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My Experience. University of Latvia - Grazia Tafuni
G.Tafuni, K.Antonova, A.Pērkone/ UL Press centre

Grazia Tafuni is an exchange student from a small town in Italy. She studies languages and has also started to acquire Latvian. She chose Riga because it is a capital and situated far in the north, which means that everything is different there. Grazia always sticks to her motto: to experience as many different emotions and gain as many impressions as possible, and Riga is a perfect place for that. This is her story about the life of an exchange student in the series of articles entitled My experience. University of Latvia.

Untidiness and precision: two sides of the same coin, me

My name is Grazia Tafuni and I am an italian student of languages.

When foreigners think about Italians, they usually have certains standard words or concepts and/or stereotypes linked to my homeland. The most common ones? Pizza, pasta, noise and…Berlusconi. Of course Italians are well-known all around the world for our food culture and for the controversial politics, but we have to consider also the other side of the coin as everybody is like a kaleidoscope, multiple, diverse and special in his or her own way, even if the mass act differently. All this to say that it is normal to have some prejudices about things or persons. I come from the Southern Italy, precisely from a small city, Altamura. I’ve been studying in Viterbo, also a little city next to Rome. I experienced and learned that the good point of small cities is the practicality: you don’t need to wake up in the middle of the night and take a shower at 5:00 A.M., while other students are coming back home from parties, just to be sure to be on time for the train, which leads you to the underground, which drives you till the bus you need to reach your University, your office or the place where you work in. Shortly, you don’t need to be in the lecture room at least two hours before the lesson just to gain a place where to sit or even stand. You can easly avoid traffic jams. You can give a lift to your friend without crossing the whole town…

On the contrary big cities offer you a lot more than small cities. Expecially capitals; they put at everyone’s disposal a large amount of activities, choises, alternatives, opportunities, and also (why not?) a lot of people.

I’m in Riga thanks to the ERASMUS project and one of the reasons why I chose this city is that it is a capital…and it is amazing. Among the other motives which guided me here, the most important is because I wanted to experiment a great change, a really great change: from a small to a big city, from extreme warm weather to extreme cold one, from chaos to precision – let’s think about the Italian “relativity” in appointments (exceptions excluded) versus the Latvian punctuality – well, briefly, I wanted a big switch affecting every field.

Honestly, I have already been in Riga the last April, with another LLP project: the GRUNDTVIG. Thanks to it, I met some locals (who after became friends) and I saw a little of the musts of the city, which I loved very much: the old town, the Daugava River, the Rundāle palace, the beautiful churches and parks, the particular architecture of buildings, the order and the cleanliness of the streets…

When I came here the second time, I had the opportunity to actually live the city. Even though I was enthusiastic of this chance, the beginning was quite complicated. I didn’t know anything about the organization in general – from the university one till the most daily one (like finding a reduction plug, which has revealed an improbable hard task) – and, moreover, the first contact with Latvians was not one of the best. They seemed distant and heedless to me, as if they didn’t want to know me better or they didn’t care at all about what concerned me. Comparing my impressions with the ones of the other foreigners in Riga, I realized they were more or less the same. But, gradually, the same local people proved us we were wrong: Latvians know how to be helpful, kind and friendly and the more you know them the more you will feel at ease.

I also took lessons of Latvian language and culture and I really love my Latvian teacher – she is nice, helpful and always there for you – and also the language itself, I even find out that its sounds are not so different from the Italian ones. Slowly, the distance between me and the “Latvian factor” was less and less, that’s why I changed my mind and I decided to prolong my ERASMUS.

By the way, I coined a concise expression with reference to all this, a motto suitable to Latvian reality: “If you love it, it will love you back”.

Thanks to this experience, I have started to work more on me and on my way to approach things; my perspective has changed, now is multidirectional and enriched by a larger variety of aspects, which before I was not taking into consideration; through differences my personal horizon is becoming wider and wider; I started to notice and appricate some details that I never noticed before. For all these reasons and many more (such as the numerous cultural and social events, the many resources offered by the city, the wealth of the local nature, the breathtaking landscapes, the excellent soups, the Lači black bread, and lots more) I highly recommend Riga to the other students, as well as to anyone else – just a bit of advice: be “waterproof” and get ready to frightening temperatures (anyway the cold makes you stronger).

As a conclusion, I’d argue that, due to the its relatively late indipendence and entrance in the EU, Latvia is still growing and searching its own way of integration among the other European nations (let’s think about the introduction of the euro currency) and till now this country is doing a very impressive job. According to the international rankings of, respectively, 2012 and 2010, Latvia owns the podium of the Enviromental Performance and the sixth place as Sustainable Society. Moreover, as I noticed and as the data confirm, Internet downloads and uploads’ speeds in Latvia are among the fastest ones of the world, a fundamental advantage for students and all the other Skype addicted.