What’s the difference between a vacation and your life? When does it stop feeling like just a place and turn into a home? According to dictionary.com, vacation is “a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday.”
The Study Abroad Lithuania Orientation in Vilnius felt like the best kind of vacation. It was a trip away from reality to a beautiful place with different rules and expectations. After a hectic almost 24 hours of travel, we had plenty of time to chill in the Vilnius Airport as some of our fellow SALT students continued to arrive. With snacks, itinerary, and partial stipends in hand, we talked to our program directors and got to know each other.
Once we had a sizable group, we rode on a huge tour bus to our hostel. The Downtown Forest completely exceeded my expectations as we walked under lights strung throughout the trees and around the building. After a brief rest period, we all took to the streets following our leaders and student interns.
From the moment we saw the main Christmas tree of Vilnius and concert in the main square, we were mesmerized. In small groups we wandered the Christmas Market and stared in wonder at the lights and design. That first night we were treated to a traditional Lithuanian sampling plate and a game of Two Truths and a Lie. By the time we settled at the hostel for bed, all we thought about was everything left on our itinerary.
The next day started at the KGB Museum with a dose of reality, where we learned the struggles Lithuanians have faced. We began to gain a sense of the history of the country most Americans have never heard of. From there we walked the streets to Gediminas Castle and saw an exhibit about the era after Lithuania was freed at the MO Museum (a modern art museum). While we acted like tourists, I was also getting to know the twelve other people I’m sharing this adventure with, who will experience the same highs and the same lows throughout this semester. But it was hard not to be distracted by the wonders of Vilnius, and especially Trakai Castle, on our way to LCC in Klaipeda. More than ever it felt like we were just headed to the next destination in our European vacation.
But the tide began to turn when we arrived at the dorms and were placed in separate rooms. It wouldn’t be until Sunday night that our full-time student roommates arrived at LCC. As we spent the weekend exploring campus and the main attractions of Klaipeda, we began to understand the truth. It didn’t take us much longer once classes started to realize this is more than a vacation. This is the start of our semester at LCC which will become our home here in Lithuania.