Student Snapshot: Kirsten Gehrenbeck
Kirsten Gehrenbeck is a medical student from the countryside around Osnabrück, Germany. She is currently studying in her 8th semester in Berlin, and came to RSU for her Erasmus exchange in February, just a month before the national state of emergency was declared. She has decided to stay in Riga at this time, rather than return to Berlin.
Why did you choose to come to Latvia? What were your expectations?
I wanted to go to an eastern European country for my Erasmus since I haven’t seen much of this part of Europe. The Baltic States really intrigued me because of the many different influences that come together here. In the end I chose Latvia after I was told that Riga has a vibrant cultural life to explore.
My main goal was to expand my personal horizons a bit. I felt that the former Soviet countries and their history were often neglected in the education I received at school. I was also excited to experience Latvian nature, to go hiking and travel along the coast.
Why did you choose to stay here during the crisis if you can't experience a lot of the things you came for?
I guess at first I just didn’t want to believe that my semester here wasn't going to happen as planned, but now I think it is a good place for me to stay. I feel very comfortable in my flat, and have found a good corona companion in my flatmate and her cat.
The change of scenery from my routine back home is still interesting for me, even though it's not exactly what I imagined, so I don't regret staying at all.
How often are you in touch with friends and family from home?
Actually quite often now that everyone has time. I speak to friends almost every other day and have a video call with my family about once a week.
How are you keeping busy during the day? What is your daily routine?
I try to spend a few hours each morning studying or attending online classes. My last class was luckily quite time consuming. Then I do yoga, go for a walk once a day and read, draw, listen to music, watch films and cook - and I definitely daydream and relax a lot. I got in touch with the Latvian Samaritan association through the International Student Association. I hope to be able to help them shop for groceries for people in self-quarantine every now and then.
How is it studying from home?
Independent studies have always worked better for me than lectures. Being inside all day makes it hard to focus longer than a few hours, however, so I do miss the practical aspects of medical studies.
Are you getting enough support from RSU?
Yes! The other Erasmus students I've spoken to agree - we've been super happy with the help we've received from the International Department.
I want to send Maruta Funta and anita Krastiņa a big thank you for keeping us updated and checking in on us from time to time!
Do you feel like you’re getting to know the country at all?
Yes, I am still learning about Latvia. My flatmate, who is Latvian, is a big help. I can ask her anything. And then I still have Latvian class twice a week via video. Our teacher Inga is doing an awesome job! She is very motivated to teach us about Latvia too, and not only the language.
Other than that I try to watch Latvian movies every now and again, and read Latvian novels - in German, or English, of course.
What stuck out to me is definitely the eventful, often tragic history. But I think there’s also a lot to expect from Latvia’s future. From what I have experienced especially the younger generation is very resourceful and motivated to affect change and work creatively.
It might be hard to make plans right now as things are changing so frequently, but in as much as you can think ahead - what are your future plans?
At the moment I plan to stay here until the summer. Originally I wanted to take one semester off once I was back in Germany to travel to southeastern Europe and visit some friends, do an internship and start working on my doctoral thesis. But now I will just plan from week to week and see how it goes. I hope I’ll be able to come back next year for a while and catch up on what I have missed.
What are your tips for how to deal with isolation?
It's a bit of a cliche by now, but creating a routine and structure has been really helpful.
More recently, however, I've been very conscious of trying not to pressure myself to be productive.
It’s also a good time to get more input from the world outside the university, or medicine. There are many (free) online courses to do, livestreams to see, documentaries to watch and books to read. You can build a “platform” with your friends to exchange tips and ideas and then discuss what you've learned over a beer or dinner you share online.