Dear Future Travelers

Dear future travelers,

With just over 10 days left in the semester it’s time for the last blog post from yours truly! It’s been so much fun to share our experiences and memories with you as we explored Lithuania and invested four months in the culture here and beyond. I’ve made some of the best friends and memories in these months abroad and have changed in numerous ways as a result. If you’re at all considering coming to Lithuania for a semester, please do! Let me highlight a few last things.

When we first got here, the cultural differences were a little bit rocky and intimidating–Eastern Europe feels like a world of its own, so different at times from the States, that the first few days are overwhelming. You walk around and hear Lithuanian, Russian…basically everything but English everywhere you go. But after a few days to adjust, you learn how beautiful and peaceful that is. You learn how beautiful it is that you can communicate with people without verbal language.

After a few months of exploring Klaipėda–walking through the cobblestone roads of Old Town, spending hours in a coffee shop people watching out the window, restaurant hopping every night of the week to try all the traditional foods and drinks, and buying ketchup in the grocery store thinking it’s a jar of tomato sauce–you fall in love with the place you’re in. And, if you give it time, you fall in love with the people too. You learn that the experience isn’t an experience without the people, it’s just a mindless semester abroad.

No other study abroad program will push the limits of your comforts academically, spiritually, and personally as much as this one. Living with Eastern European roommates is a blessing, traveling to Russia, Latvia and Estonia as well as many other independent trips is the best lesson in cultural awareness you’ll ever get, and meeting the people here is life changing. To see God working in yourself and in those around you is the best gift you can receive from a semester spent anywhere–to take something with you and leave a part of you behind in its place–and I have never experienced that as genuinely and deeply as I have here. So, I promise, if you spend four months in Klaipėda you’ll quickly be ready to spend four years here next.

I have had the best semester of my college experience at LCC. As much as I miss my friends and family at home, and even good old Gordon College, I will miss LCC, Lithuania and the Eastern European vibe just as much. So my wish for you is that you take the risk and visit the most underrated part of the world–take the first step in changing your life and your world perspective. You won’t regret it! 🙂

Much love,
Caitlyn

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5 Must-Do’s in Klaipėda

As the semester comes to an end, I have been in a panic trying to fit everything in that I want to see, do and eat in Klaipėda! Here’s a list of some must-do’s for your time here here so you don’t miss out on anything:

  1. Go to the Baltic. You can walk or run there fairly quickly, and there’s a bus that runs every 15 minutes from just down the road from LCC. It’s super easy and definitely something you don’t want to miss–especially at sunset!
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  2. Go for a walk in the woods. There’s a cute walking trail in the woods just a 15 minute walk down the road from LCC. If you’re in there at the right time you might even see a moose! But either way, it’s a quite and peaceful place to reflect on things or get some fresh air. A lot of us didn’t realize they were there until late in the semester and wished we had known sooner.

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3. Find the Klaipėda statues. There’s a list of cool statues to find throughout the city–a mouse, a ghost, and a bunch of other random animals/figures. One thing we’ve spent the past weeks doing is hunting them all down, so start early!

4. Get baby arms. WHAT? Yes, baby arms. There’s a bar in Old Town called Old Town Bar, and they have Old Town Fingers (Baby Arms) that are to die for! They’re cheese or chicken filled bread you dip in a spicy/garlic mayo sauce and they are heavenly. Trust me, you’ll start craving them.

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5. Donut Tree. Don’t question anything with the word ‘donut’ in it, just go. Find the shop, eat donuts, be happy.

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Klaipėda may seem like a small city in comparison to Boston, Chicago, and other cities we’re used to, but there are so many things to do that one semester is hardly enough time to scratch the surface. This is my top 5 bucket list (though there are SO many other things I could add in as well)! I’ve come to love this little city. 🙂

*Shout out to Luke from Messiah for winning our photo contest with 97 likes–thanks for voting!

Lithuanian word of the week: food – maistas

Palanga Fish Festival

Every February, Lithuanians gather in Palanga–a small coastal town about 30km north of Klaipėda–for the annual Palanga Fish Festival (Palangos Stinta). The majority of our spring cohort made the journey with some of the program interns to check out the festivities last weekend. It was a fun opportunity to get acquainted with the fishing traditions, history, and culinary heritage of Lithuania’s coastal region!

Th festival is home to arts and crafts vendors as well as smelt vendors of all kinds. We walked up and down the Basanavičius Street promenade, where we were overwhelmed with the amount of fried, dried, pickled or smoked smelts at each booth! It was incredible to see all of the different ways fish could be cooked and prepared by the locals. There were also vendors lining both sides of the street selling Lithuanian souvenirs, so of course we took advantage of that as well and purchased some goodies for loved ones back home (or ourselves)! Some of us were brave enough to sample some of the food–there was everything, from fish in all forms, chowder, potato pancakes, and everything in between. Our favorite thing, BY FAR, are waffles dipped in either chocolate or caramel and covered in some sort of sprinkling of sugar, coconut, you name it. It’s a classic ‘fair food’ that we have found (and savored) on multiple occasions during our stay here thus far! 🙂

Even if you don’t like fish, like most of us, this festival is a fun time and we would encourage anyone coming in future spring semesters to check it out! From the vendors, fishing competitions, music and dancing, and crowds of people, it was definitely an experience of Lithuanian culture we will not soon forget! Here are some of our favorite pictures from the day: Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 3.16.26 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-18 at 3.15.21 PM

(Featuring Flat Stanley from Maine!)

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Lithuanian Independence Day!

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY, LITHUANIA! 

The outcome of  WWI allowed for Lithuania, still suffering from German occupation, to reach the nation’s long-term goal of restoring an independent state. In 1917, over 200 delegates, forming the Council of Lithuania, convened for the Vilnius Conference and adopted a resolution stating the objective to make Lithuania an independent state. On 16 February 1918, the members of the Council signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania.
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Unlike other countries, Lithuania celebrates two Independence Days. Lithuania remained an independent nation from 1918 until 1940, when the Soviet Union retook it. After remaining under Soviet Union for another almost 50 years, the Republic of Lithuania became independent once again on March 11, 1990. The national flag of Lithuania consists of three horizontal strips – yellow, green, and red. Yellow represents the golden fields of Lithuania, green represents the lush green countryside, and red represents all the blood that has been shed for Lithuania.

Major cities throughout the country host big celebrations–parades, concerts, and gatherings–on February 16 to honor the hard-fought battle for the freedom they have today. This morning, Klaipėda had a military parade that some of the study abroads attended, which was short but so worth the trip into Old Town! It was a beautiful day for a birthday party! Su Gimtadieniu, Lietuva (Happy Birthday, Lithuania)! We’re so excited to be here to celebrate this day with the incredible nation we call our temporary home!

Lithuanian word of the week: Nepriklausomybės diena – Independence Day

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On the New & Unfamiliar

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“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” -C.S. Lewis

I can’t help but think, as I sit here reflecting on the past month of my experiences in Lithuania, about this influential quote. As we begin something new, there is always a tendency to think about what we have left behind—how comfortable, safe, or known it was—hanging there as a constant cloud of doubt. We are aware of the new risks and challenges and hopefully rewards we are taking on as we begin our adventures, but we can’t help but think, “Will this be better than what I have left behind? Will I be able to be comfortable, safe, and successful in a new place?” How easily I forget that life is all about experiencing new, unfamiliar things–the dynamic nature of life is what challenges us and pushes us towards growth. In light of this, here are a couple unexpected lessons I have learned this month:

It’s Okay to Live in the Unfamiliar

It’s natural when we delve into a new situation to resort to familiarity. We want to experience new things, but when push comes to shove, our natural instinct is to retreat into what we know. This is not bad, however, I’m often so focused on feeling comfortable in a new place that I forget that real growth and learning happens when I choose to be uncomfortable—choose to talk to new people, choose to try new food, and choose to say “yes” to new experiences. I’ve learned to be accepting of living in the unfamiliar—it keeps me on my toes and forces me to expand my thinking.

Friendship is Tangible

Communicating and connecting across cultures can be difficult, no doubt about it. However, we often make it out to be a larger barrier than it actually is. I have found what helps the most in communicating with someone of a different culture is simply being their friend. Friendship is universal, and people understand friendship not by a feeling, but by action. And how do they know you want to be their friend? By what you do—the tangible ways you can show someone that you care about getting to know them as a person. This is something I’m working on—not just intending to reach out to other people of different cultures, but acting on those intentions.

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Language is Key

Language is one of the binding forces of any culture—it is the “glue” that connects people and is the very foundation of communication. I don’t think I have ever paid much attention to how language can bring people together, but here at LCC, where many languages are spoken, it is evident. Even though I won’t become fluent by any means, learning the language of another culture and using it (or trying to use it) can signal to someone else that you are interested and invested in getting to know them.

These are just a handful of the unexpected lessons I have learned so far. Stay tuned for my next post on our trip to Riga & Tallinn this past weekend! 🙂

~Christine

Lithuania Through the Back Door

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Think about the last time you went over to someone’s house for a meal. If it was someone you had just met for the first time, you probably drove up to their house (maybe past it a couple times if you’re like me), observing their house from the exterior, and then walking tentatively up to the front door, really hoping that it’s the right house. The initial greeting might have been a little awkward, the house is unfamiliar and new, and you have no idea where the bathroom is. The house may be beautiful, but you have only a one-sided view of the people who inhabit it.

How different it is when you go over to someone’s house whom you know well! They welcome you in through the back door with a hug, letting you walk past all of their mess that they didn’t get around to cleaning up that day. You sit down at the table casually, talking or cooking or laughing together. You know the quirky, unusual things about this person and this house—something most people would never guess from judging by the exterior. It feels a little like your home away from home, a place where you feel safe and where you can experience the true essence of its owner.

It can be surprising similar when visiting or living in another country. When you first arrive, everything is new and beautiful. As a tourist with a pair of rosy-colored lenses, you see the best the country or city has to offer, all the historical sights, beautiful architecture, and great food. The “meal” is laid out nicely for you, but it only shows one picture, only one side of a multifaceted nation.

As you begin to settle in and start experiencing everyday life, however, something changes. You chuck the rosy-colored lenses, take off your shoes, and enter in through the back door. You begin to experience the quirks and unique things that no one ever prints in the tourist guides; you befriend people who are way different from you, and it slowly begins to feel like a home away from home, a place you know and a place you grow to love. This is the space where real growth and life happens. I picked the theme for this semester’s blog to be “Lithuania through the Back Door” because I want to capture a glimpse of not just the touristy things you can find on a website somewhere, but the actual day-in, day-out life that happens here—the unexpected, sometimes hidden, surprises about Lithuania that give you a fuller, more robust view of the culture and people who inhabit it. So, here is my invitation: kick off your shoes, step inside the back door, and maybe together we can learn a thing or two about the secrets of this beautiful nation.

~Christine, the new social media intern (and blogger for this semester!)

Kicking off Fall 2015!

11896521_10207088516512330_8662444596326455228_o A few weeks ago we said sveiki atvyki to our Fall 2015 cohort! 39 students from 14 different US schools, and 17 states +Malaysia!

Here on the blog you’ll be seeing a lot of Christine. Christine is a junior Marketing major from Taylor University. She’ll be introducing you to a whole new side of the program this semester and will be providing some great tips, insights and reflections. She’ll be introducing our new theme: Lithuania through the backdoor next week!