Studying Abroad for the Last Semester of College, Part Two

Author: Samantha, Florida, USA

Almost two months into my time in Daugavpils, and I’m having more fun than ever. But first: in my last blog post, I know I promised a super-secret, exciting trick for language learning, and here it is: DANCE!

No, seriously.

Particularly as a Floridian, you would not be alone in feeling surprised that the place and time in my life I decided to become a salsa dancer would be in Latvia, mid pandemic and Russo-Ukrainian war. But here I am, nonetheless. I can explain why, too.

Learning Russian in a Daugavpils University classroom is engaging and exciting. I confidently add about 15 words to my vocabulary every day because I will learn new words in one class and then apply them in the next, and so on. My teachers constantly ask me questions and give me space to practice speaking and reading. Yet, besides talking with my lovely host mom or doing my homework, I found myself leaving my Russian at school when I left for the day. Salsa offered the perfect opportunity to be active, meet new people, and learn and apply vocabulary in a more casual, friendly way.

I think one of the most critical parts of abroad time is figuring out how you’re going to fill your extra moments. Most of us, on our campus or in our lives, have daily or weekly extracurricular obligations. Here, you truly have a clean slate. You can decide if you want to go to the gym every day, eat at every restaurant, travel to random, nearby towns, or curl up into the fetal position and watch Netflix. Because Daugavpils can get dark and gloomy, I cannot recommend an active lifestyle highly enough.

The next hardest step is actually finding somewhere to go and then taking the leap of courage to go there. Discovering the salsa classes, for instance, was a fluke. My friend and I are regulars at a local restaurant, and while he was talking to another regular, she invited him and the rest of our cohort to tag along. Every Tuesday and Thursday, that friend and I walk about fifteen minutes to the studio, which sits on the third floor of a random apartment-looking building in the deep center of a Soviet-style courtyard. About ten people show up every week, and together, we have gone from not knowing anything to a confident, fun routine. The teacher bounces between Russian, Latvian, and English, and the fellow friends I’ve made in that class have helped me almost as much as my teachers in building confidence and knowledge with my Russian language skills.


Daugavpils is both a big and a small city. Between salsa, school, regular gym trips, and volunteering at an English conversation club, I’m finally starting to recognize faces on the street. Taking the initiative to find something that makes you happy is imperative. At the end of every salsa class, I have a massive grin on my face every time. And yes, I am a horrible dancer. The point is to use your extra time intentionally in ways that feed academic, intellectual, and personal joy.

The city is filled with frankly random activities, and I hope you try them all. If you keep your ears open, you’ll find plenty to do. Some of the things I’ve enjoyed doing most—hockey games, ice skating, and visiting the bazaar, to name a few—have been spontaneous but unforgettable. These unique experiences have made my time in Daugavpils not only exciting but also grounding. Before I came here, I tried to do a million things all the time. I’ve found that this new environment allows me to only prioritize the things that are the most fun to me, and in turn, I’ve become a healthier, happier person.