In our InterNations Recommended Blog interviews we let our members take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great stories. This time, it’s up to Linda from Latvia to tell hers. She has been blogging about her adventures abroad for several years now, and you can read more about her life in Riga on Expat Eye on Latvia.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Latvia, etc.
My name is Linda O’Grady, and I’m an Irish woman living in Riga, Latvia. I had been working as an advertising copywriter in Dublin for around five years when I decided I fancied a change. So I did a TEFL course, and after one disastrous year in a Polish backwater, I got a teaching job in Riga – I just wanted to move to a capital city, any capital city! I’ve been here for almost three years now.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
But it was all the little differences in people and cultures that I was more interested in. I was starting to think that maybe I was the only one who noticed any of them, or perhaps I was just going a bit mad, so I started writing about it. It turns out that a lot of other people living here felt exactly the same way but had just never verbalized it, so they were delighted when I started my blog!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
This blog entry is definitely one of my favourites. I got great feedback on it from locals and expats.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Latvia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
There are lots of differences between my new and old life. I guess the one that most affects me is my financial situation. I work much harder here than I ever did in Ireland but still seem to be constantly struggling, so I would say that life here is definitely tougher than in Ireland. It does make me much more aware of what I’m spending and the cost of items, though – I’d never really had to think about things like that before!
I don’t think I have experienced culture shock per se, but there were a lot of things that came as a bit of a surprise – like the fact that Latvians don’t really smile very much and are very aloof – they’re quite suspicious of new people, so it’s hard to get to know them. It can be quite depressing walking around surrounded by this sea of human misery! The Irish are much more friendly and open.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Latvia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think I would have made more of an effort to learn a bit of the language before I arrived. I believe that everyone should have at least a couple of words in the local language in any country they visit. Latvian is not an easy language, but I could have given myself a bit more of a headstart before I got here.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I was standing outside my school waiting for a lift when I was approached by a kind of shifty-looking guy.
He then took a large wad of cash out of his back pocket and started counting out notes. I told him that it didn’t work like that and he’d have to go into the office to arrange lessons. He looked a bit confused, put his money back in his pocket and walked off. It was only later that I realized that he hadn’t been looking for a teacher, he’d been looking for a prostitute! There was a “massage parlour” in the same building!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Latvia?
• Don’t be surprised if nobody smiles at you or speaks to you! Latvians are very serious-looking and don’t like small talk. Even a simple question like ‘How are you?’ is seen as a very personal question.
• Be prepared to work hard for your money. It’s possible to live a reasonably good life, but luxuries are usually beyond reach. As someone who was used to lots of travelling and expensive holidays, it’s hard for me when I realize I can’t even afford a weekend in a different city in Latvia, let alone a long-haul holiday.
• Don’t take your prospective landlord’s/landlady’s word for how much your bills and utilities will be. Ask to see the invoices for the last three months before signing any rental agreement. There can be hidden fees like management fees, security costs, etc., and the heating bills in winter can be outrageous.
In the older blocks of flats, the heating comes on on a certain date and goes off on a certain date. While it’s on, you have no control over it, you can’t turn it on or off or up or down yourself. So you could be paying for it for up to seven months a year, which can be a financial killer if you’re not expecting it.
What is the expat community in Latvia like? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There are quite a lot of expats in Riga from all over the world, and it’s not difficult to meet them. Nights like the InterNations get-togethers are great for meeting people. There are also expat pub nights and networking events. Registering with your embassy will get you invited to any events that take place where you can catch up with some people from ‘home’.
How would you summarize your expat life in Latvia in a single, catchy sentence?
Not easy but never dull!
(Photo credit: 1) Linda O’Grady 2)-4) Public domain images)