“I was 14 when I got a chance to look at Riga over the river Daugava. I kind of melted. I found myself loving everything I saw,” says Annie Taggart about her impressions when she first time visited Latvia. Annie comes from United States. Although she got a pretty good scholarship in college in U.S. she decided to come to Latvia where she is studying “Sociology of Organisations and Public Administration”. Latvia is a place where her roots come from. She grew up by listening beautiful stories of her grandmother about Latvia. For Annie it is the country where are a lot of hope. It is a place to come back and call home.
Instead of fairy tales – grandmothers’ stories about Latvia
“Both of my grandparents on my mother side are from Latvia. Now they live in U.S. I grew up by hearing beautiful stories of grandparents about Latvia and how they were sad that they had to leave the country,” says Annie. Her grandmother is originally from Liepaja where she lived with her family on a farm. “She told how her grandfather used to play the kokle (Latvian music instrument) and grandmother was sewing in their house. She had very happy life,” explains Annie. When her grandmother was 5 years old her family left the country because it was the beginning of the occupation. They got to know that they are on the list to be sent to Siberia. They took a train to Germany and afterwards moved to U.S., New York. The story is similar for Annie’s grandfather who met her granny in America. “After many years my grandmother came with my aunt to Latvia when there was still occupation. It was very emotional and difficult when she met her cousin. Also, she remembers that she was on the bus and looked through the window and said: “Oh, there is a Latvian cat! I haven’t seen one for so long!” But my grandfather is not interested in coming back because he doesn’t want to see things are different from how they were. But I always had a dream to come to Latvia and spend my life here,” Annie continues her family story.
Sound of kokle is recorded in her family tree
Annie’s grandparents were quite strict regarding their children because they wanted to transfer Latvian values and cultural traditions to their daughters. Each Saturday their both daughters had to go to Latvian school, every year to Latvian summer camps and at home they were not allowed to speak English. They were getting in trouble if they didn’t speak Latvian because parents were afraid that Latvian culture wouldn’t be preserved. “When my Mum was young she really wanted to be like a ‘normal’ American. She always has weird words in Latvian – she says ‘lidlauks’ instead of ‘lidosta’, also those made up words – ‘dolfīns’ instead of ‘delfīns’. However, now she is really accepting her Latvian heritage,” says Annie. After coming to Latvia her Mum entrusted her special task – to bring her new kokle to America. Her mother has played the kokle since childhood, and works as music teacher. Although Annie has two older brothers she is the only who is actively seeking to get Latvian citizenship. “I’m not sure where I will live after graduation, but it is important for me to acknowledge that part of my heritage,” explains Annie.
The same trees and grass, but in different colours and more beautiful
The first time Annie came to Latvia when she was 14 years old. She travelled with group of American Latvian Association for youth and she saw part of Latvia. “I got a chance to look at Riga over the river Daugava, I was kind of melted. I found myself loving everything I saw. All of the other people of group were laughing about me, one of the boys in the group said: “Don’t say what you are thinking, we already know what you will say… That it is beautiful!” Annie is laughing. What did she like the most? “The nature is different, also the colours. A lot of the plants are the same as in America, but the proportions are different, more yellow grass, the dark is more orange... I really love this aesthetic, in America everything is greyer,” she says. Now she has seen much more than just capital of Latvia. “I have a lot of favourites. I really love Kuldiga, my grandmothers’ cousin and her two daughters live there. I also like Liepaja and Ventspils. I like Riga, but I wouldn’t like to live there because it seems so separate from the rest of the country – the culture is different; the whole feel is different from everywhere else,” says Annie.
When she arrived to Latvia, she was surprised not only about beautiful nature, but also about food, which is quite different. “Food that is not processed costs less than food that is processed. In U.S. it is opposite, it is less expensive to eat unhealthfully. In our university are canteens but you are expected to deal with food on your own. In U.S. you have to purchase a meal plan and you have to go to a cafeteria for all three meals in the first year of college and then you are not expected to know how to cook for yourself. When I got here I thought: “But I don’t know how to make a food! What I will I eat?” she is laughing. Now Annie slowly is learning how to cook. Often, she goes to grocery store and makes food by herself.
Latvia – home for hope and place to always come back
Annie comes from small town in U.S. where everyone greets each other, know each other. “It’s not happening this much here, at least in Jelgava. But when you get to know Latvian people, generally they are super friendly, helpful, interested and kind. In U.S. we try to be graceful with people who are our guests but I don’t think I would ever be so capable to reach such level I see here,” says Annie. Also, she thinks that Latvian people don’t talk a lot about their feelings with strangers and are not asking for help quite often. “However, Latvians are very good at giving help, especially when they notice other people need help. I really appreciate that my professors put a lot of effort in to making sure I feel comfortable here. They really care about my happiness and success. I really appreciate it,” says Annie.
Probably in Latvia is something special that attracts people, including foreign students to come back to Latvia even after their studies. “I have several friends who have been here on Erasmus. I found out that a lot of students who come here for Erasmus then come back, look for internships around. I know at least two people who were in my first semester and now they are in Latvia again,” says Annie. Probably, it is because Latvia is not only a beautiful country but it is full of potential. “There are a lot of different potentials – natural resources, people are smart and able to build new ideas and future. There is just so much hope right now,” says Annie.