We are pleased to introduce Yuliia Hodnieva, an ERASMUS+ Internee who has recently joined the IN-HABIT project team at BSC after her academic journey from Nitra to Riga. Last week, our BSC colleague Miķelis Grīviņš had the opportunity to meet her face-to-face to talk about her experience, first impressions in Riga, goals and ambitions.
Yuliia, a 23-year-old Ukrainian, embarked on a distinctive educational journey that brought her to Slovakia. Initially, she pursued astronomy studies in Ukraine but found it fell short of her expectations. Intrigued by the idea of studying abroad, her mother's suggestion aroused her curiosity. Yuliia made a life-changing move to Slovakia in 2019, where she embarked on her master's degree at Slovak Agrarian University, setting her on a unique path towards her current status of a final-year master's student.
The conversation turned to what had inspired Yuliia to join the ERASMUS+ program, especially considering her unique choice of pursuing an internship rather than traditional studies. Yuliia's desire to participate in the ERASMUS+ program had arisen during her second year of studies. However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had temporarily halted her plans, making it impossible to travel or take advantage of opportunities at universities in other European countries. Undeterred, she had decided to wait until her master's studies to explore ERASMUS+. Yuliia believes that an internship is more engaging and practical than coursework. It offers her the opportunity to apply her knowledge and skills in a real-world setting. She also mentioned her prior work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), noting that the experience is an asset for her career.
In her master's program, she is currently employed at a COMIN center in Nitra, a city where her university is located. The center aims to assist foreigners, providing a wide range of support services, including legal assistance, activities, and language courses. Yuliia's commitment to improving the well-being of immigrants and refugees, especially amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, underscores her dedication to humanitarian efforts. Her work not only in Nitra but also with UNHCR demonstrates her passion for helping others and her commitment to making a positive impact.
The experience of working at the UNHCR was quite interesting and filled with new skills, there were many qualification courses and workshops, they also took fingerprints from Ukrainian refugees for financial registration, Yulia's position was a cash benefit assistance. It was an invaluable experience for Yuliia to work in such a huge organisation as UNHCR.
When asked how she decided on Riga as her destination, Yuliia explained that she was studying European studies and rural development, a domain where also Baltic Studies Centre works. She saw Riga as an ideal destination because it aligned with her academic interests and research. Yuliia aims to collect data and conduct research for her diploma thesis related to the well-being of Ukrainian refugees in Europe, and Riga was a suitable location for this research due to its linguistic and cultural context.
Yuliia's primary focus during her stay in Riga is on well-being. She is committed to collecting data, including conducting interviews and administering questionnaires to Ukrainian refugees. Her goal is to measure their well-being. Over a two-month period in Riga, Yuliia hopes to connect with Ukrainians in the city and gather information from both those familiar with IN-HABIT activities and those who are not. She is particularly interested in traditional kitchen and their potential impact on the well-being of Ukrainian refugees. She is also open to new experiences and opportunities that may arise as she believes that her time in Riga will significantly benefit her by providing practical experience and expanding her professional capabilities.
Yuliia has been in Riga for a little over a week, and when asked about her impressions, she expressed she was feeling very comfortably in the city. She finds Riga to be warmer in terms of hospitality compared to other European cities she has visited. Yuliia particularly appreciated the convenience of drugstores operating around the clock, which reminded her of her home country, Ukraine, and the shops’ extended working hours. Yuliia was also pleasantly surprised by the presence of traditional Ukrainian cuisine in the city, making her feel closer to Ukrainian culture while being abroad. On her first day in Riga, she had a Ukrainian dish for lunch at one of these cafes. She also found the local unfiltered beer was excellent. Although she hasn't visited many places yet, Yuliia is eager to explore the variety of fish dishes available in the city, given its proximity to the sea.
Yuliia's initial impressions of the Baltic Studies Center are highly positive. She finds the atmosphere cozy, with a warm and friendly environment. Yuliia expressed her gratitude for the welcoming reception from the BSC staff.
When asked about her long-term career goals, Yuliia revealed her aspiration to become the Minister of Culture and Sports in Ukraine, acknowledging it as a distant dream due to her age. She attributed the potential challenges to her involvement in social work, particularly during and after the war. Yuliia emphasized her desire to create positive change for people, improve their lives, and simplify their experiences, not limited to immigrants and refugees. She expressed an interest in rural and sustainable development, with a focus on enhancing people's lives.
In conclusion Yuliia shared some of the cultural experiences she already had in Riga. The diverse collection of places she explored included Riga old town, the bustling market, and the tranquil seaside. Yuliia shared her interesting observation that many dishes in Riga contain a lot of potatoes, which she found positive as she's a big fan of potatoes prepared in various ways. When asked if she wanted to share any message or statement, she emphasized the importance of continuous learning, authenticity, building trust, and tolerance with foreigners. At the end of the conversation we returned to Yuliia’s country, as she encouraged continuous support for Ukraine.