A visitor from Latvia…

Written by Ginta Petra, German Baltic Chamber of Commerce

Dear colleagues,
Dear readers,

The worldwide network of www.ahk.de and especially the AHK project VETnet financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research made it possible for two exceptional weeks to change my place of residence from German Baltic Chamber of Commerce (AHK Baltic States) in Riga (Latvia), to the AHK in Atlanta (USA).

Being asked to write a blog about my 12-days stay with the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern U.S., Inc. (GACC South) I decided to organize* my story in some (hopefully) easy understandable sections.

  1. GACC South for beginners.

In order to let you imagine who the GACC South is, I would be glad to repeat it in all languages and everywhere in the world: the colleagues at the GACC South are so kind, professional, polite and welcoming everywhere and everybody! Might it be the open office which makes everybody to feel so good? Or might it be that people at the GACC South are hired taking into account their horoscopes? Or might it be the southern climate with sunnier days than everywhere else? Or, maybe, the mix of nationalities?I felt very welcomed, from the moment I was picked up by sunny Stefanie on the Sunday night. But the biggest surprise I experienced the next morning, when I woke up on the 55th floor in the hotel, I went to the window and saw this.

ginta01

(Needless to say that my first name starts with G and last name – with P. Thank you, friends!)

  1. Atlanta for beginners.

Atlanta proves the nickname “Hotlanta” – the temperature in August increases till the following.

ginta03

I learned and saw it personally that Atlanta is the birth place of Martin Luther King, Margaret Mitchell and her “Gone with the Wind”. Atlanta hosted the summer Olympic Games of 1996, and is headquarter city of the GACC South (!), Baseball team Braves, CNN and Coca Cola.

The people in Atlanta speak soooo fast. I couldn’t understand almost anything without asking to repeat. Mostly I used the strategy just to smile, and it helped – almost anything arranged by itself (e.g. – by one kind person). Most easily I understood compliments (for whatever reason…) – being said about my dress, shoes, bag – about anything and from completely unknown people.

ginta02The people in Atlanta are so nice that they will sacrifice themselves and explain the rules of baseball game to someone who doesn’t know anything about the game. Even more: they are ready to explain by attending a game and being not able to follow the results because spending the time and attention for explaining. The explaining can last some 20 minutes and after that you will understand what jersey-color the Braves are wearing, but nothing else…

I will repeat myself but – people in Atlanta are so friendly, polite and cute that they could easily apply for working at the GACC South (see point one).

  1. Atlanta for intermediates.

If you live on Peachtree Street, it doesn’t count. There are Peachtree Str. West, Peachtree Street North, Peachtree Road, Peachtree Way, Peachtree …………anything.

Atlanta is big (6 Mio. inhabitants), open, friendly and multi-cultural so that nobody could be impressed, confused or surprised about a newcomer like me (as long as I don’t rise the question: “Is it possible to pick mushrooms here?”).

From another side – the people in Atlanta are worried about me: middle in the night I receive nine messages about flash flood warning (while sleeping in the 55th floor…) and ask me: where did they get my mobile number?!

Next, look back to the point two and multiply the explanations of baseball rules by approximately 49, and you will be (probably) able to follow the game…

  1. USA for beginners (very beginners…).

USA is a service land. That’s it. If you give out 100 business cards during the first three days, (see point two, which means, I got to know too many kind people who wanted to change contact details with me) you always have a solution: a kind man in an FedEx office on the road, on Sunday afternoon will print you new ones within seven minutes for eight dollars.

If you ask somebody on the street “Excuse me, where did you buy your coffee mug”, be not surprised after two days to be addressed by the same person but in completely another place by the question “Did you find your coffee mug?”.

If you think you have learned a lot of new words, when being in the U.S. just for a week, and the words are like: GETSMRT2, TRAINMAN, PRTTYROK, BKROADS, its wrong. Because they aren’t words – they are car signs.

I was very touched seeing this one sign not only here, but also hearing it from a congressman in a graduation ceremony at Volkswagen.

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  1. “German dual vocational education in the USA and Latvia” for beginners.

This is the main reason I came to Atlanta – to learn from the experiences of the colleagues in Atlanta in their activities the field of dual vocational education.
We in Latvia are just starting in this area with real grassroots work in advising the local partners on the idea and practical issues of dual vocational education. We do so in the framework of the VETnet project financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research – which is coordinated for the 11 pilot countries worldwide by our umbrella organization, the DIHK in Berlin and hopefully will expand to more AHKs worldwide. We are all in different stages of development – but the topic is very important to all involved players. I learned that AHK in Atlanta is already working together with subsidiaries of German multinationals as well as with other interested companies on site and I had the chance to witness graduations at Volkswagen Academy and at Aiken training center, talk to many parties involved and see the potential outcome of dual vocational education support activities by an AHK. It gave me a lot of input for our work in Latvia in the coming years.

I also learned that anything is up to the people: if there is a person who stands behind an idea, is charismatic dreamer, visionary and has enough power, you can move anything to anywhere. Even an education system which differs from that one the target group knows till now. If this is possible in a country size like the U.S., then it will be possible also in Latvia. I experienced touching graduation ceremonies in Aiken, Chattanooga, informative phone conversations with colleagues in Washington D.C. and Chicago. I was allowed to shadow my mentor in Atlanta, Stefanie, in everything she has done in the field of vocational education. I appreciate Stefanie’s support a lot and would like to quote Mr. Robert Crenshaw: “If it is possible for somebody to have all the connections around the world, then Stefanie has for sure all the connections around the universe.”  Thank you that I was allowed to benefit from your connections!

  1. Latvia for beginners.

My country, Latvia, is bigger than Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands or Switzerland, but is three times smaller than Atlanta (2 vs 6 Mio. inhabitants).

Just a week ago I thought: Latvia is a small country where everyone knows everybody and where all the people are in a call distance. Just an example: the President of Latvia, the Prime Minister, the Head of the National Bank and almost all ministers have been the honored guests at many events organized by the AHK in Latvia.

After 10 days in the U.S. I know – small is the world, not only Latvia. Need a proof?

I came from Riga. Stefanie from Atlanta brings me to Chattanooga, where I meet Christian from New York who works for Audi in Mexico. From the moment of our meeting Christian knows two Latvians – me and a young man, Helmuts whom he met in Hamburg 2008. Need continuation? Helmuts is a friend of mine….

Additionally, Manuel, my colleague at the AHK in Atlanta, has been in Latvia several times. Mark Pierson, an honored member of the GACC South, has moderated a conference about Latvia 20 years ago, Robert from Aiken met Latvians a week ago (by the way, the members of German Baltic Chamber of Commerce in Latvia), and Dr. Eike Jordan, former President of the GACC South, knows Latvia because of our Ice-Hockey-Team. By the way, the temperature in Latvia varies from minus 25 degrees celsius (mostly) to plus 25 degrees (seldom). And that’s why we are strong in winter sports. (Link)

Riga, the capital of Latvia, is the biggest city around the Baltic see and this year, it is the European Capital of Culture. (Link)

The tradition of singing in Latvia (as well in other Baltic countries) is so strong that UNESCO included this phenomena in Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Link)

And finally – Latvia is actually  a secret which you are more than welcome to discover. (Link)

  1. Conclusion.

There are none and can’t be any conclusions: It’s just a beginning of partnerships and friendship. After having visited many countries I smile always when experiencing a positive cultural shock.

ginta05

My time at the GACC South was an exceptional positive experience. My warmest regards to all of you! I will be glad to welcome you in Latvia and to assure hospitality of Latvians (and of the best places to pick up mushrooms).

With my warmest regards,
Ginta

*to organize – because I work too long for German companies to take it for granted – organizing anything.🙂

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