Foreigners in Latvia during a pandemic: three stories

Take note – story published 2 years ago

Can I get a Covid-19 vaccine like the others? What is the general situation with the coronavirus? Three foreigners currently residing in Latvia shared their experience with Latvian Radio regarding the availability of information about Covid-19 and life in Latvia during the pandemic.

A teacher from Italy, an astrophysicist from Cuba and a missionary from the USA are among the foreigners who have sent their concerns and unclear questions to LSM regarding vaccination against Covid-19. Latvian Radio contacted them to listen to their stories about how it is to be a foreigner in Latvia during the coronavirus pandemic.

Myriam from Italy

Myriam Boscarolli is 25 years old, and she is a teacher at the Exupery International School in Piņķi. Myriam was born and raised in Italy, but her mother is from Latvia and she has some family here.  Myriam speaks Italian, English, and Russian, but not much Latvian since she has only been here since August 2020.

"When I first arrived in August, and even September, October, November, it was like paradise, because (...) in Italy the situation is much more severe. I landed and noticed nobody was wearing masks, and nobody was wearing masks for quite a while [after that]," Myriam said.

When the Covid-19 incidence rate got higher in Latvia, Myriam found it rather difficult to keep up-to-date with everything that's going on.

"I'm always checking the LSM website, because I like that it has an English version, even though sometimes I have to check the Latvian and Russian versions because obviously those pages have more news with more details. And I often have to Google Translate things, which isn't great, but at least it gives me the general picture."

She also mentioned that some Covid-19 rule updates are available in English later than they are published in Latvian.  Myriam said she does not frequent official websites much - once she tried to find something on the Education Ministry's page but all the information was in Latvian. Her e-mail in English was never answered.

Comparing the organization of work in the education system in Latvia and Italy, she said that work is better organized in Italy. Her mother is also a teacher back in Italy, and she had known already in December what was going to happen in January.

"Here in Latvia I feel (...) as if they were unable to plan more than two weeks ahead, because I came back from Italy at the beginning of January, because I thought that we'd go back to teaching face-to-face on the 11th of January, as they had told us. And then two or three days later they told us we would be online for two weeks, and one week later - for two more weeks.

"That's a little frustrating, because I could have very well worked from home, not risked anything," she said.

Myriam is now uncertain whether she'll get a vaccine against Covid-19 by the summer holidays.

"Latvia has a similar population to my region back home in Italy. So I was jokingly telling my parents that I would  be vaccinated before them, even though I am much younger and not as much at risk. Now, due to the management of the vaccines... now I don't know whether that's a joke or not a joke anymore."

She hopes that she'll be vaccinated before the summer as a teacher, since at the school in Piņķi there are many international teachers and most want to go home for the holidays. Myriam said she plans to work another year here, hopefully - at school onsite.

David from the US

American missionary David Michael Carrillo last year gained recognition on Facebook with his arrangement of the Latvian Anthem. David has lived in Latvia for eleven years and says his heart is here - and that these eleven years have been the best in his life.

Originally from California, David says Latvia was his first experience of being 'cold to the bone'. His parents still live back in California, where David was a musician. Now, in Latvia, he is a volunteer worker at Striki primary school and St. Gregory's education center in Saldus. To afford staying in Latvia, the musician-missionary, or 'musicianary', went to the US on an annual tour for three months every year.

Last year, this wasn't possible any more due to the pandemic, so he relied on donations online. This year, David is uncertain whether he'll be able to go on the tour and is worried about his parents, whom he hasn't seen in a long time.

David also admits that information about Covid-19 in English is hard to find. He also uses LSM's English service and Google Translate.

"As an English speaker, I felt like I was left in the dark. I saw this headline - go to this website to learn all about the vaccine - of course, I went to the website, but it was all in Latvian. I literally had to copy line by line and translate it to see the requirements," said David.

"Next question - where are they giving them? Does everyone have to go to Riga or can I do it in Saldus, and how to make an appointment? And then the fear I've had for the last ten years - when I call, what happens if they don't speak English? I say I'm sorry, es nerunāju latviski (I don't speak Latvian) and then I hear ughhhh.

"It gets kind of scary, because you don't want to be left out. I live here, and I want to know what's going on in Latvia," said David.

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David has managed to sign up on with the help of machine translation, but he is still not sure whether he'll be counted in with the teachers as he works voluntarily. 

He said, though, he is glad to be in Latvia and not in California, both due to the infection rates and the political tensions. "This is where I live, this is where I'm at," he concluded.

Jorge from Cuba

Jorge del Pino has lived in Latvia since 2013 and works at the University of Latvia, Institute of Astronomy.

His link to Latvia dates back to the days of the Soviet Union, as he began to work at a satellite observatory in Cuba which collaborated with the Soviet Union's space program. During his PhD studies in what was then Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic, and projects in East Germany, at the beginning of 1990s, he met the current director of LU's Astronomy Institute, Kalvis Salmiņš. In 2013, through this acquaintance, Jorge came to Latvia as a foreign expert and has worked in the observatory in the Botanical Garden ever since.

Jorge is over 70 years old, and this is one of the reasons he wants to know when he can get his vaccine against Covid-19.

"In Europe, about 80% of the people who have died from the coronavirus are older than 65. If the people over 65 are protected, the number of serious cases and people in hospitals will be much smaller," said Jorge.

Jorge plans to sign  up on and said he is surprised that the technical solution of the website has been found so quickly. "It is better to start early and correct [possible mistakes in the system] than wait until everything is perfect," he said.

Though since last summer the incidence rate in Latvia has grown rapidly, he does not blame the government for that and says the situation in Latvia is not the worst.

"People say, oh, we have the second wave, the government is not working [enough]. Everywhere, in all the countries, there has been a second wave. Even in Taiwan, even in South Korea, where the restrictions are very strong.

"Some people criticize for the sake of criticizing, the question is - what would you do if you were in power?" said Jorge.

Jorge said that right now, the most important thing is to "keep up the protection" and wait until the worst is over, like it would be in a strong downpour or blizzard. 

"The faster everyone cooperates with vaccination and follows the rules, the better. I think it would be a good goal in Latvia to do everything to have a normal Jāni and Līgo (midsummer celebration) so we can celebrate that the worst is over."


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