This time I would like to share with you my story on how international relations came into my life, step by step, starting from childhood.
I grew up in Latvia. It’s an interesting place from international point of view. Latvia always had mix of different cultures throughout its history: Swedes, Germans, Russians but that’s history. When I was a child the mix was different and consisted mainly from people from different republics from the Soviet Union. Thus, I used to be in the environment of various cultures, however they were not that different from each other.
My first “foreigner” contact I got when I was 10 years old. I found in my English language book (exactly the one as on the photo) an address for a pen pal exchange organisation. I sent them a letter, but did not have much hope, as it could have been a fake address. To my surprise I got a pen pal from the UK. Still remember her name, Jenny. We were pen pals for 10 years! (Yes, at that time people were still writing letters using pen and paper). It was very interesting for me to find out how people in other country live. My pen pal network grew and by time when I was 14 years old, I already had pen pals from all over the world. Believe it or not, with some of them I am still in touch! This helped me a lot to understand people from different parts of the world and their logic, way of life.
During my teenage years I volunteered in different youth organisations, participated and later organised various international seminars, which gathered people from different parts of Europe. That helped me to build international connections and explore difference in the behaviours of different nations. For example, at that time I learnt that Spanish and Italians are more relaxed and not too worried about time, that Germans want their work to be super perfect, no matter what etc.
Of course, not everything went so smoothly. For example, once for Christmas I had received a gift from a friend from Denmark. It was a nice, cute souvenir, but it was delayed and it was packed in…. a used envelope!!! Now I think about it “ok, and what’s the matter?”, whereas at that time it seemed to be a disaster, I felt that this person does not respect me at all! Now I realise that this difference arouse probably because in Denmark people were used to recycling and re-using, whereas in Latvia it did not exist yet (it was ca. 10 years ago).
There were ups and downs with almost any culture I met. I still cannot forget the hospitality of one Ukrainian family, which hosted me in their apartment, at the same time I was shocked when in information centre in train station of the main resort towns in Ukraine I had to pay for the information and then the person instead of giving an answer, shouted at me, complaining that she is tired of us [tourists]. I adored the efficiency of Germans while having seminars, at the same time I was confused when everyone was angry at me, when I crossed the road (2 meters long) on red light, where only tram could go and there was no tram in neither direction in the distance of 1km. You can read also about my latest experience facing the Swiss culture here.