So, my experience as an exchange student, how should I start. I won’t tell you a lot about how much work the application process was, as you can read that in a lot of other experience reports – I just want to say that it was a lot do to, but it is definitely worth it – so please don’t let that put you off!
I will tell you more about how my semester went on during the times of a global pandemic and how I was feeling. And also, a little bit about my short impressions of Latvia and RTU and tips if you are planning an exchange semester too (maybe even in Riga – if so, don’t hesitate to contact me and I am happy to answer questions if I can).
How it went on
On February 1st 2020 I started my trip, leaving for my exchange semester, destination Riga. In Latvia I studied Engineering, Economics and Management at Riga Technical University. In my thoughts I had a semester abroad, visiting countries around, lots of trips, meeting new people – feeling happy and excited, looking forwards for all yet to come. Now after finishing the semester I spent more time at home with my family than in Latvia at all. Ironic, somehow. Leaving Riga in March because of the Covid-19 situation was sad, thinking of all the adventures I dreamt of and now not happening, saying goodbye to people from all over the world I had just met a few weeks back and I had great plans with (and I was not ready to say goodbye to already), not as many memories in my heart as I thought I would have when heading home (the booked trip to Lapland was cancelled two days before leaving because of corona), unsure if coming back would be an option or not (and if you want to know: I did not return).
Information and tips
What was sad and what I would do different is that I missed the introduction week in Riga (as there were still examinations in Leoben and the spring semester in Riga starts already end of January). There were a lot of activities for exchange students and events like a pub crawl, a city tour or a bowling evening where you get to know other exchange students. So, when I came to Riga beginning of February there were already groups of people and because of that it was somehow a little bit more difficult to get to know others. So next time I would definitely take part in the introduction week.
The lectures at RTU I took part in where mostly for international students, so there where hardly any locals in the classes. But it was nice to always be in groups with other Erasmus students as we did a lot of group works. When the online learning started, RTU switched to online lectures from one week to another and everything worked from the beginning on. That was very surprising for me and I admired how fast they changed the classes and that each lecture continued, I could finish all of them from home without any problems or complications. Also, I could do all the exams and presentations I from home. Generally, the courses in Riga were a little bit more like school I think, as there were a lot of in class participation and case studies. Additionally we had to do a homework (essays, tests, case studies,…) nearly each week. I personally liked that as it was not only the grade of the final exam that made the grade of the whole lecture.
In Riga I lived in a shared flat with two Italian guys and my colleague from Austria. We stayed in the city, near the center where all the restaurants and clubs are, so I could easily go there by foot (which was especially practically after a long night of going out – there is a lot of karaoke happening in Riga and some clubs where you find a lot of international students whenever you go there). The university area was about 10 minutes away by bus (bus ticket for one month was 16 euros, which I find very cheap and also trains are cheap compared to Austria). I did not choose any of the dormitories as they are about 10 to 20 minutes away from the city center and it is hard to get there in the night. There is a Facebook group where you can find private rooms in the center and they are normally more in the center and they are also better when you look at the price.
At RTU there is also a Buddy program for exchange students. I had a nice girl from Latvia as my buddy and my Austrian colleague and I meet her sometimes and she showed us around the city. I really recommend signing up for this as she also gave us a lot of tips and it was nice to meet someone living in Latvia and telling us about Latvian culture and life. Also, the ESN Riga organised a lot of events and a big WhatsApp group for all exchange students. They did a really great job!
At the end, what I would recommend to someone going to Riga, for an exchange semester or for a weekend trip, shop in one of the second hand shops (if you are interested in this) and try the Latvian Balzams – as it is said: if you haven’t tasted it, you have not been in Riga! 😉
This was probably the most uncommon exchange semester someone could think of, but, however completely different than imagined, a time of my life, I would never want to have missed – in Riga and in Austria and I am very thankful for everyone being part of it. It taught me that nothing is certain and that you just have to be flexible and open and accept what is about to come and just make the best out of every situation.
Thanks for reading about my experience – and if you want to know more let me know: