ARTICLES, English

Adapting

I live in Riga (capital of Latvia) for 1 month and I will stay here for 1 year. I am doing an EVS (European Voluntary Service) for a NGO called Baltic Regional Fund. I will write articles and upload pictures on this blog for the whole year because it can come up some interesting information. You will figure out that I write in a very spontaneous way. Everything which occurs in my mind, I write it down, without filters. I don’t want to hurt anybody and I apologize in advance if I do. You have to know that I never make value judgements, and I am a very open-minded person. I only give you my perceptions at a given moment. Finally, my opinion has a weak value as it is very subjective. I am just a random person who feels emotions.

To finish this blog’s introduction, it is important to emphasize that I really like to immerge myself in other cultures, because I think we can learn from each of them. And all nations, all cultures, all ethnic groups have their qualities and drawbacks. A culture cannot be superior to another one, they are just different. So I try, around me, to promote tolerance and dialogues between different people in order to live in a world without war.

Now, I will give you my first feelings in Latvia. I start with difficulties I experienced because I would like to speak about the notion of cultural shock. Hence, unfortunately it won’t probably show the Latvians to advantage but my willing here is to show you the adaptation process to difference. All foreigners can have this feeling when living abroad at the beginning. I promise I will write more positive articles in the future, since I already have encouraging elements to tell you …!

During this month, I have already met a lot of Latvians : my colleagues, young volunteers for the NGO, people in pubs and old people in public transport. What I can already tell you is that the Latvians are very different from the French. There is this stereotype concerning the Latvians : they are cold people. And this is pretty true. For example, they rarely greet, don’t ask how you feel. The Latvians seem quite shy and introvert. Of course I have met some people who don’t act this way, but most of the people do. Many people told me that you have to break the wall. It means, to establish a trustful relation takes some time but when it is set up, everything changes. Hence, 1 month is a too short period to tell you about these relations even if I can feel some modifications…

I do feel a cultural shock here, stronger than the one I had in Wales (where I lived 1 year) and the one I had in Poland (where I lived 6 months). This shock is a result of the confrontation of my personality, my French cultural background and the Latvian culture, its individual personalities. We can begin with the country and its generalities (attention a generality is never the truth but the attempt to find a tendency). My country “produces” citizens for whom the first contact is very important. We always start with greetings (kisses on cheeks or shaking hands) and we ask ourselves how we feel. We introduce ourselves when we don’t know somebody. In general, we try to make people feel at ease. Most of us are proud to be French. We have quite a lot of self-esteem. We feel very comfortable with other people. This easiness to face other people and at the same time showing a certain self-assurance can disconcert foreigners. And here comes cultural shocks.

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Former abandoned clinic. Latvia. 2017. TW.

This shock must lead to a reflexion for people who experience it. And it seems sane to question oneself at this moment. I see that there a great difference between them and me. Should I adapt myself to them or should they adapt themselves to me ? Living in their country, I must adapt, it seems obvious. However, should I change my personality ? Okay, I can make some efforts for several things but it appears impossible to change myself in a flash. They have to accept who I am too. But where is the frontier, the barrier between my adaptation to them and their adaptation to me ? I think it is a balance to find together and it will still take few weeks to figure it out. Adjustments will be implicit or explicit, it will depend on the way chosen by everyone. Thus, it should be pleasant for the Latvians to work and live with me. And it should be easier to evolve in this totally new society to me. In my opinion, to adapt oneself and being “adopted” by this new culture is the key of a successful long stay outside home’s country.

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To adapt oneself and being “adopted” by this new culture is the key of a successful long stay outside home’s country.

Thomas S.

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