Editor’s Note: At the Table is an international exchange program that connects high school students in Philadelphia and Riga. The program, undertaken by the National Constitution Center in collaboration with the National History Museum of Latvia, began the second leg of the travel portion of the project. One Latvian student-participant, Danja Malceva, discusses her first experience in the U.S. and reconnecting with her American friends.
It was the first visiting day of our amazing trip and it was a day full of excitement and expectations. The time difference between Philadelphia and Latvia is seven hours, and it means that we had to adapt to the new time zone, but it had no effect on me or on my neighboring roommate, Victoria Kosela. We were too excited!
At 9.30 a.m. our meeting was scheduled—we had to be ready precisely on time! We woke up at 8.30 a.m. cheerful and rested in our comfortable room. When we went down for breakfast, we were one of the first. We were in an excited mood!
We met our project colleagues and friends, and then we went to the National Constitution Center. I loved the geometrically organized streets, the green spreading trees, the smooth asphalt and, of course, the massiveness and novelty of the buildings.
The National Constitution Center is an airy, harmonic, beautiful building and it bears deep history in the ideas it brings to the nation. Inside we saw big, lighted rooms, and in the main hall there were flags of every state. At one time I thought I am in the film, because everything I saw was what I had seen in Hollywood films.
Later we went to the bus stop, which was very different from our stops. We waited the bus for a long time, because it was the weekend. During this time we shared our first impressions and took photos of everything around.
For the locals it was the usual view, seen hundreds of times, but certainly not for us. When the bus arrives, I was surprised to see that the bus driver was a woman, as this is not usual in our country. The short bus ride was to Eastern State Penitentiary, which was one of the most expensive and famous prisons in the U.S., but now it is a historical site. I was a bit scared when learning the details of this brutal prison life.
Near the Eastern State Penitentiary there was the Edgar Allan Poe house, which was small and cozy building. The museum workers took us into a small theater where we watched a film about Poe’s life.
As we toured his house, I found Poe’s destiny to be quite mystical and interesting. When we left the house we heard the sounds of an ice-cream truck. We had never heard or seen something like this. It was a funny reaction from us all, because this is not usual in Latvia!
Last, we went in Latvian Society. It made me feel like I was in Latvia again. The art, literature, and even the smells were reminiscent of Latvia. It was nice to hear the people, who spoke Latvian and understood Russian. In the Latvian Society we had a great meal and also communication, we took pictures, looked inside a really rich library; although I was from Latvia, I didn’t know about part of the Latvian literature works, which were available there.
After a long day of actives, we were all ready to get back to our hotel and then happened something really funny—we saw a yellow school bus, which we have only seen in movies. We started to take pictures and driver welcomed us inside. The American friends were shocked about our reaction to bus, which is a simple everyday experience for them, actually not even worth mentioning, but for us this was a once in a lifetime experience.
The day was amazing and we couldn’t imagine the next days of our exchange visit. Our group decided to walk around the city. We had a map, but didn’t even need to use it! We had better orientation without it! Philadelphia excited us with its largeness and differences to our small Riga city center.
At the Table: Connecting Culture, Conversation and Service in Latvia and the U.S. was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in collaboration with American Association of Museums. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.