I walked up to the food counter. It was snowing outside, so I said simply, "Man patīk sniegs jo kur es dzīvoju..." ("I like snow because where I live..."). The lunch ladies finished my sentence: "There is no snow?" And a friendship was born.
One memory that really stands out is the day I decided to talk to the lunch ladies at my host school. It is a K-12 school, and I was sitting in the cafeteria. It was usually noisy, with lots of kids chattering, arguing, eating, while the Latvian teachers sat at the head of the table, serving food and trying to catch a bite in between. I sat at the teacher table by myself, looking on. And when I got up to leave, I decided to try the little Latvian I had learned. I walked up to the food counter. It was snowing outside, so I said simply, "Man patik sniegs jo kur es dzivoju..." ("I like snow because where I live..."). The lunch ladies finished my sentence: "There is no snow?" And a friendship was born. I would say a few sentences in broken Latvian, they would respond with a flood of Latvian that I mostly didn't understand. But every day, I said hello, and they said hello, and then I said thank you and goodbye, and they said goodbye. It was that tiny human connection that really saved me on days when it was dark and cold and lonely. We took a selfie at the end of the year, and it's one of my favorite photos ever.
Now I'm working as an English teaching assistant in Cherbourg, France through the TAPIF program. It's a very similar role, so I've used some of my old lesson plans from last year. This time it's a bit harder. My Latvian students had pretty good levels of English, and so I didn't have to translate as much of what I said (and I wouldn't really have been able to, because I didn't speak much Latvian!). Here, my students have very low English levels, so while I try to only speak English in the classroom, I have to use my French skills quite often. Sometimes it's really frustrating, but at the end of the day I try to remember that what matters is showing up for the students, doing your best, and reflecting on how you can do it better the next time. That last part is difficult, but key!
I was a 2018-2019 ETA to Latvia, and I started volunteering as a Spotlights editor last fall for Fulbridge. It's been wonderful! I interview Fulbrighters (current and alums) about their grant experiences, and publish Q&A-style feature pieces. One of my favorite things about Fulbright is how diverse people's experiences are, so I love having an excuse to ask people about their experiences and learn from them. Everyone has something to share!
I would love to have dinner with Brené Brown. I've started reading her book "Braving the Wilderness" and last summer I listened to an audiobook recording of one of her talks. I love what she has to say about vulnerability, and how maybe if we take the time to stand up for ourselves, know where our boundaries are, and learn how to listen, the world will be a better place.
Megan was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Latvia in 2018-19. She is a volunteer Spotlights editor for Fulbridge, a website that connects Fulbrighters (current and alumni) around the world. If you would like to share your story, or are interested in getting involved, email us at email@example.com