Park.

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For example, my pen pal let me know about this night time torch procession in Vienkoču Park, about an hour drive from Riga. He drove up from Jēkabpils and we had an amazing night walking through the park and seeing all its natural beauty by torchlight.

Again, I got lucky here since I knew someone beforehand, but without luck I never would’ve gotten the opportunities that I did.

Paldies ka Jūs izlasījāt par manu ceļojumu Latvijā!

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