Latvia has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, but the unemployment rate in certain regions is still high. Good jobs and decent education are difficult to find outside the country’s main cities. For this reason, Vita Strazdinia left her home town at the age of 16 to study to become a teacher in Riga. Recalling her experience she says; “After I moved to Riga, I immediately started studying during the day and worked in a restaurant in the evenings. My days were long with only four to five hours of sleep a night. Despite the hardships it was an experience, and it has made me feel strong enough to handle anything now.”
After finishing her studies, Vita decided to join her Swedish fiancé, a construction worker, in Iceland. Vita had already gained professional experience in the Nordics, having previously worked as babysitter in Norway, so she was hopeful of finding a good position in Iceland. To maximize her chances of finding a good job she registered for an Icelandic language course.
Despite her enthusiasm, the first work experience was disappointing; “Working for a cleaning company was more than dissatisfying, because my employer had shamelessly cheated on all the employees by withholding our taxes and not paying them to the state.” Vita only realised later on, when she asked her employer for her kennitala (identification number), since it would have been his duty to register her. He lied and said he hadn’t been able to go through the process yet. However, when Vita heard the same excuse for her job contract and pay-slip, she became suspicious. Without any support, the young Latvian approached the EURES office for advice.
EURES Adviser Valdimar Olafsson provided the necessary help by organising her much needed identification number and immediately interviewed her for a position at The Kriunes hotel, located close to Reykjavik. They had just informed EURES that they needed several receptionists and waiters. Icelandic language skills and professional experience were the two main requirements, but due to a previous job as a waitress in Riga and her good knowledge of Icelandic, Vita was one of the selected candidates.
Vita says: “I’m still in the same job and happy with it” The language barrier is still there, though, and , Vita decided to follow a language course, which has significantly improved her language skills and helped her to feel more integrated into Icelandic society. She gets on well with the local people because of their friendliness with foreigners and she is always up-to-date with the latest news. “I read the newspapers and if I don’t understand something I ask colleagues at the hotel. I also try to watch the news, because it makes it easier to understand the context.”
Today, thanks to the support of EURES, Vita can make further plans for the future. “My fiancé and I have been saving money to buy a house in Latvia. Salaries here are much higher compared to my home country, but so are prices for housing. However, the hotel I work at provides us with free accommodation, which is helping us to save a lot. We plan to go back home in two years and start our own business. That again will be something new for us and challenging! ”