I have spent 42 days in Latvia, so the answer to life, the universe and everything is your country? Maybe. Or at least: «labi». Of course the numbers are «half true» since I visited your neighbours you love to joke about (Estonia) and a «proper» nordic country (Sweden). But if Douglas Adams can be half wrong, I can be half right, considering I have never visited «The North», which – at least for me – includes the Baltic and the Nordic countries as well. With Latvia in the center of this beautiful wooden marquetry.
I wanted to start this travelogue with a simple economic equation: there is a lot to be done in Latvia, but simultaneously this includes the huge potential for a giant leap forward which is harder for developed rich countries, which we take as role models. Although I still find this logic to be true, this is not the way you speak to human beings, so let us leave this language for the official report. Not to mention that you could find this insulting, which could not be farther away from my original intentions. Like tumbling down the rabbit hole between Vidzeme and Wonderland…
Ķemeru nacionālais dabas parks, @PeterVigh
«get out from the comfort zone»
I want to say thank you – paldies – for everybody I have met in Latvia and „the North”. It turns out, that by lending a hand (sometimes literally!) at the Riga Technical University Cesis Affiliate, I was also helping out myself. The programme «Pioneers into Practice» which brought me here, among many other objectives, boils down to the phrase «get out from your comfort zone». And to make a difference, I might add. I am not really fond of such trendy phrases and buzzwords, because without meaningful examples they become empty shells, even with the power to discredit the original intent and value. Well, I hope that this six short weeks will count as a meaningful example, because both of us – the RTU Cesis team and me – stepped out from our comfort zones.
My plane landed on Latvian soil on the 1st of September and I arrived with the kind support of Latvijas dzelzceļš in Cesis the next Monday. Like a perfect „back to school” advertisement. Except it wasn’t. You would not show your city and hang out with you pen pal while your house is burning, right? In this case, I was the pen pal, and the house was burning. Or worst, already burned down. At least the university campus was a perfect spot to shoot an episode for Walking Dead, or to film Mad Max Latvija. But these guys decided to teach there!
RTU Design Factory, theLAB Riga, @PeterVigh
A semester start is always hard in every university, but it was even harder in Cesis this year, because the university switched floors with the elementary school. Trust me: what these guys did to this place in just a few weeks should let alone earn your respect! The water was already stirred, but our arrival – with the other pioneer, Madalina Doinea – were two more stones thrown in the water. The waves would wash ashore later, but with – hopefully – bigger impact. After a rough start, basically our two workshops for the first real events after the semester start at the university, which was challenging but also fun and exciting.
There was not a huge queue to attend my workshop on Climate Change and Technology, but that did not dissapoint me at all. Small numbers gives you the chance to create a more personal experience and interaction between participants and the lecturer. Also, quality and quantity seldom go hand in hand. A super mixture of participants came: curious university students, a high school teacher who teaches environmental science/ecology, and an advisor for environmental projects. Not the average people you muster on Wednesday afternoon, after work and classes. According to the feedback survey I have made, the majority of the people totally agreed that they have heard new information during the workshop and stated that they would willingly attend similar workshops like these. Since these workshops were experiments from the side of RTU Cesis to widen the palette students can choose from, I think we can call this a success.
The word «workshop» is deliberately cursive, because I intended to involve the students as much as possible with group activites, rather being a facilitator than a lecturer. Although sometimes it was challenging for some students (during all the workshops), I think it was a valuable experience for both the students, teachers and staff of RTU Cesis, that there are various methods and approaches one can choose from to deliver knowledge and make a difference. Shaping the attitude of future intellectuals towards a proactive participation is a must, especially if we want to raise awareness regarding topics like climate change, with the potential of changing the game we are currently losing badly.
Jurmala, the Baltic Sea, @PeterVigh
What more can I say? I just barely glimpsed at your beautiful country, but I already miss the sandy shores of the Baltic Sea and the magnificent colours of your autumn forests. From Jurmala to Daibe, through Ķemeri via Sigulda, on the streets of Riga and the fields of Cesis it was a great and unexpected adventure. It was pretty easy to relate to the „feeling” of post-socialist/post-soviet small state misery, with the „nobody knows that we even exist” and the „nobody speaks our language” patterns. Been there, done that – so Latvia was familiar for me from day one. As it is hard, but exciting and rewarding to fabricate a friendship from a shallow acquaintance, it was the same situation with me moving from this familiar state to the next level.
..stay hungry, to stay foolish…
I started this article with saying thank you to everybody that I have met or worked together with in Latvia. Let me finish by elaborating on this.
When I arrived, I did not have any idea how much I can contribute to the community of people I am about to meet. Naturally I had some plans, but the outcome is always dubious in these situations. When we were having the informal farewell party gathering and evaluated each other, it was clear, that we made an impact on their lives and thinking. Not just on the students but the staff as well. The stones that were thrown in the water finally made some waves, and apparently everybody was enjoying it. It was a wonderful experience, even though it is evident that deep-rooted changes require more time and energy. We balanced the stakes of our limited time with enthusiasm, curiosity and boldness, and it seems that it worked out well. We could have done better in many ways, but for the first foreign pioneers in Latvia? Let’scall it a day, for now.
Sometimes, despite your best intentions, you are overwhelmed by the troubles and problems you face home and you find yourself in a state of inertia: incapable of action, and while you want to help and make a difference, you feel helpless and hopeless. Latvia, for me, was a blank page were I could erase this feeling, and contribute – by stirring the water! – to a community I have never met before, but which was open to new ideas and a fresh approach. I could easly say 50 things why for I am grateful that I ended up in Latvia, but this would be definitely up top. It is something I have not experienced lately but I very much require to keep going. To stay hungry, to stay foolish…
Every travelogue has to come to an end, and this one is already TLDR.
Last, but not least, I would like to express my gratitude and respect towards the heroic staff of the Riga Technical University Cesis Affiliate: Rita Bibere, Sandra Salmina, Armands Silitis, Janis Naglis and Alvis Sokolovs. I wish you the best of luck for the future!
Also I would like to thank Pioneers into Practice local manager Santa Krastina for the support, EIT Climate-KIC for creating this programme, and the European Union for funding it.