I finished the first week of classes and managed to be one of the few Study Abroad students who didn’t make any changes to my class schedule. Also, after only three hours of Introductory Lithuanian class and a few hours of practice on my own time, my Lithuanian is already improving quite a bit. Foreign languages have never come easily to me, but I think I might have success with this one! I am adjusting to all the other languages, too. At the beginning of the week, I found it very overwhelming to hear six, seven, or even more languages, none of them English, being used in one room. Now, I enjoy it. There is so much unity amidst all the diversity here. I love being immersed in so many cultures all at once. I have two roommates from Kaliningrad, Russia; one from Chicago, Illinois; and one from Wakonda, South Dakota. On my hall, there is a girl from Germany, a couple girls from other parts of Russia, one from Ukraine, a few kids from other parts of Lithuania, a girl from Dubai, a guy from Macedonia, my RA from Albania, a girl from California, a girl from Indiana, two girls from Connecticut, and a few kids that I don’t know what country they are from. Then there are my classes with students from Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Romania, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and all the countries also represented on my hall. It is amazing to walk into one of my classrooms and hear four or five conversations all taking place in different languages but then hear each person switch to English when class begins. It makes me wish I were fluent in multiple languages like them.
On Friday, I went with my roommates, Pearl and Danielle, and another girl from our hall, Julia, to Akropolis (the big mall in Old Town Klaipėda) to get Italian gelato. I had never had gelato before so I was excited to try it. We walked all the way there and back, about 3.5 miles each way, in the freezing cold to get a frozen dessert. Yes, to most people, especially in the US, this was stupid and/or crazy… but the gelato was delicious! And, we had to walk around the mall for a while to warm up before we actually got our gelato, so with all our walking, we didn’t feel bad about eating it. However, when we got back to our rooms, our legs and faces were numb! It was a fun adventure though, definitely something I will remember from this semester!
Yesterday, I went with a group of Study Abroad girls back down to Old Town, but not as far as Akropolis. We went to the Old Town Market with hopes of getting handmade wool socks, hats, and scarves. Unfortunately, none of us speak very much Lithuanian yet. So, we were not very successful. A couple girls ended up getting some things, but we decided we need to go back when we know more of the language. We might try to find a couple Lithuanian students to go with us to help translate, too. At one point, an elderly woman came up to a couple of us and started talking with us. She was very friendly and was trying to engage us in a conversation, but she only spoke Lithuanian and Russian. (“Aš kalbu lietuviškai ir rusiškai.” ... which means, “I speak Lithuanian and Russian.”) I understood that sentence. So we said, “Aš kalbu angliškai.” She looked so sad that we could not speak each other’s languages, but she still tried to talk with us for a few minutes. I appreciated her effort so much and did my best to understand what little bits I could and show her my desire to communicate with her in return. I wished so badly that I could talk with her in her own language! Though we never did understand everything she said, I felt like a meaningful exchange had taken place.
After the market, we went to “Bandelės” (Lithuanian for “bun”), a pastry shop, and got some pastries. Lithuanian pastries are very different from American pastries. They are not nearly as sweet or buttery. Also, they have hundreds of different kinds here. Some have meat and/or cheese in them, some have spinach and cheese, some have fruit, some are caramel or cinnamon, some have cream, there are chocolate-filled ones (again, their chocolate has higher cocoa content so it is also less sweet), plus so many others. When I bought my pastries, I did my best to order entirely in Lithuanian, even though I knew the ladies behind the counter also spoke English. “Norėčiau vienas…” (“I would like one…”) I did pretty well, though I struggled to pronounce a couple of the words in the names of the pastries I got. They smiled big at my effort and laughed with me over my terrible American accent, then assisted me using both English and Lithuanian to help me understand. It was my second time going to this particular pastry shop. I enjoy it a lot and appreciate the kindness of the women who work there. I will definitely be visiting them many more times over the course of my time here.
When we had all ordered our pastries, we took them down the street to a coffee shop called “The Coffee Inn” where we ordered warm drinks to help us thaw out while we spent some time just talking about our week. We discussed the things that have been the best and the ones that have been the most challenging so far. It was good to process these things with other American students.
To end our Saturday morning adventures in Old Town, we went back into the cold in search of some good thrift shops. Lithuania has great thrift stores where you can find very nice clothing much cheaper than in “normal” stores. I found a tunic-style shirt, a pretty sweater, and a European-style sweater dress for 60 Litas total (breaks down to about $7.50 each). Brand new sweaters or dresses at a typical store here run something in the range of 80-140 Litas each. Since I was very limited in what I could pack, it made me pretty excited to have a few new things to add to my Lithuanian wardrobe!
Now, I have fallen in love with this place and these people. Today, I attended “City Church”, a contemporary, nondenominational church here in Klaipėda. The congregation was so welcoming. As soon as we walked in the door, a woman greeted me with a Lithuanian welcome, a huge smile, and a warm hug. The two women who led worship had the most pure and gorgeous voices. The service was in Lithuanian, but English translation was provided. The system was actually pretty neat. One of the LCC professors spoke English into a headset from her seat as the pastor spoke. I was given a small device into which I plugged my own ear buds and was able to hear the professor speaking. The worship was all in Lithuanian, but they provided the English words at the bottom of the PowerPoint slides. However, I enjoyed singing along in Lithuanian. It amazed me how easily the words came to me as I joined in worship in a language which I barely know. I truly felt the Holy Spirit connecting us as the Body of Christ. It was beautiful and I couldn’t contain the smiles that came to my face. Another neat thing was that, at the end of the service, a woman announced that the Operation Christmas Child gifts had arrived from the United States. They are holding events on three Saturdays to give away all the shoeboxes to children of the congregation, the children in the orphanages, and children from the community. It warmed my heart to see this connection between “my” corner of the world and Lithuania.
So, over the course of six days, a place that felt so distant to me has become so near. Though I am still on the opposite side of the globe from my home, family, friends, and church, I no longer feel so removed from “home”. I feel like a part of this place, and this place has become a part of me. Though I know there are still going to be ups and downs between now and May, I have this source of peace to keep in mind: God is evident here. I see His image in every person I meet here, no matter what country they come from or what language they speak. And thus, a big world suddenly becomes so small.