Scandinavian to Latvians: Please, stop being so hard on yourself and your country

What I have learned from my 6 months in Latvia

”You are going to a post-soviet country to study? Are you out of your mind, girl?”

Was the first reaction I was met with from my mom when I presented my idea of moving to Latvia to study.

I of course understood her scepticism considering that I had never actually heard of any other Danes going there to study, but on the other hand I couldn’t see why that should stop me. 
Before I applied to “Turiba University” in Riga I was aware of the political, social and economic situation of Latvia but I also bore in mind the fact that it is by experiencing different cultures, you learn the most. So, when I hopped on the plane to Riga on the 28th of September it was with a stomach full of excitement and a suitcase full of hope.

I soon came to learn that it wasn’t every day that Latvians met people from Denmark. I thought it would only be my home country questioning my choice of study-location but I quickly came to learn that the Latvians themselves were the most confused:

”Usually Latvians go to Denmark to study, not the other way around”

They tried to explain to me, baffled by what exactly got into my mind the day I decided to hop on that plane and move here.

This was also my first meeting with the Latvians self-criticism. In Denmark most people (excluding myself) live in a belief that we are one of the greatest countries in the world and this view is only enhanced when we year after year are named the happiest country of the world. 
I was therefore shocked about meeting someone who actually remained sceptical towards their own country’s way of doing things. In one way it was refreshing to meet someone who knew that you don’t necessarily have to die where you were born, but on the other hand it was also sad to see how some of the Latvians had lost faith in their own country. After my first night out a very talkative taxi-driver told me about how the Latvian population has plummeted over the last decade:

”When you graduate from the university, there is no job waiting for you, so why should you take your degree here in the first place? And if everyone leaves, why should I stay? That’s the way the young Latvians nowadays see their opportunities here in the country”

He told me in almost perfect English.

I was surprised to learn that a huge part of the young Latvians do not actually see any other way out than almost fleeing from their own country. I have never heard of such thing in Denmark maybe because the economy simply isn’t an issue, so this perspective really opened my eyes. 
It also made me think of those who choose to stay — those in my course for example. They all have a mindset that I really admire. 
They have a much larger drive and motivation compared to Danish students. The young people here are so much more determined and high aiming unlike the majority of the Danish students.

I think the reason that the Latvian students are so dedicated to their studies is because, well first of all; they have to pay to study and second of all; the country is not at its best right now and the Latvian students are aware of that and are eager to change it. At least that is my experience. Whereas the Danish students don’t have any motivation to aim high because even if they fail their tests they will still get paid to go to school, they will still have social benefits to fall back on and no matter how bad they end up, the economy and worldwide status of Denmark will still remain high and untouched.

The mindset of the Latvians studying in Latvia is a quality that Danish students could really learn from and it also leads me to the whole message of this text — Latvians need to understand and realize that Denmark, or Scandinavia in general, is not as perfect as you are apparently brainwashed into thinking it is. Yes, our economy is good and our social benefits rules, but trust me, there are a lot of other issues in Denmark that the rest of the world never sees because it’s blinded by the first two mentioned things.

So please Latvians, stop being so hard on yourself. Latvia is an amazing country with a lot of potential and it is just as worth living in as any other European country, all you have to do is break free from your negative view of your own country.

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