Memories: My 4 weeks at Kursa

Erlands and Caleb perform for Talent Night.

So go the years, so go the days,
Everything once beautiful will pass
But one memory will always remain
The most beautiful time was ,,Kursa”

My name is Erlands and I am from Liepāja, Latvia. I study at Liepājas Music, Art and Design High School. This is the second year I attended “Kursa.” This year was idfferent from the last in that we had four weeks to spend at Kursa, which allowed us to get to know one another better, and enjoy our surroundings. 

Kursa has its own special traditions and culture: table songs, flag raising, folk dancing, poetry evenings, and, of course, pranks. The school always has a particular goal, with specific and interesting classes that lead to productive results. Kursa has the goal of improving Latvian language vocabulary and experiencing our national culture and traditions. After spending a second year at Kursa, I realize that it is my second home with a big family, where each one of us is special and unique.

I am very thankful to the Latvian community in Seattle and the Bellevue-Liepāja sister cities for the opportunity to attend Kursa, and of course, Indra Ekmanis, who helped me as well. I wish you all the best and hope that Kursa will last forever. See you next year.

Age 16 | Liepāja, Latvia

Kursa 2017 closing concert program

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This was the hottest, driest summer ever in Washington State. Forests were burning in British Colombia, with drifting smoke making it as far south as Shelton. But the West Coast Latvian Summer High School, “Kursa” closed its 42nd school year on August 5, thankfully on a relatively cool and clear day. This year, 18 young people from across the USA, Canada, and Latvia, attended Kursa. On the closing day, parents, relatives and friends gathered in the large hall of the West Coast Latvian Education Center for the traditional final program, written and directed by singing teacher Maija Riekstiņš, this year with the assistance of folk dance teacher Baiba Miķelsone.

The program began with a short blessing by Rev. Daira Cilnis, ethics and religion teacher. Suddenly, happy students, teachers and director Indra Ekmanis, all dressed in gorgeous folk costumes, came onstage. Maija Riekstiņš, began to play “Lec saulīte rītā agri”, which was sung by all, including the director herself. The folk dance “Visapkārt saule tek”, Baiba Miķelsone’s choreography, followed. The concert continued with folk songs:  ,,Iebrauca saulīte ābeļu dārzā, deviņi ratiņi, simts kumeliņi”, ,,Saule savu pūru veda”, ,,Spīdi nu saulīte ābeļu dārzā”, ,,Ģērbies saule sidrabota”. ,,Nāc Dieviņi, nāc Laimiņa” was sung by the girls’ ensemble, the boys followed with ,,Šķērsu dienu saule tek”. ,,Saules meita jostu auda”, a folk dance by Baiba Miķelsone, followed.  The sun was celebrated with song and dance from sunrise to sunset. Counselors and staff thrilled the audience with Jānis Ērglis’ dance, ,,Man deviņi bāleliņi”.

After the sun was celebrated, the moon took centerstage with songs ,,Aiz kalniņa mēnestiņis”, ,,Brīnumaina mēness nakts”.  Closing the concert with deep emotion was ,,Saule, Pērkons, Daugava”. The program was joyful, the dance steps — easy… Much was accomplished in four weeks — what joy and youth! Each person contributed to the Kursa family. The audience ended the concert with long and loud applause.

Kursa director Indra Ekmanis, who received her doctorate from the University of Washington in June, congratulated Kursa students and thanked the teachers and staff for their hard work. She announced that Kursa students had taken the American Latvian Association Office of Education language exams (A1 and B1 levels), and in four weeks their overall scores had improved by an average of 28 points. Indra was proud of what the students had accomplished both in class, and personally. She was also happy that this year no students graduated from Kursa — which means they can return next year to continue their education and celebrate Latvia’s centennial together in “our little Latvia.” The director thanked all of Kursa’s supporters, including the Society Integration Foundation of the Republic of Latvia, Latvian Language Agency, Ministry of Education and Science, American Latvian Association, Latvian Association of the State of Washington, Oregon Latvian Society, Seattle ev. lut. Latvian congregation, Hawks of the Daugava, Printful and others.

After the address by the director, report cards were handed out and staff was introduced. Indra was particularly happy to introduce two new teachers from Latvia, Lelda Svenča, who taught Latvian language, and Baiba Miķelsone, who taught folk dancing. As a finale, everyone sang Kursa’s traditional “goodbye” song: “Rudens vējš.” Following the program, Kursa students, staff and guests joined hands around the flag pole to sing “Daugav’ abas malas” and “Pūt, vējiņi” as the students lowered the flag. Before leaving, visitors had the opportunity to join in lunch, view the artwork crafted by the students and chat about the lovely morning. See you all next year!

Text from the Latvian Association of the State of Washington newsletter “Informācija.”

ALA teachers’ conference in Denver

Denveras Latviešu baznīca un biedrības nams
ALA teacher conference at the Denver Latvian church and society center

The 2017 ALA Latvian diaspora teachers’ conference, organized by the American Latvian Association Office of Education, was held September 9-10 at the Denver Latvian Church and Society Center. Teachers from Latvian schools across the country, from California to New York participated, including Kursa director Indra Ekmanis.

Conference participants introduced attendees to their schools, and discussed the successes and challenges facing Latvian education in the diaspora. Three Daces and one Kristina were the source of much inspiration, leading the primary conference lectures. Kristina Putene (New Jersey Latvian School) discussed strategies for teaching language at diversified levels, Dace Copeland (former ALA Director of Education) introduced a new Latvian literature readability project using LIX methodology, and Dace Mažeika (World Federation of Free Latvians Education Committee) introduced teachers to the wide array of language learning materials available through internet resources. Pedagogical expert Dace Anstrate flew in from Jelgava, Latvia, to share methodological techniques for teaching Latvian as a second language, as well as add excitement to the conference proceedings, engaging attendees in practical activities, educational games, and “fizminūtes” (mini-exercise breaks).

Kursas absolventi
Kursa graduates: Rev. Mārtiņš Rubenis and ALA Director of Education Andra Zommers

The conference was also an opportunity to learn more about the Denver Latvian community and school, which saw to it that conference attendees were well housed and well fed. After the conference concluded, several lucky teachers headed beyond the Mile High City to quickly see the mountains, guided by Rev. Mārtiņš Rubenis — a Kursa graduate. In fact, several Kursieši were in Denver, including Rev. Helēna Godiņa and Andra Zommers — the director of the ALA Office of Education and the conference organizer.

The conference was an overall success, participants went home with new educational materials and contacts, not to mention new inspiration and energy. We will see the influences of the conference next summer at Kursa, but until then, we wish all of the Latvian schools just beginning class a successful new school year!

Echo Lake excursion
Echo Lake excursion
Direktore Indra Ekmane "Atbalss ezers" (Echo Lake) ekskursijā.
Director Indra Ekmanis at Echo Lake.


Student experiences: Thank you to the OLS

Sveiks Ms. Zommere and the Oregon Latvian Society,

I would like to start this letter by saying paldies for the scholarship to attend Kursa. I am amazed how much I learned in 4 weeks! In the first few days of Kursa, I was taught the basic phrases such as “Ka Tev iet?” (For which I often responded “labi”), “Cik Tev gadu?” and “Ka Tevi sauc?” I also learned a little bit on how the Latvian alphabet works and what diacritics do to a letter. As time went on, I began writing the words I learned into a dictionary, and I am proud to say that even though I still have a long way to go, my Latvian vocabulary greatly increased during my time at Kursa.

Along with learning how to speak, write and read Latvian, we learned a lot about Latvian culture. One thing that impressed me about our culture is all the festivals that we celebrate, such as those for the winter and summer solstices. I also learned about Latvian dress, Latvian songs and Latvian dancing. My dad says I became a pretty good polka dancer! In my jewelry and sewing classes, I learned all about Latvian symbols and their meaning. Lastly, I learned a lot about the history of Latvia before it got its independence. Because of this, I now know the meaning of what it is to be Latvian. It means that no matter what happens to your country you must still represent it proudly and never give up on it.

So in conclusion, I loved everything about Kursa! The 4 weeks I spent there were some of the best weeks of my life. Because it was so amazing and because I want to learn so much more about my heritage, I hope to return for the next 3 years and eventually graduate. So paldies again for the wonderful opportunity I was given this summer.


Age 15 | Calgary, Canada

Pancakes in the Park
Connor and Dina dance with their classmates at the Pancakes in the Park event hosted by the Shelton Kiwanis Club.


Week one at Kursa

Kursa Latvian Summer High School began its 42nd year on July 9, a sunny day at the West Coast Latvian Education Center in Shelton, Washington. Kursa gives young people between the ages of 13 and 18 the opportunity to begin or continue their Latvian education, regardless of their Latvian language level. This year, not only have all of last year’s students returned (in 2016 Kursa restarted the program), but an additional 10 students have joined the Kursa family. While Kursa is nominally the West Coast Latvian High School, we not only have students from Washington, Oregon, and California, but also from Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa, and Canada, as well as two returning students from Latvia. Our teachers reflect a similar geography, coming from California, Alaska, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and Latvia. Together, we form a tight-knit community. We are especially glad that students who may not have previously had the opportunity to be part of Latvian society are able to begin their Latvian education and develop their connection to Latvia with other students here at Kursa.

We have already done a lot in the first week at Kursa. All of our students have taken official Latvian language exams in writing, reading, speaking and understanding. We have begun classes (language, literature, history, ethics and folklore), in which students are grouped by their Latvian language level. Already we have become familiar with some of the brightest Latvian authors, including Vizma Belševica an Imants Ziedonis. Our voices and feet are also moving, preparing for our final program: “Sun and Moon.” We have even made it to the seaside, where we spent a nice day enjoying the Pacific Northwest coastline.

Why have these young people come to Kursa? In their own words:

Ella (14, California): “I want to dance folk dances, improve my Latvian language, and bake pīrāgi.” 

Elmārs (17, Riga): “I want to refresh my folk dance skills, learn Latvian metalsmithing, and help other students learn to speak Latvian. I’m at Kursa because it is a great place to spend time.”

Roland (17, Portland): “I want to learn new words, folk dance, and Latvian history, and meet up with my old friends.”

Zippa (13, Minnesota): “I’m at Kursa because Kursa is great! I can learn about Latvian language, music, and culture. I would like to meet new friends and learn new songs at Kursa.”



21 days in the Kursa atmosphere

Kursa is the first summer camp I have ever been to. I never had any interest in them before. But Kursa is no ordinary summer program, it is something much more than that. My time at Kursa has been full of value and emotion. In just a few days, it felt like one big family. Although I already speak Latvian fluently and am from Latvia, I learned a lot at Kursa: how to forge a new ring, dance folk dances, play chess and write poetry. Kursa is a place for anyone who wants to feel close to Latvia in America. It is a little Latvia, you can see it in the surroundings and in the people. But Kursa also has its own traditions, which I learned about later – or should I say, at night. A big part of Kursa is the “nightlife,” with pranks (good-natured) or walks. After these three wonderfully-spent weeks I can say that Kursa is a place to connect with your Latvianness and meet American Latvian young people. I really hope that I will have the opportunity to come back next year, so that I can continue to enjoy Latvian folklore and life at Kursa.

I would like to thank all those who gave me the opportunity to attend these three weeks at Kursa, especially the initiative of new director Indra Ekmane.

See you soon!

— Erlands Griezītis, 14 (Liepāja, Latvia)
LBVŠ 2016 scholarship recipient

Rotkalšana Kursā
Erlands Griezītis and metalwork teacher, Andris Rūtiņš, create an ethnographic-inspired ring.

Caleb Beideck: First year at Kursa a wonderful experience

My first week here at Kursa has been a wonderful experience full of fun and learning. During even such a short time, I have already learned so much about the language and culture of Latvia. I’m sure that thanks to the wonderful teachers, I will continue to learn tons more over the rest of my stay. The staff here are all wonderfully supportive and talented. The food is always absolutely delicious. Every day is a new adventure in my culture. I’m so excited to keep working with my Kursa family. Read more at ALJAziņas.

— Caleb Beideck, 16
ALJA 2016 scholarship recipient

Latvian kitchen 2016
Maija Atvara leads the Latvian cuisine interest group. Students: Anna Akots, Aleks Brainerd, Krišjānis Lūsis, Caleb Beideck, Erlands Griezītis, Lauren Barlow