In this blog post, I thoroughly discuss my journey to Latvia, which is where I have spent the last four months of my life. Fundamentally, I carefully describe some of the challenges I have faced prior to going to Latvia, why I went there in the first place, and how I have managed to change my mind within seconds after reading a quote online. Do not be anxious about the length of this post as my time in Latvia is certainly one that I will be talking about for decades.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
A little over eight months ago, I had to make a pivotal decision. As a second-year student of International Communication in the Netherlands, I had to choose whether I wanted to conduct an exchange semester abroad or whether I would prefer to remain in the Netherlands. For many Dutch students, this decision would have been a no-brainer. However, for me, someone who at that moment was already living overseas, it was a decision that involved more than just my personal desire to see the world.
But, who am I?
For those who do not know me, allow me to introduce myself while attempting to keep you entertained. If you already know me, I guess you could skip this part.
So let’s get into it, shall we?
My name is Lorenzo J. Dirksz and I am a third-year student of International Communication at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, the Netherlands. Three years ago, when I was twenty-one, I decided to leave my beautiful home in Aruba to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in the Netherlands. To this day, I am still frequently asked, “But why would anyone leave Aruba?” Moving overseas was not an easy decision but it was necessary for me to get out of my comfort zone. I was extraordinarily curious to know what life is like in Europe. In fact, I wanted to see all the beautiful European cities that I have only gotten to see before on television, such as Paris, Rome, London, Amsterdam – you name it. And, so it was always a matter of when and not if.
Fast-forward to two years later, I was in the second year of my bachelor’s program. As students who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in an international program, my fellow classmates and I were expected to do either an exchange semester, an internship, or both, outside of the Netherlands during our third year. So, many of us had a significant decision to make. From that given moment, we had to determine where we would be spending our third year; whether that is abroad or not. Ultimately, it was completely up to each and every one of us.
If the situation was not already exciting enough, Dutch students were, in fact, required to go abroad and international students could have essentially done as they wish. So, what did this really mean for someone like me? I am a Dutch passport holder but I was not born or raised in the Netherlands. Hence, technically, I was already abroad. Eventually, I was given the option to either remain in the Netherlands or to go abroad – again. At first, I really did not want to go through the entire hassle of looking for another place, purchasing a plane ticket, applying for an Erasmus+ grant, checking whether my insurance would have been valid in another country – you know, most of which I have previously done when I had first moved to the Netherlands. I was incredibly confident that this was not something I wanted to do again.
Being challenged in life is inevitable
In Spring of 2018, all second-year students of International Communication that wanted to participate in an exchange semester abroad had to submit a list of the top five universities that they would like to attend during the following school year. As you can imagine, my mind was made up and I was certain that I would not be spending a couple of months outside of the Netherlands. However, this decision was not only based on the fact that I did not want to do the proper planning and organizing for an exchange semester overseas. Truthfully, it was based on several other factors, including the fact that my landlord at that time would not allow me to sub-rent my studio – which is something that many students who go abroad do. Now, those who live in the Netherlands or, more specifically, in Groningen, know that the housing situation is brutal. It is tremendously difficult to find a room or even a studio in Groningen. As a matter of fact, many Dutch and international students, year after year, are left homeless for weeks or even months before they are able to find a place in Groningen. So, why would someone like me, who had a permanent place to live, give it up? You can imagine that I really was not going to do that.
However, one day, while browsing online, I stumbled upon a quote that changed my life forever – insert dramatic music, please. It was a simple quote but one that meant a lot to me. The quote was,
“Don't let your circumstances determine your destiny”
And so after reading that, I was like, “Am I going to let the simple fact that I am unable to sub-rent my studio stop me from seeing the world?” At that given moment, I said, “Fuck it, I am leaving this country for an exchange semester abroad”. So, I texted some of my close friends; some were supportive while others really thought I was out of my mind. But, honestly, I did not care. At that point, I did not have a plan. Meaning, I did not know exactly where I would be going or what would be happening with my living situation once I return to Groningen.
Choosing the ideal destination
So there I was, sitting behind my computer, not even an hour after reading this damn quote, looking for a school abroad. Three hours and one cheeseburger later, I decided that I would be going to Latvia. You can imagine that as someone from Aruba, I did not know a single thing about Latvia before that particular research. I did not know its location, its people – literally, I was like, hello geography! But during that moment, I really believed that Latvia would be the ideal destination for me as
1. I did not want to go to the ‘typical’ European countries because I have already seen most of them;
2. The courses that I would have been able to take were spectacular. Hence, in less than three hours, I went from absolutely not going abroad to definitely going abroad, and all thanks to a single quote – can you believe?
During the next couple of weeks, I was on a mission. I knew that I would have had to work a little harder to go abroad because, by then, I had already missed the application deadline from my University in the Netherlands. My plan at that point was quite simple. I was going to move out of my studio, put all my furniture in a storage and figure out my living situation once I get back to the Netherlands. Mind you, unlike many Dutch students, I would not have been able to return to the Netherlands and live with my family, should I not find a place, because my family still live in Aruba. However, this was a risk I was willing to take, and I did.
A lot had to be done, but I was on a mission
After receiving the confirmation from my University allowing me to go abroad, I was ready to pack my shit and go. Still, I had to wait until after the summer break to do all of that. But in the meantime, I decided to spend time looking for a place in Latvia and prepare all necessary documents prior to my departure. However, one day, I received an unexpected text from my best friend. As someone that was well aware of my housing situation, she informed me that her landlord had just completed renovating a house and is looking for tenants. She then tells me that should I be interested in renting a room in that house, I may have the possibility to sub-rent it for a specific period. Well, at that moment, I truly believed that everything happens for a reason and that things eventually fall into place. I took that room without second guessing myself. Luckily, I was indeed able to sub-rent it. Because of the brutal demand for housing in Groningen, I was able to find a tenant in almost no time.
I can honestly say that, eventually, everything worked out perfectly. In fact, even a classmate decided to join me on this journey to Latvia. On the 24th of August, 2018, we embarked on a one-way flight to Latvia. This is where we have spent the last four months of our lives.
Latvia is an incredible country that is often underestimated for its beauty. Moreover, when I began telling people that I would be doing an exchange semester in Latvia, many were shocked, and I honestly can’t blame them. I mean, before my little research, I did not know much about this country either.
However, I can genuinely say that the last four months were unquestionably unforgettable. I have gotten to meet people from all over the world including Brazil, Germany, Australia, Spain, Russia, India, Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, France, and more. So how was the experience different this time around? Well, when I was in the Netherlands, I was already familiar with being in an incredibly diverse environment. Yet, this time around I had the chance to engage with a number of new nationalities.
The experience of a lifetime
While in Latvia, I have also taken the chance to visit neighboring countries, such as Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, and Sweden, for a relatively low price. I have taken the chance to meet new people and to visit a few countries that I did not think I would, and I am so glad I did. I have also taken a number of courses that are not directly affiliated with my Bachelor’s program, such as Investigative Journalism, Project Management and Sociology. This was an experience of a lifetime; one that I almost missed out on. Who would have thought that a single quote would serve as a wakeup call? I certainly did not think it was possible. But I hope that whoever is reading this, is somehow encouraged to stop second guessing themselves today. As cliché as this will sound, it is true that sometimes you need to get your ass up and go get whatever it is you want. It will not necessarily be easy, but if you are passionate enough about your dreams, the work you put in today will be worth it.
If you have made it so far in this story – thank you. Feel free to share this with your friends and family.
Until next time,
Lorenzo J. Dirksz