We met Fredrik outside the Stockmann building in central Riga. “Are you ready to come with me and buy some vegetables?” he asks. We answer that we are and walk together towards the large market. We had asked him earlier if he could show us some places in Riga that are special to him. Fredrik decided quite quickly to take us to the market. “I often come here when I want to buy food because it is half the price compared to grocery stores and the vegetables, fish and meat are often fresher. Our professors often encourage us to go here to buy food. It is a fun experience to walk around here instead of just going to a standard supermarket.” As he guides us through the market, we meet a great variety of people and sounds, not to mention smells. Fredrik shows us where he buys chicken and other meats. He explains that he normally buys large quantities of food so he can freeze it. He remembers when his Latvian language class had to come here and talk Latvian to people as homework after their first lecture. “We had learned a number of sentences and we had also been told some answers. The tricky part was when the people working here didn’t answer with the sentences we had rehearsed. I had no idea what to say anymore.”
Fredrik is in the second year of his medical studies in Riga. His mother works as a doctor in Norway and Fredrik already knew at the age of six that he wanted to follow in her footsteps. His interest in being healthy and in good shape is something that shines through as we get to know him and is also reflected in his wish to show us where he goes in the market. During a visit to his apartment, he shows us what kinds of things he brings back with him from Norway. In addition to some delicious pastry made by his girlfriend’s mother, Fun Light lemonade, speltlomper (a kind of potato cake) and mackerel in tomato sauce are some of the things he makes sure to bring back to Riga. “When you are studying and reading from early morning until late at night for weeks on end, staying fit and being concerned about what you eat is extremely important” he tells us as we walk from the vegetable section of the market to the fish pavilion.
Fredrik travels back to Norway as often as once a month. His girlfriend lives in Norway and he tries to visit her as often as possible. “The airline tickets are so cheap now and I live close to the airport in Norway which makes a trip back home quite quick. If you think about it that way, studying in Latvia is probably not that different from what it would have been if I had studied in another Norwegian city.”
Studying medicine takes a lot of time and Fredrik can tell us that it is particularly the first two years that are considered the hardest. “Older students have told me that you suddenly start getting a life again when you start your third year.” But Fredrik also eagerly participates in the events organised by ANSA – the student organisation for Norwegian students abroad. They arrange events throughout the year, often located in Riga’s Old Town. The most remarkable events take place around Norway’s Constitution Day with a 17th May Parade and also a russe party the night before. Fredrik had brought his russe trousers to Riga and was ready for the party just a couple of weeks after our visit.
After the trip to the market, we sat down to have a cup of coffee. On the way to the café we walked past a shop selling Riga Black Balsam. “I took some Riga Black Balsam to a barbeque in Norway last summer so my friends could get a taste of Latvia. The parents of the guy hosting the party were sitting upstairs in the house, but when they heard I had Riga Black Balsam with me they immediately joined us. They had also lived in Latvia for a couple of years and the liqueur brought back a lot of memories. I think my relationship with Latvia will remain strong long after I’m done studying here. I can see myself in the future acting like my friend’s parents did. Drinking Riga Black Balsam and taking a trip down memory lane about my time here in Latvia” Fredrik tells us before we continue towards the café.