At The Table: Two students’ experiences in Latvia

Editor’s Note: At the Table is an international exchange program that connects high school students in Philadelphia and Riga. The program, undertaken by the National Constitution Center in collaboration with the National History Museum of Latvia, began the travel portion of the project. Two student participants, Stephen Cancel and Gabriel Nieto, discuss their first international travel experience.

Stephen reflects on his first impressions of Latvia

The At The Table team finally got to the best part of the project: traveling to Riga, Latvia! The flight was so long, but it was worth it. When we arrived at the Riga International Airport we were greeted by Toms, the At the Table program manager for the National History Museum of Latvia.

As we drove from the airport to our hotel we couldn’t wait to take pictures of the beautiful city. We drove by the president’s house in Riga. It was so amazing. We had some great food and that concluded our first day. Our second day was even more amazing. We met with the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy, and got a personal tour from the Ambassador of Latvia’s cultural attaché.

Everyone was very impressed with our project, including us. We felt so proud of ourselves. Afterwards, we went to the National History Museum of Latvia. Toms and the rest of the project staff gave us a personal tour. It was very informative and gave us history on Latvia and why it is the way it is today.

It was a great second day! We went back to the hotel and went straight to bed. We had to get some sleep for the next day when we were finally going to meet the Latvian students!

Gabriel reflects on meeting the students

On Tuesday April 3rd, we met the Latvian students for the first time. First, we took public transportation to get to the first school to meet the Latvian students. Their public transportation was similar to taking SEPTA in Philadelphia without the tokens.

They used cards instead. Once we arrived at the school, everyone was very warm and welcoming. We all were a bit nervous to meet the students, being as though we didn’t know what to expect. They were all friendly and excited to have us in their school.

We took a tour around the school and were able to see firsthand what it was like to study in another country. We had the opportunity to sit in on a Japanese class and be a part of their lesson, which was a lot of fun.

They way their school runs was very interesting because they have students of all ages in the same building and the students have more freedom.

It was also interesting to experience their lunch, which was like a family eating around the table type of atmosphere; with food on the table and everyone filling up their plate while talking about their day. After lunch, the Latvians had organized a wonderful folk dance presentation for us. After the dance we all came together to play traditional games with the kids, which was fun.

After the traditional Latvian games we met up with another school – the Russian school. The students from the Russian school were also very welcoming and friendly. They took us on a tour of the main historical landmarks of Riga, Latvia.

We went to Alberta Street, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful streets in Europe, due to its extremely beautiful Art Nouveau architecture and design. During the tour around Riga, we all had to opportunity to get to chat with the students and get to know them a little more.

Most of us were surprised by the amount of things in common we had with the students. It was almost as if we were talking to a friend back at home. During the excursion we were able to both learn more about this magnificent place while making friends we would never expect to make.

Going to the Latvian school, walking around Riga and learning about it’s history, and getting to know the students on a more personal level was a great experience that I know we appreciated very much.

After saying our “see you laters” to the students we went out to dinner. We ate at a medieval-themed restaurant, which was something completely new to all of us. The food was amazing and we had a great time during the dinner as we all reflected on our day and expressed our feelings about meeting the students.

Also, we shared funny stories and things that happened throughout the day. After dinner we all walked back to our hotel to charge up our batteries, in order to be ready for the next day – doing our service project!

At the Table: Connecting Culture, Conversation and Service in Latvia and the U.S. was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in collaboration with American Association of Museums. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.