New ISA President Wants to Create a Community of International Students in Riga
Lucas Risters is a 4th-year medical student from Germany and the UK. Prior to being elected President of the Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) International Student Association (ISA), he was the Assistant to the Head of Sports and Integration.
Where did you get the idea to study medicine? Has it been something you've always been interested in or if you have a family background in medicine?
It happened quite organically. I originally wanted to study psychology so I did some internships at a psychiatric hospital. There, I got more and more interested in both psychology and psychosomatics. My interest shifted slightly and I wanted to study medicine, so I went on to do internships at other hospitals. I started doing these at the age of 15 and then I just applied to medical school, and now here I am!
15 is very young to start doing medical internships.
That's true, and I was faced with a lot of legal issues. I started doing internships because I was bored during school holidays and figured I might as well just get some work experience. I volunteered for three years at a child and youth centre in my hometown. I enjoyed volunteering very much because I was able to give back to the community, and also learn about a field that I was interested in. As soon as I started to learn and was given tasks like drawing blood, I just wanted to do more and more. Whenever there was a holiday longer than two weeks, I would go and intern.
Is psychology still your main interest?
I still find psychiatry fascinating, but I'm not really sure it's something I would want to specialise in. For now I'm thinking about interventional radiology, or something like that. Over the past year I've realised that working for a career isn't everything. There have recently been some health issues in my family that have made me aware of the importance of having a good work-life balance. I am now looking for a field that I'm very much interested in, but that would allow me to have more free time for my family.
What made you want to run for President of ISA?
I joined ISA in January 2022 as the Assistant to the Head of Sports and Integration. The story of my time in ISA is similar to my time at the hospital. I got to know more and more about the organisation and enjoyed being involved in different projects with other universities and with the RSU Student Union (Studējošo pašpārvalde, SP).
I just really enjoy the community at RSU, both the people and the things we did.
When I started, I never had the intention to go anywhere higher than maybe Head of Sports and Integration, but then someone suggested that I apply for the role of President. I wanted the role because I was interested in the job and I felt like I had sufficient knowledge to pursue it. Honestly, I didn't really think about what it meant until it happened. It is only now I realise how much work is, and how much it requires of you, but I'm very much enjoying it! Hanna [Hjelt, the Vice-President of ISA], and I have great plans for the next ISA Board, and we're very much looking forward to working together. We are very happy with the new board, because for the first time since the pandemic, we had people applying for roles because they wanted the job, rather than us having to attract people because we needed to fill certain positions. There's a different kind of motivation.
What has being on the board taught you?
First of all, I've learned how to organise events. Working with ISA has also taught me to stay calm when problems come up, to look at things from a meta level, make a structured plan, and then approach the problem appropriately. Another thing that I would say I have learned and that will help me and the board, is to network. By this I mean I have learned to communicate with different people who have different ideas, or different approaches to things.
Lucas (far left) with his ISA colleagues.
What's your focus for the upcoming year?
My top priority is to strengthen our relationship with SP. Over the last year, we have done a lot to not only create events together, but also to bring students and the boards together. Together with Elizabete Maija Liepa, the President of the RSU SP, we would like to see ISA and SP work together as brother and sister. There has been a lot of separation due to the pandemic, because most of the international students haven't been on location in Riga.
Over the past year, we have created a network this year for all the university international student councils in Riga. I'm hoping to pursue this project and have more meetings in the coming year. This network will not only help us organise events together, but also to look at how our boards are structured, how we run processes. This, in turn, will help us communicate and see how our strategies can be improved to benefit all students as well as create new connections and friendships.
I've made a suggestion to the board to organise one event in collaboration with the RSU SP and one with another university per semester.
Other priorities include modernising ISA, improving different processes, and to promote our association more by explaining to students what it is we actually do.
Are there any difficulties you've had, or problems you've had to overcome that you've learned from and will try to avoid next year?
Even though they weren't all perfect, there was no event that went really badly. I think the best approach would be to encourage as many ISA board members to attend events as possible, if they have the time and capacity for it of course. Having more people around can help think of creative solutions to different problems that arise.
I'm just hoping for a calm year, with no new pandemics or wars!