Study History, Political Science, or the Latvian Language
Lying between Russia and the Baltic Sea, Latvia is renowned for its thick forests and temperate climate. Latvia’s recent political history is quite interesting: annexed by Russia in 1940, the country reclaimed its independence after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and succeeded in joining both NATO and the European Union in 2004. The official language is Latvian, one of the only two living Baltic languages (the other is Lithuanian).
Latvia’s economy has grown significantly since it regained autonomy, although its expansion slowed during the global recession. However, its stable government and good relations with other nations leave it poised to recover as soon as the world’s financial climate starts moving toward health. Standard & Poor took the heartening step of upgrading Latvia’s credit rating in 2010, which speaks very well indeed for the success of Latvia’s post-Soviet Era market reforms.
The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships are designed to give undergraduates receiving Pell Grants the opportunity to participate in courses of foreign study. The goal of the Gilman program is to send a more diverse student body to represent America abroad. To that end, eligibility criteria favor students who have financial need, students who attend community colleges, students in the sciences and engineering, students from various ethnic backgrounds, and disabled students.
Gilman awards range up to $5,000 (the usual amount is about $4,000), and if you plan to study one of the Critical Need languages, you are eligible for an additional $3,000. Many of your questions about details of the Gilman scholarships are answered on this page.
Another goal of the Gilmans is to encourage study in non-traditional locations, and Latvia certainly qualifies. Riga, the capital city at the mouth of the Daugava River, contains a number of universities including the University of Latvia, which welcomes international students. The University of Wisconsin recently sent a Gilman student to Latvia to study its language and history.
The Fulbright Program provides generous grants to American students and faculty who wish to further their studies or teach abroad. Fulbright sends participants to over 155 countries, including Latvia, and if you are a graduating college senior or a graduate student and that is your preferred destination, you may apply for a Fulbright. Details about the program and its very thorough application process can be found here, and eligibility is discussed here.
There are four Fulbright grants allocated to Latvia, and some familiarity with Latvian or Russian is recommended, but not required. Fulbright identifies history, music, the Latvian language, and political science as the four fields for which Latvia’s educational resources are best suited. There are also two English teaching assistantships available.
The state of Wisconsin has an active community of people originating in the Baltic region, and its universities accordingly focus on Baltic studies.
University of Wisconsin (Eau Claire)
The University of Wisconsin has developed a partnership with the University of Latvia in Riga, and UW-Eau Claire students have the opportunity to study there. The Center for International Education hosts a study-abroad program requiring a minimum GPA of 2.80. You must be at least a sophomore to travel with the Latvian group, but the courses in Latvia are held in English, so language need not be a barrier.
To help defray program costs, you may apply for one or more of the numerous scholarships available. The UW-Eau Claire Foundation has a list of study-abroad grants ranging from $200 to $2,000 posted here. There are also Blugold Commitment Study Abroad Grants (up to $2,000 for a semester abroad, given to students with financial need) and Wisconsin Study Abroad Grants, with the same terms and one additional requirement, Wisconsin residency.
Stanford University, Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies
Stanford University’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies offers grants for travel and research in Latvia to graduate students during the summer term. Preference goes to those in an advanced phase of their work, including students in the middle of research for their dissertations. Grants are for a maximum of $2,000.
Study Abroad Programs
For Latvian study, the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages recommends checking courses provided by the Baltic International Summer School (BISS). BISS is an academic offshoot of the Vidzeme University Of Applied Sciences located in Valmiera, Latvia, and its 2012 summer program involves travel to Latvia and Estonia. BISS scholarships for foreign students are underwritten by the Latvian government and the university.
NOTE: If your country of choice is under an official travel warning, that may affect any applications you submit. Please check application requirements carefully.