Interview with a Latvian woman working in Iceland
Vita Strazdinia was born in a small town Latvia, she moved to the Riga when she was sixteen years old to study and live there. She says it’s very hard to get a good job and good education in small towns so you need to move cities like Riga.
About the years in Riga she says: “I lived in Riga most of my life. –I was 16 year old when I moved there and stared to work and study. It was a very busy time because after school I went to work then after work I slept for like 4-5 hours then went to school again. So it was very difficult for me. I was studying to be a teacher. It was very hard because I needed to write on the computer, so after work I wrote reports then went to sleep. Then the next day I would work in a restaurant and it was very hard to work all day and run with food. But it was like a very good experience for me. And I think I’m strong enough to handle everything in my live.”
Vita moved to Iceland in February 2006 but that is not the first time she moved to abroad for work; “I lived in Norway but my sister lives and studies there. She has lived there for seven years, finished high school there and is studying there now and working in a hotel. I wanted to live with her but at the same time I was working there illegally. I was there for one summer and cooked and cleaned for people and took care of children in Stavanger in the year 2000.
When asked why she came to Iceland she says it was because of her boyfriend, he got a job in construction, but it was difficult for the relationship for us being apart. So when he wrote mail or talked to her on the phone he would say: “You should come here.” But in Latvia she had studies and a good job. But then they got engaged so she had no chose –she had to come to Iceland.
Vita decribes her first impression of Iceland as a shock: “When I first came here I felt like I was on the moon because everything was black and rough and nothing like home –because Latvia has a lot of wood. Now it is alright but when I came it was winter, it was cold and windy and I got sick in the first week. So it was a bad experience for me at first.” The shock didn’t end there and Vita’s first work experience in Iceland wasn´t good: “I started working for this cleaning company and it was terrible –first of all because I hate cleaning. It would be alright if you had a boss that was encouraging you and telling you nice things but my boss was not so nice and cheated on us by withholding our taxes and not paying it to the government. Then behind everybody’s back, he was badmouthing them –telling how bad they where doing. I was sick of it! Then I went in and asked him for my kennitala (identification number), because it was his duty to apply for one. Then he said that he couldn’t do that and when I asked him for the job contract or pay-slip it was the same story. This made me fed up I quit and went to the Eures office because I didn’t want to be here illegally. The Eures office helped me in dealing with the labour union and found a new job for me. I’m still doing that job and happy with it.”
Vita says that here live her in Iceland is better then the one she had in Latvia. But there have been some minor obstacles, mainly because of the language barrier: “In some Icelandic companies or institutions, like banks, people don’t speak English or speak very badly. That can be very hard for us. But I have started to learn Icelandic but I have only finished fourth level and I don’t know many words. Sometimes I start to speak English and then I put in an Icelandic word and then people usually get it. Some people don’t know English or don’t want to speak and are against people coming here for work. Everyone has been nice to me for most parts, especially since I started to work here at the hotel. There are a lot of meeting held here and almost all of them are Icelandic and everyone is nice to me. But of course there is always someone who isn’t. I remember one lady who was here and she was talking with me and I said: “Viltu tala ensku?” (Can you please speak English). Then she said; “if you don’t speak Icelandic –you are not a good worker and you can never be a good worker.” I told her that I was learning but she just repeated herself and said that I couldn’t be a good worker. I just thanked her for her observation. One person like that doesn’t bother me because everyone around here is very nice.” But does she feel like an outsider in the Icelandic society? She says that it is not the case and that she tries to follow what is going on in the media: “I read the newspapers and if I don’t understand something I ask the Nonni (the chef at the hotel). And I read newspapers on the internet and there are some in English. And every morning when I come to work the owner of the hotel is reading the papers and I ask him what is in the news and he tells me. Then I try to watch the news on television because you can sometimes understand when they show some pictures and get some words. So I know something about what is going on in Iceland –at least I try to.”
When asked about her future plans Vita answers quickly and decisively: “Me and my boyfriend have both been saving money. We don’t spend much money and we think that after two years we can go back to Latvia and buy a house and start our own business. It will be some kind of import business from Sweden because my boyfriend has parents in Stockholm, Sweden and they build houses. That again will be something new for us and I hope it will go alright.”