Student Shapshot: Kate Kuzanov
Kate Kuzanov comes from Tblisi, Georgia, and just began her Medicine studies at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) in August this year.
How did you find out about RSU?
I had an idea that I wanted to come to Latvia, because it seemed like a nice place. I was searching for universities to study medicine abroad, because I knew I didn’t want to stay in Georgia. Studies are not on the same level there, and so while I was searching for something in the EU, I discovered that Latvia had really good quality studies in comparison to the price. I have relatives in Latvia as well. My relative came from Georgia to Latvia.
At first, I was considering both the University of Latvia, and RSU. My relative used to study at RSU, and he strongly recommended it, saying that I should definitely come here because RSU has the best medical studies in Latvia. I took his advice and don’t regret it!
Tell me about your relative.
He’s a distant relative, but he still keeps in touch with my father as they are both doctors. They were just talking, and one thing led to another. He himself came here in the 1980s. His initial plan was to come to Latvia and then go on to Western Europe, but he decided to stay here because he really loved it in Latvia. He’s settled down now with a family.
What are some cultural differences between Latvia and Georgia that you’ve noticed?
It’s well known that Georgians are very hospitable. We have an expression “astonishing things” which is translated as “for foreigners” because everything good that we have is meant for other people. Whenever we see someone who is not from Georgia in a restaurant, for example, you pay for them. Hospitality is the norm. I don’t feel it here in Latvia in the same way. When I start to speak English, people, especially over 50, don’t know English all that well, so they keep talking to you in Latvian. They just don’t try to help you and feel like you should know Latvian. The good thing is that I speak Russian and then they talk to me and I feel welcome. There is a definite language barrier which comes off as cold. Another thing that I need to get used to is Latvian sense of personal space.
Have you been to any Georgian restaurants here? What are they like to you?
Yes! I’ve been to some. There is this food called khinkali, which are basically dumplings, but better. In Georgia you could buy like 50 pieces for 8 EUR, but here you can just buy 5! That was a shock to me and my Georgian friend. But the food was good, and everything tasted Georgian, but the cost is terrible!
What would you tell someone who is visiting Georgia for the first time? What would you recommend they see?
The most important thing in Georgia are the mountains. Everything is on a mountain, even the capital Tblisi is full of mountains.
At the same time, you can go to the seaside in the summer, to Batumi, and it’s hot there, like 40 degrees. So you can swim, and you can see mountains with snow at the same time! This is probably the best thing about Georgia.
Georgia is a good place to go as a tourist, but I wouldn’t recommend living there. It’s conservative and people are quite traditional. We do stand for equality between men and women, but there’s still a lot of work to do. We are maybe like 10 years behind Europe for now.
What’s the biggest holiday?
We don’t exactly celebrate Christmas; we celebrate New Year. We’re Orthodox, so it’s on 7 January, but we celebrate already from 31 December. We come together and meet in the streets. In Georgia people love to celebrate with their families, so we all come together and have dinner.
There’s this other, controversial holiday that many people outside Georgia might not know about. It’s called Lomisoba. What happens is that people in the villages, who still aren’t that modern, kill loads of sheep quite brutally – they decapitate them and there’s a lot of blood. People in the cities and animal rights groups protest this holiday, but people who live in the countryside don’t want to give it up. They sacrifice the sheep brutally, and usually kill more than they can eat.
What is something you miss from home?
I miss my parents, of course, but most of all I miss someone cooking for me. It’s been really hard to do on my own and to take care of myself. I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to really miss anything else that much yet.
How do you feel about Latvian supermarkets? Are the food items very different?
You actually have a lot of Georgian food items. You have frozen khinkali, you have our Borjomi mineral water, and a few other things. Every time I see them, I get happy because it reminds me of home.
Is there something weird that Latvians eat?
Yes, a lot of things! I love your potato pancakes though! I was talking to my mum and telling her that I’m making potato pancakes for myself, and she didn’t understand what that was. It tastes amazing, so I think I have them almost every morning now!
Is this the first time you live away from your family?
Yes. COVID-19 has added additional pressure. The university has now moved all studies online again until the beginning of November, and we don’t know whether it’ll be longer than that. Everyone’s a little worried. We have colloquiums this week which adds more pressure.
Who do you ask for advice or help?
I’m really lucky, because my groupmates are really close and tight with one another, and we text a lot. Sometimes they invite me to their place to cook together and teach me stuff. I also have a really nice roommate who sometimes cooks for me if I have to study a lot. She also teaches me and gives me advice. I’m really lucky, I think.
How have you been able to meet people?
There were a few events where people went out together, but I didn’t join them because I was worried about the coronavirus. Before classes started, while everything was still online, my groupmates and I, whoever was in Riga already, we went out into the city. We just like each other and met every day after that. Now we study together and help each other out. It’s nice.
Do you know yet if you’re going home for the holidays, or is it too early to tell?
I know that a lot of my friends are going home, but I don’t think I will because I don’t want to have to quarantine for 10 days going to Georgia, and then 10 days coming back. I don’t think there’s enough time since we only have 17 days of vacation. Instead I think I might go to my groupmate’s house because she lives in Estonia and we wouldn’t have to quarantine to go there. We might actually just spend Christmas together.
Are there any stereotypes about Georgians that you would like to dispel?
First of all, it’s been a struggle to make people understand the difference between the state in the US, and the country. People often don’t know where it is because it’s so small and they often get it mixed up with other countries close to us, like Kazakhstan.
Your accent is very good, can I ask why that is? Have you studied abroad?
No, I just really like English and knew I would study abroad, so I’ve always worked hard to have a good accent and good knowledge of English, so I learned through my own initiative.