A student abroad: Warmth in Riga

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    Siegfried Kox is a third-year student studying Human Resource Management in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. He is currently living in the Latvian capital of Riga, where he is carrying out a work placement of more than seven months with airline airBaltic.

    What is it you do exactly in Riga?
    ‘I work in the HR department of airBaltic, an innovative airline based in the Baltics. It has some twelve hundred staff members in approximately three hundred different positions. My main responsibility involves the strategic deployment of human resources. In what way? Past experience has shown that reorganisations make staff less loyal to the company. This is one of the things I will be looking into.’

    Do you speak a little Latvian yet?
    ‘No, I don’t speak any Latvian, although I’ve noticed I’m starting to recognise words more and more. Fortunately most Latvians speak English very well, including those who do not work at airBaltic.’

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    How is your living situation in Riga?
    ‘I don’t like to get up earlier than I need to. That’s why I consciously decided to move to a spot that was close to the airport and therefore close to my work placement company. Living a bit further from the city centre also has its advantages, such as more room to invite friends over. I can get to the city centre in thirty minutes, one of Riga’s largest shopping centres is only five minutes away and I can be at my desk in under ten. So there’s no place I’d rather be!’

    What do you do in your spare time?
    ‘I prefer travelling across the country when I’m not working. And that’s what I plan to do with most of my spare time. This means working at an airline is sure to come in handy. I have made plenty of friends here by now, both locals and Erasmus students. One weekend will go to the Latvian clubs for an epic night out with my fellow students, the next I will grab my backpack and explore the region with some local friends.’

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    Do you feel Latvia is very different from the Netherlands?
    ‘Absolutely. Latvians are much more connected to their culture and their traditions. Their culture is closely entwined with their history. Latvia has almost always been occupied by foreign regimes. It has been independent for 24 years now, which is my age. A number of people who are my age have told me they are ‘the first generation of freedom’. For a Dutch person, this is almost unimaginable. Latvians are very modest and accommodating, partly as a result of their history. They’re not very rebellious. Although Latvia is not that far from the Netherlands, I’m often amazed at the radically different outlook they sometimes have on life here.’

    Is it hard sometimes to be abroad?
    ‘I’m spent at the end of the day. All these impressions, the foreign culture, making new friends and having a new job in an industry I’m not yet familiar with – it’s taking up a lot of energy. That’s why I’m happy I feel valued by my colleagues on the airBaltic team. The other day one of my co-workers gave me a compliment, which touched me deeply because I haven’t been working here for a long time. Considering the fact that Latvians are traditionally very reticent, this warmth felt extremely good.’

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