For many Modern Languages and Cultures students, the compulsory study abroad is a huge attraction of the degree. Using your language skills every day and meeting new people from across the globe is such a rewarding experience. Unfortunately, not everything goes to plan on the year abroad, and while some of it may be out of our control it really is best to be well prepared for all eventualities so that we can make the most of our time abroad. Towards the end of February, I had to leave my study abroad placement in Russia at short notice due to the increasingly volatile situation in the country. My university was able to secure some places at a Russian language school in Riga which meant that we could keep our language skills alive whilst enjoying the true study abroad experience. Before arriving in Riga, I had no idea what to expect. I have to say that Latvia had never been somewhere I had considered as somewhere high on my travel bucket list but knowing what I know now I would recommend it to everyone. Here’s what I wish I’d known before I arrived in Latvia and what I would recommend to other young travellers who are embarking on trips in the future.
There isn’t an abundance of blog posts and social media accounts dedicated to documenting the wonders of this small country which left me with a profound sense of curiosity and eagerness to start exploring the largest of the Baltic states. My first day in Riga really did not disappoint. I walked right into the heart of Riga and was met not only with perfectly landscaped parks but also a fresh sea breeze which rolled in from the harbour. What more could you really ask for? I was so thrilled to dive in and start discovering more of Latvia’s rich history with the help of countless museums and stunning works of architecture. It really begs the question of why more people don’t visit Riga. With direct flights from most UK airports which will get you to Riga in around 2 hours, it would be a shame to miss out on this gem of Eastern Europe.
If nature is more your thing, then Riga certainly will not disappoint. Latvia is covered in forest which means that you don’t have to venture too far from home before you find yourself surrounded by nature and away from the hustle and bustle that comes with life in a capital city. In fact, 53% of Latvia is covered in trees which means it is so easy to take a break from work and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Despite being in the heart of nature, you can still stay connected thanks to the really fast Wi-Fi and abundance of hotspots. Living with such great access to the internet without sacrificing the proximity of green spaces makes for the perfect work life balance and I think plays a big part in why Latvia is an up-and-coming digital nomad destination.
Despite all of the wonderful things Latvia has to offer both in nature and infrastructure, moving to a new country can always be difficult. This is especially true if you don’t know the language! Before I set off for Latvia, I did have a read through the FCDO’s foreign travel advice page for Latvia, so I had some idea of what to expect when I arrived. It was particularly good to know about fines for travelling without a ticket on public transport and the importance of carrying a photocopy of your passport. These are sometimes really crucial points that can be overlooked when planning your travel abroad.
Riga is also so well connected. If not by air routes, then definitely by bus and ferry routes. As the most central Baltic capital city, Riga is a great base for exploring more of Latvia’s neighbouring countries and with both Estonia and Lithuania only a couple of hours away they really make for the perfect weekend getaways. I hopped on a bus and in no time at all I had made it into Lithuania, which means I get to scratch off a new country from my scratch map, but of course more importantly discover a new city and culture. One thing to check before heading off to explore more of the surrounding countries is that you have sufficient travel insurance in place. As a student on a compulsory year abroad I am fortunate enough to be covered under the university travel insurance whilst I am in Latvia but remember to check the specifics of the policy. My insurance doesn’t cover any trips outside of Latvia, so I needed to find my own policy for the couple of days I spent in Lithuania. You can find some really useful advice on the Travel Aware website which will help you assess exactly what you need.
Looking back, I really do feel like this was something of a happy accident. If it wasn’t for this replacement course, I don’t think I would have prioritised visiting this beautiful country which would truly have been a tragedy.
This article was written in collaboration with the FCDO and the Travel Aware Campaign. For more information, please visit the Foreign Travel Advice website or contact Durham University’s Travel Aware ambassador email@example.com
By Ellie Tomlinson