Huh? Lithuania? That’s a country? Where? Why did you choose it?
I’m betting that most (if not all) of the students in the Study Abroad Lithuania program heard those same questions before they left this past January. As the semester is officially over, I decided some reflection is in order.
My answers were yes, it is a small country in the Baltic region of Europe. It’s along the Baltic Sea, bordering Poland and close to Russia. I chose it because of LCC International University, located in the port city of Klaipeda. It just felt right.
For most of a semester, I lived among students from around the world, with roommates from India, Germany, and Ukraine. I was surrounded by a city with a new language and new culture, as well as LCC’s own unique melting pot of people. This leads to a lot of unexpected things, and culture shock that sneaked up on each of us.
A short list of surprises compiled by the Spring 2020 cohort:
- Sugar granularity
- Eggs not refrigerated in stores
- Dark rye bread
- Food with fewer preservatives
- Pastries uncovered in stores
- Easy, inexpensive and safe public transport
- No brown sugar or maple syrup
- Buckwheat is more popular than rice
- Tea is just about as popular as coffee
- Prevalent smoking culture
Around each of those surprises is a story and a memory. Studying abroad for a semester is not just about traveling and adventure. It is also about living in a new country, with only the things you can fit in a suitcase or two. I chose to study in Lithuania because of the challenges and opportunities.
One of my firsts was taking the bus with fellow study abroads. We made it to our destination just fine. When it was time to head home, we excitedly found the right number bus. However, we hadn’t yet made the connection that we needed to cross the street first. As we were driven farther and farther away from campus, all we could do was look at each other and laugh. Then laugh some more at the spectacle we were making for everyone else on the bus. That night we rode that bus all the way to the end of the line, when the bus driver motioned that we had to get off and we all piled out. From there it was a relatively simple matter of crossing the street and waiting for the right bus to arrive. Instead of panicking, we reveled in the freedom and adventure.
When I asked members of the Spring 2020 Cohort about favorite memories, they didn’t just focus on the big trips. While those were incredible highlights, so were the everyday things we did while living in Klaipeda.
Nadia remembers Tri-S Meetings, when we were placed in groups and assigned to an American professor at LCC. They welcomed us into their homes and families. “It was a great time to feel connected and comfortable living abroad.” During my Tri-S dinner, we shared stories about grocery store excursions and the challenges of finding spaghetti sauce.
Sofia’s favorite memories are all associated with the people she met. But a specific travel memory was from the first day in St. Petersburg, Russia. “When I was in St. Basil’s Cathedral with Jaden we walked into one of the larger spaces that was gilded and painted in so many colors. A men’s group started singing and it literally felt like time stopped. I can’t begin to describe how it sounded, but it’s a feeling I’ll always carry with me.”
Fiona A. remembers spending the day with a group of friends at Nida, a small resort town located on the Curonian Spit. “We rented a car, packed lunches, and spent the day exploring some beautiful nature parks, sand dunes and beaches. It was a heck of a day, and I’ll never forget it.”
On the nice days, you could take extra time to walk into the city using a shortcut. The path included a huge bridge reaching over railroad tracks. Brittany remembers that every single time she did, “there would ALWAYS be a single engine not pulling anything going along the tracks.”
It wouldn’t be LCC without the pond in front of the dorm buildings that attracted so many animals and children out for walks with their parents. One common sight on sunny days was bread bags on the side of the pond the ducks and other birds feasted on. I remember when I woke up on Valentine’s Day morning and opened my blinds, two swans had arrived in the night and formed a perfect heart the moment I looked out.
It would be easy to say that the coronavirus global pandemic ruined my semester abroad. To focus on all the things COVID-19 took from me in the last month and a half after we had to leave. Instead I choose to realize that the semester being cut short doesn’t take away from the memories and experiences. I can remember the adventures, and think of those yet to come, rather than those I missed out on.