One semester has already passed since Riza Franchesca Regala from Ateneo de Manila University (Philippines) has started her Erasmus+ studies at Liepaja University (LiepU) in the study programme European Language and Culture Studies in Liepaja, Latvia. What was her experience during the studies and pandemic time, while being away from home till the very end of the study semester and how did she manage with online studies at LiepU? Riza Franchesca is one of the student’s, who received an Erasmus+ grant for studies in LiepU within Erasmus+ KA107 project that LiepU currently implements together with Ateneo de Manila University.
“I still remember the day I was nominated for an Erasmus+ semester in Latvia like it was yesterday. I had always admired Latvia for its Art Noveau and rich history. Nevertheless, I understood that I had a lot more to learn about the country. (..) Little did I know, however, about the amount of paperwork I had to go through to get to Latvia. Fortunately, I received a great deal of support from the Liepaja University International Office. They never ceased to guide me through all the processes and they helped make the endless paperwork a lot smoother. Moreover, Liepaja University has this Buddy Set-up which matches each Erasmus+ student with a Liepaja University student. Initially, my buddy was someone who helped me find an apartment, but soon enough, my buddy became a trusted friend who helped me easily integrate into Latvian society. Without their assistance, my Erasmus+ experience would not have been the same. While the pre-mobility phase was clearly my least favorite part, I am thankful for the support I received to get through it.
Soon enough, the things that had shocked me became my new normal. I started to cherish the cold weather, knowing I was not going to experience it much as soon as I got back to the Philippines. I took advantage of the ice-skating rink and re-kindled my love for my childhood sport. I also took the opportunity to take Latvian Lessons which the University fortunately offered for free. I was so happy especially about this because as a European Studies student, I just knew that learning this language would allow me to appreciate the history and culture of Latvia more. It also allowed me to better communicate with the locals and embrace the Latvian society.
Of course, I got to meet more people as the months went by, locals and International students alike. I can proudly say that during this mobility, I met some of the kindest, most talented and most passionate people from every possible walk of life. I know for a fact that I will hold my memories with them in my heart wherever I go. They have widened my horizons which is something I am eternally grateful for. From ice skating together to meeting up after a storm to find amber on the beach, and later on travelling around Latvia and the Baltics, I easily found a sense of belonging with people from all around the world.
Liepaja University used to host these “International Wednesdays” gatherings where students and interns got to present about their home countries and prepare a national dish for everyone. I myself had the opportunity to present about the Philippines with one of my dearest Erasmus friends from Austria. Sadly, we did not know at that time that this was one of the last International Wednesdays in a while because just a few days later, the global pandemic began. I can recall a mix of emotions among us Erasmus students at that time: some of us were scared, some of us were sad, and all of us were frustrated because we had absolutely no control over what was happening.
At this point, Liepaja University arranged online classes. Although the system was different from in-person lessons, I was just happy that I could continue learning. I took my online classes seriously even if they were sometimes really challenging. The professors were still very helpful and I owe it to them that I was able to improve my proficiency in Spanish and French and my knowledge of Great Britain and French civilizations in spite of everything that was happening. LiepU has a very competent University staff. Additionally, the class size ratio to the professors make learning more personalized to the student’s individual needs. Although sometimes professors spoke Latvian to explain a question to the non-Erasmus students, not once did I feel left out in any of my classes. Eventually, brighter days came and some restrictions were slowly lifted. Personally, I found it very commendable how Latvians themselves and the government handled the pandemic.
With all of this being said, I have some practical advice for anyone who wants to go on Erasmus+ in Latvia: do it. The exchange opportunity will allow you to expand your perspective on the world as you know it. Through the intercultural exchange, you will also be able to forge a lifetime of friendships with people around the world. It will not really take you long either to fall in love with the charm of Latvia and its breathtaking cities. Surely, your Erasmus experience will only be as good as you make it; but with the right people at a place that feels like home, the only thing left to worry about is finding a good apartment and taking care of the heaps of paperwork.
Overall, my Erasmus experience for me symbolizes a period in my life I was able to embrace my independence and learn how to manage my freedom. Though I know that the best six months of my life have come to an end, I strongly feel that this is only the beginning of a new chapter in my life where I get to take all the amber I found and all the lifelong lessons I learned back home. And, no matter where I go or what the future holds, a part of my heart will always stay in Liepaja.”
Thank you, Franchesca!
31 Jul 2020