“I have always thought Central Asian regions were interesting, but my interest for Kyrgyzstan was sparked during a master studies field work in Mongolia. Since I speak Russian, I had access to the region in terms of the language. I research economics development in Kyrgyzstan and my studies brought me to Tallinn. It made sense to move here, but still not be too far away from home. I have two nieces and one nephew in Latvia. I am still be able to visit them and stay close, I did not want to be the aunt whom they see only on Skype.
By now the distance between Tallinn and Riga feels like nothing. Actually, it feels like two parts of the same city, it just takes time to travel from one to another. Since Estonia and Latvia are neighbouring countries, there is a lot of comparing between the two. I feel that life and people are generally quite similar. Since I cycle a lot, I was positively surprised that people, especially car owners, in Tallinn are more polite to cyclists than in Riga. Also, what I really appreciate here is that Tallinn is so much on the water and there is a lot of nature around – plenty of bird watching spots, little islands and beautiful areas for walking.
I find it easy to navigate around, especially in the area where I live, life mostly goes on in Russian. Generally I would speak English to the younger and Russian to the older generation. Often I feel I need to apologize or explain why I don’t speak Estonian.
I think Estonia and Latvia are still quite closed, nation-dominated kind of places. Foreigners are told they need to learn the language and thus they will be integrated in the local society. It’s an easy answer, but I don’t really think it works this way. For integration to happen, people need to feel welcome or to be seen as having the rights to be there, without this bargaining – “you learn our language, you dance our dances, then you are welcome”. I enjoyed learning Estonian, but speaking a language does not define where I feel at home. I think everyone needs a deeper understanding of what it means to live in a country.
I feel both Latvian and something else. I feel lucky to have the Latvian passport, as it allows me to do so much. Yet, my passport doesn’t determine who I am. If I would decide to change my passport, I would not have the feeling that I’m giving up my country. There is a lot of emotional attachment to stories, to songs, my life in Latvia, but I separate the emotional connection to the environment I grew up in from the connection to the state as a rational manager of people. All places change and evolve, and I have the option to react to these changes. I have always wanted to travel, live in different places, because this is the only way I can understand the scope of humanity and through that, myself.”