Memories in Focus: Stories about why we are how we are

Latvian student reflects on her experiences at UW-Eau Claire

Latvian+international+student+Agnese+Cikule+travels+across+the+United+States+as+part+of+the+Civil+Rights+Pilgrimage+this+past+spring+break.

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Latvian international student Agnese Cikule travels across the United States as part of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage this past spring break.

It’s the first day of school. Exchange students walk to class anxious, not knowing what to expect. As they step into the classroom for the first time, surrounded by strangers and the professor is speaking rapidly in a language that still feels foreign to them.

These aren’t the average first day of school jitters, but for many international students like Agnese Cikule, these feelings are nothing new.

In August of 2015, Cikule left her home of Riga, Latvia to pursue her education in the U.S.

Cikule said she was granted this experience as part of the Dr. Aina Galejs Scholarship, which encourages Latvian students to expand their education while serving as ambassadors for Latvian culture.

“I didn’t like Eau Claire at first, but now I love it,” Cikule said. “I haven’t met nicer people anywhere else in the U.S.”

Although she has already completed a bachelor’s degree in history, Cikule said she decided to make the cross-continental trek in order to further her education.

However, Cikule is no stranger to travel. Prior to coming to Eau Claire, she spent the summer of 2015, which she described as “a summer of changes,” traveling across Europe and visiting 15 different countries.

Nevertheless, adjusting to life in Eau Claire was not always easy.

“The night I arrived, I looked at the dorms and thought ‘Oh my god, this is horrible,’” Cikule said. “Now I love the sense of community here. This campus almost feels like a summer camp.”

Although her experiences in Eau Claire have generally been positive, Cikule said she often feels as if American students don’t listen to international students because they assume international students are stupid or don’t understand English.

Even so, she said she noticed people in Eau Claire are much more open and friendly than what she is accustomed  to.

Some adjustments were easier than others, she said. Classes at Eau Claire are different than in Latvia, but Cikule said she prefers the curriculum here because it is more hands on, while Latvian classes are more lecture and exam based.

“It wasn’t easy at first,” she said. “I didn’t even know what a syllabus was, but this year has been the best of my life.”

Not only has she adapted to life in Eau Claire, but Cikule also spent her time abroad traveling across the U.S. and participated in the Civil Rights Pilgrimage over spring break.

“It was a life-changing experience,” Cikule said. “It made me figure out what I want to do … I want to work for a nonprofit organization and help people, I want my job to mean something.”

Cikule said she is scheduled to return to Latvia next spring, but hopes to find an internship that will allow her to stay longer. When her time in the U.S. is up, she said she plans to apply to get her master’s somewhere in Europe.

“Coming to Eau Claire has been a really great experience,” Cikule said. “I’ve definitely changed a lot as a person.”