European Alumnae Symposium

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Preliminary Weekend Overview

(Event times may be subject to change)

Friday, October 6, 2017

10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.

Symposium Check in at the Albert Hotel (33 Dzirnavu St.)

10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.

Free Tours sponsored by 

10:00–11:30 a.m. or 1:30–3:00 p.m.
1.5 Hour Walking Tour of Riga

Take yourself back to the year 1201 and up to the present day on a pleasant historical journey through the winding streets of Riga. The Old Town is where it all began; settlements existed here before the Christians came to convert the Pagans and introduce their taxes on local trade. Fortified settlement flourished and made many a merchant wealthy. Sailors came and went, bringing goods and produce with them, and the Old City passed hands from one regional ruler to another. Hear their stories, the story of the people who made Riga.

Location: Meet at the Albert Hotel lobby.


4:30–5:45 p.m.
Champagne Reception at the Riga City Hall (Rātslaukums)

Participants will be welcomed with Latvian rhubarb champagne and Latvian folk music by the ensemble CANTATA between 4:30–5:00 p.m., followed by the opening address from the chair of the European Alumnae Council and a welcome by the Riga Council and Mount Holyoke College Acting President Sonya Stephens.

6:00–7:00 p.m.

Concert at St. Peter’s Church (19 Skārņu St.)

Violin and piano concert given by MHC Music Professors Linda Laderach and Larry Schipull. 

6:00 p.m.

Opening Buffet Dinner with welcoming remarks by Riga’s Mayor and a short concert by the internationally acclaimed Latvian choir Balsis.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

All talks will be held in the Soros Auditorium at the Stockholm School of Economics (Strelnieku iela 4a).

Special stalls with locally made crafts and souvenirs will be open throughout the day in a special section of the venue.

9:00–9:40 a.m.

Opening Note from Organizers and Keynote Address

The keynote address will be delivered by Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, ex-president of Latvia and folklore scholar. Vīķe-Freiberga will give an overview of Latvia’s communist past and democratic present. She will introduce the latest global economic and political trends and how they affect Latvia. A folklore scholar, Vīķe-Freiberga will also shed light on the question of how Latvian culture saved a nation.

9:45–10:45 a.m.

Identity: Latvia as a Member of the EU and NATO

The relative size of Latvia’s territory and population, as well as its proximity to Russia, mean that cooperation with Western partners is crucial to its survival and independence from its powerful neighbor. Panelists will discuss international diplomacy and Latvia’s role in regional and global politics. Panelists include:

  • US Ambassador Nancy Bikoff Pettit (or Deputy Chief of Mission Sharon Hudson-Dean)
  • Jeffrey Sommers, professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; visiting faculty at Stockholm School of Economics, Riga
  • Faculty member from the University of Latvia’s Department of Politics

10:45–11:15 a.m.

Coffee Break and Networking Opportunity with Panelists

During coffee breaks, please visit the stands of local Latvian artisans showcasing Latvian souvenirs, eco-friendly foods and sweets, and famous eco-friendly cosmetic brands, including Madara and Stenders.

11:15–12:15 p.m.

The Role of Latvian Language and Communication pre- and post-Soviet rule
Nurturing the Latvian language has been crucial to saving the nation’s identity. During Soviet rule, Russian language was the lingua franca of the region. When Latvia achieved independence in the 1990s, it was confronted with difficult choices on how to save the Latvian language and culture. Discussion will include controversial governmental policies taken in the last twenty-five years of Latvia’s independence.

Panelists will be announced soon.

12:15–1:45 p.m.

Buffet Lunch at the Albert Hotel

1:45–2:30 p.m.

Life in Soviet Latvia, a different perspective

A visual presentation and discussion on life in Soviet Latvia, showing that all was not so bad as some may think. Specific examples will be taken from the cultural realm, demonstrating through poetry, film, literature and artwork how Soviet repression made Latvia’s people stronger, more creative and resilient. The presentation will be based on the book, How we lived, how we survived, what made us laugh, what made us happy: Latvia during 1945-1990 by Ilga Kreituse.

Speaker: Faculty member from Stradiņa University Department of Politics 

2:30–3:15 p.m. 

Power of Song, Power of Women

Latvian Minister of Culture Dace Melbārde will talk about the historical role of culture in Latvian society and how it can be used as a “soft power” for integration of Latvia’s multi-ethnic society. She will also address the significance of women in Latvia’s past and present, including a special performance showcasing the power of women’s song from her folklore singing group Spēka sievas, or “Strong women.”

3:15–3:45 p.m.

Coffee break

An opportunity to meet with various local artisans, including painter Helēna Heinrichsone and sculptor Matiass Jansons.

3:45–4:45 p.m.

A Symbol of Latvian Identity: Dainas (Latvian Folk Songs)

Discussion and live performances by the engaging folklore trio Šmite, Rancāne and Cinkuss, with active audience participation. 

The Latvians call themselves a nation of singers, and folk song tradition is the main symbol used for their self-identification. Created well over a thousand years ago, Dainas (Latvian folk songs) were part of celebrations, daily work, and reflections on life preserved in oral form. There are more than 1.2 million Dainas, with references to them in all forms and layers of culture, from theatre plays to everyday conversations. The collection of Dainas under the name “The Cabinet of Folksongs” is inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Program.

As the former president of Latvia, and folklore scholar, Mrs. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga once said:
“To the Latvians, the Dainas are more than a literary tradition. They are the very embodiment of their cultural heritage, left by forefathers whom history had denied other, more tangible forms of expression. These songs thus form the very core of the Latvian identity and singing becomes one of the identifying qualities of a Latvian.”

4:45–5:00 p.m.

Wrap-up and Closing

Biblioteka No. 1 Restaurant (2 Terbatas St.)

6:30 p.m.

Cocktails and appetizers to start, with lovely string quartet music playing in the background to keep you entertained.

7:15–11:00 p.m.

Gala dinner, remarks, award ceremony, announcement of the next symposium’s location, and a fashion show featuring Latvian designer clothing.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Soros Auditorium at the Stockholm School of Economics (4a Strelnieku St.)

Coffee available from 9:00 a.m.–Noon

9:30–10:15 a.m.

Join Acting President Sonya Stephens in conversation about the College’s Strategic Plan for 2021 and how an engaged community helps Mount Holyoke prepare women for leadership in a changing global landscape.

10:15–11:25 a.m.

Option A: Showing of the award winning 2015 Latvian documentary film Ruch and Norie, with introduction by Latvian film director Ināra Kolmane.

Ruch and Norie is a heart-warming story about the phenomenal friendship between a young Japanese girl Norie and 82-year-old woman nicknamed Ruch, living in Courland (Latvia), in the authentic community of Suiti County. Suiti culture is included in UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage. Friendship that once began as a purely academic project transforms into a rare and borderless human bonding. A young girl from the Land of the Rising Sun and an old lady from an almost extinct community shrinking in size every year. Our interest is to explore what it takes to maintain their relationship and what draws Norie back to Ruch? Could it be the one thing that we all long for in our own relationships?

(Free of cost. If interested, please sign up on the registration form).

Option B: Arts and crafts workshop allowing you to discover your creativity in the traditional Latvian way.
(Cost is EUR 10 per person and is non-refundable. If interested, please sign up on the registration form. Space is limited and onsite registration will only be accepted if space is available.)


Discussion and Closing Remarks

Optional Events on Sunday Afternoon

1:00–4:00 p.m.
Tour Riga’s Famous Central Market (Optional)
Discover the flavors of Latvian cuisine on a private, walking tour of Riga Central Market. Comprised of five pavilions of meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, and breads, this bustling temple features stalls, stands, and restaurants full of tantalizing food. With a local guide, explore all the pavilions to discover and learn about Latvians’ favorite staples and enjoy the gourmet tidbits offered by the vendors. The Central Market is a twenty-five-minute walk from the Albert Hotel or a short taxi ride. (Cost is EUR 20; preregistration required.)

1:00–2:00 p.m.
First group tour of Central Market
2:00–3:00 p.m.
Tasting of local Latvian delicacies for all participants
3:00–4:00 p.m.
Second group tour of Central Market

6:00–8:00 p.m.
Optional Dinner at a venue to be determined (each person pays for their own meal).