I was born and grew up in Riga, Latvia. My parents were originally from Latvia, but grandparents came to Latvia from different places, so I am ethically quite mixed. I never felt I belong to any of two main groups in Latvia – Latvians or Russians. Actually, I was always interested in everything international.
First international contact
When I was 10 years old, I found in my English language book an address for a pen pal exchange. I sent them a letter, without much hope, as it could be even fake address. To my surprise I got a pen pal from UK. Still remember her name, Jenny. We were pen pals for 10 years! (Yes, at that time people were still writing letters using paper and pen). It was very interesting for me to find out how people in other country live. My pen pal network grew and 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!
First international travel
The other way how I was exploring new cultures is by travelling. First trip outside Latvia I made when I was 5 years old, to the Black sea. In my teenage years I traveled a lot and first trip without parents I made when I was 13 years old, to the UK. A year later, when I was 14, I traveled to Italy by bus. I think I grew up a lot during that trip. It was my first encounter with Italian culture and first feelings of solitude. Also during this trip I saw for a first time in my life non-white person. It was interesting.
Internet era began: internalization of Margarita continued
Soon internet became more and more popular and I started meeting new friends via different chat rooms, such as mIRC, ICQ, if someone remembers J (these were the times when facebook, MSN had not exist yet). This enabled also to stay in touch with the new friends I have made while travelling abroad.
Special case: unusual book
But enough about Internet. One of the biggest “Thanks” for the interest in foreigner culture I have to give to my grandmother. When I was 14 she gave me to read a book, called “Princess”, written by Saudi Arabian princess about the life in the Kingdom. That was a door to a completely different world to me. Before this book I hardly knew anything about the Middle East. After reading it I was shocked. My grandma wanted with this book to show me how dangerous the life is there, but actually in reality it was vice –versa – for me this “new” world became very interesting, and my passion for the Middle East began.
Early steps into international arena
I started working part-time, volunteering when I was 16 years old, because I really wanted to feel international context. First it was work at an international conference, then different international youth projects. When I had to start my university, obviously I have decided to study International Relations.
International exchange: first experience of “life abroad”
My first “living” experience abroad (longer than 1 month) was an Erasmus student exchange programme in Trier, Germany. By that time I was already well-prepared or even over-prepared for it, so it ran quite smoothly. In a month time after I came back from Germany, I had to move to the UK, as I have received a job offer there, in an international charity. It was quite easy – I got offered a second job I have applied for.
Life in the UK
I have never dreamt about life in the UK, so for me it was nothing exciting, just another new experience. Now, looking back, I am quite happy that I had it. I did not like London in the beginning – it seemed to me dirty and crowded, but after a while I understood all its beauties. The biggest attraction for me was that London is a multicultural city, really, really. It is actually quite hard to find a Londoner there. I loved this aspect! Also it gave me lots of different opportunities – I attended German language group, Italian language group, Only girls group (imagine 50 or so girls walking in the park….) etc. However the feel for change was bigger than my love to London and I have decided to do my Masters and have chosen an International Masters, in which participated 6 universities – 5 European and one American. I had to spend at least one trimester abroad. I thought I will choose UK-Italy-Germany (in many cases you had to study in the language of the country, so I could go neither to Paris nor to Madrid). But later, I have decided to stay longer in Italy , as I preferred its course on Mediterranean studies.
So my study points were Bath – Siena. Bath was a great experience, very different from universities in Latvia and Germany. Not all things were super there, but I loved library, where we were allowed to take almost any books, I liked also our student community, finally, after 4 years of university education, I was able to feel full student’s life.
So I was not that happy to leave all that and move to Siena. But my sorrow did not last long. In Siena I got new friends, interesting lectures on topics I have never explored before, finally I got possibility to write my thesis on topic I liked – EU relations with the Middle East countries.
… and here I am!
After Siena I moved to Rome. Things here did not go as smooth as I had previously in my life. Actually Rome taught me to be patient and to accept things as they are. Believe it or not, but during my first year there, I did not like Rome at all. Many say it is a beautiful place, but I was not able to see its beauty, actually what other people like in Rome, used to irritate me. Now things change and I like my life here. I was an active member of Rome’s international community, had good friends, my favourite places. Rome is great, as it has everything – it is international, the weather is great, gelato is very tasty (ice-cream), sea is nearby (very important for me)….
And then I left it all to face a new challenge and moved to Ispra – a small town in the North of Italy. I did not know anyone there, and unlike Rome and London, Ispra does not have much to offer, but even then I managed to find new friends and hobbies. After 1.5 year of life in Ispra, I decided to move to London – the first place in my life, choice of which was not supported by anything, such as work or studies. And London, here I am! (at the moment of writing this, I am on my 4th month of life in London and about to move house for the 3rd time 🙂 Why? It’s another unusual story 😉