Christmas in Vilnius

Christmas comes soon and in the Baltics, especially Lithuania, everyone is preparing for the festivities. Christmas lights have been going up in Klaipeda, Vilnius, and Kaunas since early November, and the trees have been waiting for the start of the holiday season.

I recently visited Vilnius to get a sense of what the Christmas celebrations are like. And to be brief, they are wonderful. Remember the post about things to do in Vilnius from the start of the semester? Picture that, but covered with a light snowfall and Christmas lights, with Christmas music playing everywhere. Honestly, Vilnius is a Christmas must-see. Here are some of the highlights.

  1. The Christmas Tree(s) 

    Copy of IMG-1727.JPGYes, that’s right. There are two Christmas trees to see in Vilnius. One in Cathedral Square and the other in Town Hall Square. Each of them have their own Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, wisely scheduled at different times so you can attend both of them. The picture does not capture the scale of this tree. It is massive and with incredibly vibrant, beautiful lights. IMG-1712.JPG

 

 

 

This other one is the Christmas tree from Town Hall Square, where it helped represent the international community in Vilnius, as part of the International Christmas Charity Bazaar. Members of the community from seven different countries were part of the ceremony as we all celebrated this time of joy, thankfulness, and hope. In times where international politics can become fraught and tense, this is a chance to remember what unites us.

2. Christmas Markets
Speaking of the Charity Bazaar, it is a Christmas market dedicated to bringing the international community together to help schools and non-profits in Vilnius. The Town Hall is full of booths featuring goods from as many countries represented in Vilnius as they can find

IMG-1695.JPG

. They range from Lithuania to China to Georgia to Guatemala, the United States, and yes, Russia too. In this picture, these tents are different countries offering traditional dishes. Chinese egg rolls, Japanese soup, Irish mulled apple juice, Danish pastries. Certainly, the weather while I was there was very cold (nearly zero degrees Fahrenheit!), the mood was festive and welcoming to everyone. It was a reminder that we transcend our national borders even as we embrace what it is about them that makes us who we are.

Let’s not forget the main Christmas market in Cathedral Square either. Nearly two dozen vendors encircling the base of the Christmas tree, selling hot drinks, foods, handmade goods, and Christmas treats. Wandering between vendors was a bit like walking through Santa’s workshop. There were so many wonderful things that I had never imagined before, while live Christmas music echoed from the stage. Oh yeah, the Christmas tree lighting at Cathedral Square was preceded by an hour and a half Christmas concert. It was a joy to be a part of the Vilnius community and experience this once in a year event with them, not as a tourist, but as a student living in their country, and we were all connected by our celebrations and our joy.

That is the beauty of events like these. We can be all too easily blinded to the true nature of our neighbors around us as our world is filtered through extreme events, categories, and worry. It is all too easy to forget that we are all individuals and we are not as different as we might think.

So, as you go about your holiday season, treat everyone you meet with joy and welcome. See them as your friends and neighbors. Share gingerbread cookies and hot cocoa, sing carols together. Invite everyone to a festive gathering, regardless of politics. At the end of the day, we are far more like each other than we are different.

May all the holidays you celebrate be filled with joy and love!

 

Dressember at LCC!

We’re excited to be a part of the broader LCC, and international, communities to participate in Dressember. Yes, Dressember, not December. It is an annual event that occurs all over the world where thousands of people join together to raise awareness about sex trafficking and fundraise for the organizations that directly strive to end sex trafficking.

As an international community, LCC’s Dressember team creates a microcosm of the broader Dressember movement. As a student body with representatives from over forty countries, it is a chance for all of us to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable and exploited. It is not just an American issue, a Bosnian issue, a Latin American issue, and so on. It is a global issue and only by working together globally will we be able to make a difference.

Globally, sex trafficking is a $150 billion dollar industry and now is believed to be more profitable than both drug trafficking and arms trafficking. On the Dressember website, it lists that more than 30 million people are estimated to be enslaved worldwide, including two million children who are sexually exploited. It happens in every city in every country in the world.

Only by everyday individuals stepping up and getting involved will we, as a movement and as a community, be able to bring an end to sex trafficking. Dressember was founded by an American college student whose skills lay in fashion design and blogging. Non-technical skills, yet she started a movement that has raised millions of dollars to fight sex trafficking. And she was only one individual starting something. Think of what we could do if we all got involved.

She stood up. We’re standing up. Will you join us?

 

Souvenirs to bring back home

We only have three and a half weeks left until our semester abroad in Lithuania is over. I feel the urge to began gathering things to bring back home to introduce and give to my family. I have already stashed up a whole drawer of souvenirs from the countries I have visited so far, but I think it is valuable to bring things from Lithuania and Klaipeda specifically since that is where I have been living. When I get home I know I will miss the little things about living here. So, I have put together for myself and other study abroad students a list of things to bring home for yourself and family.

 

Amber from the Baltic Sea

Amber (Gintaras) has been part of Lithuanian andAmber souvenirs in Vilnius Lithuania Baltic history for thousands of years with the tradition of using it for jewelry. You can find it for yourselves at the shores of Palanga and Klapeida a few days after a storm. The stone is very lightweight and is something that is easy to bring back with you to the states in your luggage. Almost every souvenir shop in Lithuania will offer a variety of Amber jewelry or a magnet with small pieces of Amber attached. Most Amber you see is real, but I personally will be buying from a store in Klaipeda called Amber Queen. At most boutiques, you can get a certificate that declares that the stone is 100% real. The price range can vary depending on the size of Amber you buy. Since my name is Amber I am willing to spend a bit of money for a nice piece, but if you can find your own stones at the beach yourself you save some money and it has value to you because you found it! If you dont like jewelry, Amber makes a great gift for your mother, grandmothers, sisters, and friends!

Traditional Lithuanian Knitwear 

knitted souvenirsWhether you are studying abroad in the Fall or the Spring you will experince winter in Lithuania and boy its cold! While you are here I would recommend buying fleece, homemade scarf, gloves, hat, and socks. Most souvenir shops have them for good prices, but you can also find them at the market near old town. I think this is a good souvenir becuase when you wear them back in the states you will remember the weather from Klaipeda.

Wood Carvings

The wooden folk art tradition is a big deal in wooden kitchenwear souvenirsLithuania. You’ll see lots of carved wood decor inside and outside the buildings in some parts of Lithuania, as well as wooden crosses and statues in the countryside. Becuase of this wood carvings makes for a great gift to bring home to people that really shows the folk art of the area you lived in. There are many types of boxes, bowls, and spoons, but Lithuanian traditional imagery also appears in the purely decorative form. One interesting figure is Rupintojelis, also known as “Pensive Christ” or “The One Who Cares.” If you are a person of a more practical nature though, and bringing home even more dust collectors is not something you fancy doing, buy some beautifully carved and very useful kitchen utensils such as spoons and spatulas.

Food 

Lastly, we all wish we could pack a whole suitcase full of a fridge and bring zeppelini, kepta duona, varškės sūrelis and kibinai home withsakotis us without it ruining but that’s not possible. It is possible however to bring back a few of the foods you enjoyed here that won’t be in the states. A few things I plan to bring are sakotis which a traditional Lithuanian cake that is more like a cookie. It is easy to bring home becuase you can buy them pre-wrapped and travel ready. They also come in different sizes and flavors. Another snack I would suggest bringing home is bread chips. In the states, we do have bread Image result for bread chips lithuaniachips (like the ones in Chex-Mix) but these come in multiple flavors and are so good! I would also suggest bringing dill chips back home to the states they are tasty and your family will have fun trying the interesting flavors! Both the bread chips and dill chips are easy for packing since they are enclosed and can be bought in small quantity.

 

I hope this will help you when its time to decide what to buy when you are preparing to come home!

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving from Study Abroad Lithuania!

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends and family back in the United States! We hope you all have a fantastic day of rest and gratefulness with your family. Eat lots of good time and spend time catching up with those you love.

We had our own Thanksgiving here at LCC, which is a yearly tradition for the study abroad program. We all provided a dish and came together in our dorm lobby to celebrate one of America’s most famous traditions with our fellow study abroad students, interns, staff members, and their families.

It’s really fun to see Thanksgiving here at LCC. For many of the students, they have never celebrated Thanksgiving, since it is an American holiday. So, even as we learn about other cultures, Thanksgiving is a chance to share our culture and traditions in return.

Many of the dorm floors held their own Thanksgiving dinners, creating a chance for students to come together with their friends and adopted university families while learning a little more about what our lives in America.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, cherish these opportunities, and sleep off those food comas! We will be back next week after we sleep of our own turkey coma!

Life Abroad with Janell Ryan

 

Labas! I had the opportunity to interview a friend of mine who is also a SALT student. She has opened up and shared her study abroad experiences to help potential students know what to expect when they arrive.

What is your name and where are you from?:                                                                    “Janell Ryan and I am from Long Island, New York.”

What is your home College and Major?:                                                                                         “I attend Messiah College and major in English and Psychology.”

Why did you choose LCC?:                                                                                                                 “I choose LCC becuase I have a friend who lives in Estonia. I saw this as a major reason to come here and meet her in person. Also, another big reason I came here was for the Russia trip. I would love Russia. It didn’t work out to go to Russia, but it was still fun, and Georgia was totally worth it too. The final reason I choose LCC is because it was in a country I never heard of. I had a general idea of where Lithuania was, but I knew nothing about it. I like jumping into the unknown.”

What has been your favorite thing you have done while in Lithuania?:                                  “I went on a date with my mom at the beach through skype and I showed her the sunset while it was lunch time where she was. It was a very sweet time. I didn’t bring candles though. It wasn’t as romantic. She was wearing nice pajamas. And I couldn’t compete with her. Haha. It was a really nice time with my mom even though we are separated by so many miles.”

Where have you gone other than Lithuania and do you plan to travel more while here?:     “I have been to Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Georgia so far. I am planning on going to the UK and Ukraine! The place that I was most looking forward to was the trip to Estonia becuase that where my friend lives and I finally got to see her. It was super crazy because we had never heard each other’s voices, but only pictures of each other. It was so cool to meet her finally and spend the whole day with her. I got to see really cool places in Estonia that the other study abroad didn’t see.”

What’s your favorite story you will be able to tell from your time here in Europe?:          “The first night we were in Georgia, we went out to eat with a small group of friends. We were just eating and chilling then an older man comes up to us and starts speaking English. It wasn’t his first language clearly, but he tried to communicate with us. He was talking about how much he loved America and how he was so happy Americans were in Georgia. He showed a picture of his daughter who was studying in America. He was so nice and kept saying how much he loved us being in his home country. I was put off a bit becuase in New York people dont do that,  but it was really cool to see in general how open and friendly people are. They are more trusting and open here, especially in Eastern Europe. It was really cool.”

What is it like studying abroad?:                                                                                                        “Its okay I guess.. haha. It’s really good, more than good. It’s something I didn’t think I would be able to do. Its something that I have always wanted to do, but I didn’t think I actually would do it, and now I’m doing it. It’s so cool to see so many countries in one place and see all the different cultures blend in. Its a lot of cultures all in one and I like that a lot. I have learned a lot about Europe in general, but also about different Eastern European countries. Including Ukraine since my roommates are from there. It’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were to stay at home. I’m happy and very grateful that I could come here.”

Where are you roommates from and what are they like?:                   “All three of my roommate are from Ukraine. One from Western Ukraine and the other two are from Eastern Ukraine (which is pretty different even though they are from the same country.) They all like talking a lot and they are very loud, in a good way. They enjoy singing and dancing. I get to listen to free music so I go with it!”

How do you handle being around people from so many different cultures?:                                                                                                                                                “I guess, it’s not as stressful as I thought it would be since back home I work with a lot of people from Central and South America and even those countries are super diverse from each other. So, I guess I’m more used to different cultures than other people would be. It also helps that everyone on campus speaks English, but it also makes me feel bad that I dont speak their language. It can be a little overwhelming since on my floor everyone speaks Russian, except me. It can feel a little isolating, but you have to consider you are a study abroad. People dont single me out becuase of that. They still are welcoming.”

What would you tell yourself at the beginning of the semester knowing what you know now?:                                                                         “Dont stress about your roommates. They will be chill. They won’t be crazy. Dont forget to be spontaneous.”

What is the thing you will miss the most when you get home?:                “I am definitely going to miss the freedom that you have here. It’s so easy to just hop on a bus and go somewhere. The beach is not even a 15 min ride from LCC. Old Town is only a 5-minute bus ride from LCC. There are so many places to go around LCC. I am not used to this becuase at my college there is nothing around the campus. Here it’s so nice to walk around at night, feel safe and end up in a nice park or a forest trail. I can go for a walk from 9pm to 12am by myself and listen to music. I feel very safe and I dont have to carry a knife or pepper-spray like I do at home because I feel so safe here. So its nice not to feel like I will get taken or hurt by someone even though its dark outside and I’m by myself. All the food! McDonald’s here is very good. I will miss all the food becuase it’s so good and fresh here. I will also miss all the coffee shops. I feel like coffee shops that they have here aren’t a thing in the states.”

What advice would you give to future SALT students?:                                                              “Pack fewer clothes than you are thinking, and even less than you just imagined. Get an international phone plan. FOR REAL. Make sure you have a data plan because it’s annoying to get SIM cards here. Also, in your carry on put an extra outfit because if your luggage gets lost you will feel disgusting for the first week like I did. When you schedule for classes to take here, take classes that actually count for your major becuase if you take classes that don’t transfer it will make your time here more relaxed but you will regret it next semester and get behind.”

Would you recommend SALT?:                                                                                                       “Yes, Of course, I would. I’m not being paid to say that I promise. Even though LCC is pretty small and probably smaller than you are thinking that it is, it is a really nice close-knit community. Also, while you are here you can go so many places. With the study abroad program you go to three different countries other than Lithuania. For me, since I had never left America that is a lot. Even places that you have never even heard of like Moldova or Georgia is easy to get to by yourself. Lithuania is in a nice easy accessible place in the world. Even in Lithuania, you can go to some really cool places like the Hill of Crosses, which I only knew from my friend that lives here. Or you can go to Vilnius which is.. wow… It’s such a nice place especially since you get to spend a week there when you first arrive in Lithuania. Kaunas or Palanga is also very close to LCC and they are really nice places to go and they are still in Lithuania. So even if you dont have the money to travel to other countries you can still travel in Lithuania and go to really cool places that you probably wouldn’t go to otherwise.”

It was so great getting to talk with Janell about her experiences here at LCC. I hope through her and her words you can see how great studying abroad in Lithuania truly is!

Iki!

The Unexamined Trip

One of the most famous quotes from philosophy is that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” For travelers, you could edit it to say that the unexamined journey is not worth taking. An experience on its own is not enough to profoundly change a person but can be easily be glossed over as life hurries on back to normalcy.

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Student Clubs at LCC!

This is probably an unexpected change from our last two posts on Georgia, but we don’t want to overwhelm you. So, back to life on campus (just like we’re slowly adjusting to being a part of again).

It can be really difficult to make friends and make people in college, especially if you are coming into the school as a student who has already finished freshman year. People have already found their friend-groups, everyone is living their own life, the growing amount of coursework and potentially jobs makes it very hard to find the time to dedicate to building a solid friendship. Add in being from a different culture, not speaking the dominant social language, and only being a member of the community for a brief time, and it can be even more difficult as a study abroad.

That’s why the student-led clubs at LCC are so valuable. They’re opportunities to meet people other than classmates, roommates, and floormates, in a more informal time where people can explore things they’re curious about or have a passion for. They create a break in the routine of classes and homework, and most importantly, allow for a chance to have fun.

What clubs do they have at LCC though? Since they are student-led, it will fluctuate as the student body changes, but there’s enough for everyone.

Like civic service and volunteering? There is a Rotary chapter run by LCC students and there is also a group called Lean In, which focuses on empowering women in the LCC community to prepare them for future careers.

For those who like debates and engaging with current issues, there is a debating club! We also have a book club, for those with a literary bent.

There’s also a hip-hop dance club that I, personally, am involved in, that focuses on developing technique. As someone who has done very little dance in my life, this has been a great opportunity. It is something entirely unlike anything I have done before. Not unlike traveling, it has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into doing things I have never tried before. Even though most of us have never considered ourselves dancers, we’re finding we’re better at it than we thought we were. (Kind of like traveling shows us we’re capable of more than we might think.) There is also capoeira, which is a Brazilian dance/martial art style, for those not as big a fan of choreography.

Plus, there is a cooking club! Once a month, a group gets together to learn how to cook a meal from a different culture and share it as part of the group. What could be better than good food and new friends?

There are more of course, but these, after all, are just a sample of the opportunities that exist in the LCC community. Go join a club and make new friends! For alums, were you part of any clubs? What was your favorite part?