Student Snapshot: Tatsiana Ahurtsova
Tatsiana Ahurtsova is currently halfway through her third year of Medical studies at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). She is originally from Belarus, from Semkovo, a village 9km from Minsk where her family has a cottage. This is where she went back to because of the COVID-19 restrictions in Riga.
Why did you choose Riga for your studies?
I came here because of my family. My mother is one eighth Latvian and we have family here. My mother even speaks Latvian. The family split up during the Soviet era and my aunt stayed in Latvia whereas my mother and other family members stayed in Belarus. I wanted to study medicine abroad, and my family and I decided that it would be better if I moved to a place where I already knew someone. I was really young when I started my studies, so they thought it would be good if I had someone to look after me. I'm the youngest child, so my parents always think of me as the baby!
Has it been difficult to connect with other students?
Yeah, it was really difficult actually. I was 18 when I came here, whereas the other international students are all around 20+. I basically came straight from school. It was hard connecting to others, because I was like this nerdy child who always wanted to study.
Tatiana (fourth from the right) during a Latvian class. The class was encouraged to bring traditional foods to share.
What did you do to meet people when you first came?
I spent a lot of time with my family. I lived with my cousin in Riga and I was busy trying to study a lot. I had no time for other activities except for some general RSU ISA events. I later made friends when I found a hip hop dance group in Riga and started dancing again.
Had you been to Latvia before?
Yes, of course. Our family would meet up once or twice a year, either in Belarus or in Latvia. I knew Riga before I came here to study. I liked the country and the language. I don't like it right now because everyone is making me speak it so that I learn! [laughs] I feel, however, that it's my duty to speak Latvian if I live here.
Did you always know you wanted to study medicine?
Tough question. I wanted to be a historian, scientist, astronaut… all these things. I saw a lot of patients because my dad, who sells medical equipment, would take me with him to work. I don't really like to see people suffer, so I decided on medicine.
Tatiana (second from the left) volunteering at the graduation ceremony in February 2020.
How do you feel people in Latvia talk about the political situation in Belarus, and is there something that they misunderstand?
It surprised me that people were speaking about it openly. My family, or people in Belarus in general, don't like to talk about politics in public. In Latvia, everyone was quite open. Both Latvians and international students were very open about the political situation in their countries. It shocked me because I always heard my parents say that you shouldn't talk about the government and what they do in public. I guess it's a legacy from the Soviet era. People don't understand how it's possible to have a political regime like that today.
What other things surprised you culturally when you moved here?
It surprised me that most people speak three languages!
I was surprised because in Belarus we only speak one language perfectly, Russian, and maybe bits of English or whatever language we learn at school. In Latvia you learn English in school, a second language plus Russian.
I already knew the mentality from my previous visits, but it did strike me this time around that Latvians are polite! Germans actually say the opposite, that Latvians are not polite. I guess you're somewhere in between. [laughs]
Another culture shock was the tradition of name days. They're like birthdays here! I didn't understand this tradition for a long time and had some misunderstandings with my family because of it.
How has the political situation changed since the demonstrations started?
Things really started in the summer, particularly after the 9 August elections. After that, there were protests until the winter. Now they've ceased because of the weather and police brutality. A lot of people were badly beaten and arrested. Right now it's calm.
It's the calm before the storm. You can see police in the streets every day. Sometimes there are military vehicles and things like that in the streets. I get quite nervous when I see them because I don't know what to expect.
Has it affected you or your family's life?
Not my family in particular, because my family doesn't care about the political situation too much. My parents don't think that things will change for the better if the government changes, so they want the status quo to remain, but i know a lot of people who've been affected by the protests and by the government's restrictions.
What are the COVID-19 restrictions in Belarus?
Our only restriction is that we ought to wear masks when we're close to other people, like in shops, but that's basically it. Vaccinations have started, however. It's not only for medical professionals but anyone can register to get vaccinated right now.
What are your future plans?
My sister lives in the Netherlands with her husband and child. I would like to work in Germany near the border in order to be able to go back and forth on the weekends. I don't really want to live in Belarus because I'm gay and this limits my rights. I wouldn't be able to marry someone in Belarus, for example, and I'd like to have this option. And to have children. Having a family would be easier in the EU.
I've visited my sister several times and really like the vibe. People are different there. They're more polite and optimistic. People in Belarus are more hardcore, because they're trying to survive. I don't know Germany too well, but I have a lot of German friends, and I think I can be comfortable there.