One Year with Campus Europae in Riga, Latvia

One Year with Campus Europae in Riga, Latvia

One Year with Campus Europae in Riga, Latvia

Originally written in January of 2009. Put online on this blog because it used to be a blog chronicling the trials and tribulations of my foreign exchange (basically, Erasmus) studies through Campus Europae at the University of Latvia (Latvijas Universitate)in Riga.

 

As I made a clean slate to give the blog its present focus , I wanted to give this post some prominence…

Why go abroad as a teacher training student, for a whole year (let alone two)?

Part of the choice was only too simple: I had always regretted not having gone abroad during my first studies. Having started studying again, in order to add a job education and qualification for working as a teacher to my skills, I jumped at the chance to do so now.

It’s not only that, though…

Teachers are hardly the best-regarded of professionals. Sure, education is necessary, but who really likes school? Does school have to be liked? Is such dislike of school and learning a problem caused by teachers themselves, and that it has to be work, not (only) pleasure just teachers’ cheap excuse for not working differently? Don’t you become a teacher only because of the easy hours and months of free time?

Maybe for some it’s a matter of never wanting to leave school and how it structures life. For me, it’s a matter of loving knowledge and wanting to promote it. It’s a major issue for matters of sustainability, the field I focus on.

Being, by and large, forced to switch careers – or rather, to combine interests into career parts that fit together – teacher training is an excellent job training to add to my academic training. Always having worked towards an ability to live the way I want to, always a bit removed from the “normal” way, of course it fits to participate in such a program as Campus Europae.

For “normal” teacher training students, if you don’t want to be just another one of those people doing just what is necessary to get to the next holiday time, but to further your horizon and gain experience with the way school (and teacher education) works in different countries, it’s probably the best opportunity currently available.

With the Bologna process, European higher education is becoming more integrated (or at least meant to be); schools are being compared, but primary and secondary education is still very different across Europe. How, however, would you know if you only studied “your subject” and never looked left or right?

On the other hand, how much better – or at least more interesting – a (potential) teacher will you be, having experienced how teachers are trained and work in two more countries than your own?

Strangest experience I had: Having a girl wolf-whistle after me at a bus stop

Why ever did you go to Latvia?

It’s a question that accompanied me from Austria, before leaving, all through the stay in Latvia.

The answer was – and is – simple: I grew up close to the Iron Curtain, and although that fell during my childhood, there was still a barrier towards Eastern Europe.

With Campus Europae stipulating two year-long stays abroad, my decision was to let adventurousness be my guide for the first year, and practicality the guideline for the second year.

With relatively few universities participating in the teacher training part of the program (including that at University of Vienna, it’s only teacher training students that can participate in Campus Europae – my luck, for once), the idea was to go the Northeast of Europe first (Latvia or Sweden), the Southeast (Spain or Portugal) later.

What was it like? – Part 1: Life

Well, sure, it is a bit wild…

The cars are modern and expensive, clothing tends to be fashionable, people (women, especially) mind their looks.

The darkness in winter can be quite depressing, and the city itself can be very grey. Then again, summer gets hot, and there are hours upon hours of sunshine.
The sand on the beaches is perfect, and the Jugendstil architecture truly amazing…

People, similarly, are not the quickest to make friends, or even just be friendly. Then again, most exchange students also don’t know enough Latvian and Russian to communicate effectively.

I found many people to be sufficiently open (certainly for me – and foreign students too much so, for my taste ;-).

 

 

What was it like? – Part 2: Studies & Work

The buildings (top picture: Modern Languages; bottom: Pedagogy & Psychology) sure don’t look like all that much.

The education, just like the entire country, is still somewhere in between… not always quite up to speed, but very often so and even highly creative.

Most of the problems I had came from my lack of knowledge of Latvian and problems in mediating between Austrian university requirements and the Latvian organization. The same held true in reverse, for Latvian students who had been to Austria or Germany…

The main problem, as always, was just doing too much and wanting more, and stuff like that. Also as always, some lectures were rather too nice and easy, some were harder than expected, and working hard is still hard work.

I think I have to say special thanks to Dean Ošinš and Prof. Ankrava. I didn’t know I liked discussing literature so much…

Teaching offered the usual problems, if not a few more. And yet, I found the pupils to be interesting and usually nice; many colleagues – special thanks to Mrs. Lapina and Jakovica, and of course to principal Sile – to be even nicer and a great support.

Even the necessary bureaucracy – thanks to the EU – was the least problematic I have ever experienced.

Something I learnt, and hadn’t realized before:

I never had a problem with American newness. I mean, the argument/complaint/… that it was all so new. Who cares? It still has an interesting history.

In Riga, I noticed that, where European history is concerned, I do have a problem with newness. To have a European city which does not have roots reaching back into the Roman Empire seems very strange to me. – Blame my grammar school (“Gymnasium”, with at least 5 years of Latin) education for it.

Thinking about that, I once again find it strange how people think of Europe.

On the one hand, what makes up Europe are its roots in ancient Greek democracy and philosophy and ancient Roman thought, law, and power.

On the other hand, that these roots make Northern Africa at least, or even more, European than Scandinavia (what to the Romans were the ranges of the Barbarians to the North of the Limes border wall) is gladly forgotten.

 

Also of interest:
In Austria, we learn of Europe as a continent in its own right.
In Latvia, pupils learn that Eurasia is the continent, Europe is only a part of it.
Probably a “view from Russia,” so to speak, but – geographically – very justified.

All in All:

  • The organization was actually less problematic than expected. It was all rather more expensive than expected, though. – Complaints about a 3-4% inflation in Austria sound funny after experiencing an economy getting into as much turmoil as that of Latvia (inflation: 16% or thereabouts).
  • For my studies, it was less helpful than hoped. I’ll have to see about accreditation, and then it might all look better, though [Update: Starting to look better already].
  • Latvian was also not easy, and needed a lot of time (and so did Russian). And teaching. All that added up…
  • Yet, having had the chance to work as a teacher, long before that would be possible/likely as a teacher training student in Austria, is, in and of itself, an asset without equal. Both for the experience, and for the self-awareness.
  • And, I forgot to mention that I finally lived abroad again, which by itself was one of my main reasons to go. By now, Latvia feels so much like home, in spite of the differences that do exist, that I nearly forgot to mention that on first writing…

 

I could not, in good faith, recommend Campus Europae, and Latvia, to everyone. You have to be ready for your studies to take a bit longer, know if you can handle studying two different languages (maybe two more),  and decide if the experience of studying and probably working in two different countries is worth a delay to you.

For myself, I have to admit that the chance to study in St. Petersburg now tempts me a lot, but it would be a lot better to study Spanish – which I already know very well – and go to Spain…

Update, January 2010:

In the meantime, my third semester as German lecturer at Xiangtan University, Hunan, China has passed. Clearly, things have gone a bit differently from how I thought before – but better. And it is due to my teaching experience in Latvia that I got this job, and due to my finally getting out of Austria that I finally decided to follow the call I had heard since my childhood, and make it to East Asia.

Feel free to contribute