Growing up as an introverted teenager learning how to be an extrovert, I can definitely say that living abroad wasn’t included in my future plans. However, after many life-changing events, I’m now living in Latvia, a country that I knew somewhere in Europe but not precisely where…
During my high school years, I got to know the Erasmus+ Programme thanks to my teachers. I went abroad for the first time to Finland when I was 17 years old. It was an extraordinary first experience with many mixed feelings, yet I cannot say it was the best one. I was pretty much in my shell, always trying to stay in my comfort zone. Even though I was nowhere near it.
This trip was followed by many others, usually through the Erasmus+ Programme and self-funded as well. The more I interacted with the outside world, the more open I became. Once you get a taste of travelling and interacting with other people and cultures, you want something more. At least, that’s how it was for me. I was looking for the next big step. So, I decided to live abroad through the European Solidarity Corps Programme for a year. That’s how I met Latvia.
This country didn’t look like or felt like anything I have come across previously. I felt in Europe but not quite. Here, things were unique. The language, the traditions, the history… I had the excitement of discovering something new after travelling in Central Europe for such a long time.
There were many things to enjoy: new flavours, new views, absolutely fascinating nature, learning a new language and culture, etc. I fell in love with “Ādažu Čipši” and “Kārums”. I started hiking in Latvia for the first time in my life because how can you say no to such a nature that’s always on your doorstep. I travelled all over Latvia, to every region. This is still something I couldn’t manage to do in Turkey. Latvia helped me live a lot of “first times”.
As with everything else, living in Latvia brought different difficulties such as distant people, less sun, less body contact, the difference in showing emotions, integration without speaking the language, the paperwork and many more. For me, the most challenging part was that I felt pretty alone at the beginning living here. Everyone was and still is very friendly, but the majority of the people chose not to talk much about their personal lives and kept a social and physical distance. Coming from a culture where we hug and kiss each other when we meet or cry and laugh together to the fullest, this was my major challenge. Now, I am more adapted to the situation.
After the end of my voluntary service, I went back to Turkey for 9 months. It was good to be back, but the situation wasn’t very bright. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic and political tension was so high that I wasn’t as happy to be back after some time. I was looking for opportunities to have a better life. Latvia was an option as I knew my way around with almost everything. Luckily enough, or maybe we can call it destiny, I started working in the previous organization I volunteered as a manager of this project. I was suitable for the job as a migrant coordinating a project on migration.
Previously living here made it easier for me to settle in. Still, paperwork and the costs were the most significant challenge this time. I was demoralized many times or had dreams of getting or not getting my ID card. With the help I got, and by believing in myself, I’m now living in Latvia.
“I Am European” means a lot to me since it’s the voice of people who are trying to make a significant change in their lives no matter what the reasons behind are. Because all of us are a part of a natural phenomenon, so to speak, similar to birds migrating to warmer parts of the world.
Thanks to the approach the project has in terms of telling what migration is to the society, I strongly believe that things will change for the better in the long term. I’m honoured to be a part of this, to be one of the voices.
Years of travelling and migrating to Latvia completely changed my perspective of looking at the world. I’m much more open-minded, courageous, accepting and understanding. The challenge will always be there, no matter where you go, and Latvia taught me to embrace this challenge and learn from it. Latvia is my first step in my adventure of migration.
I am looking forward to what the future holds for me in this country or somewhere else in the world.
/ Onur Obekcan