Thursday, April 12, 2012

Makaiya: "Lab’ukas!"

So, I want to introduce myself:  I’m a senior at New York University studying Human Rights and Literature – although I’ve taken this semester off to intern for the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania.  In preparing to come here, it was a bit of a challenge to find English information about Lithuania, so I wanted to write a bit down, in hopes that any potential travelers can pick up a few tips.

When I first flew into Vilnius, I remember being a little shocked.  I looked out the plane window and saw this flat landscape, stretching for miles and miles, with SNOW absolutely everywhere.  Then I got off the plane, actually felt how cold it was outside – when I left my hometown it was 26º Celsius (78 º Fahrenheit); when I arrived in Vilnius, it was -8º (17 º Fahrenheit).  This past winter, weather got as low as -30 ºC (-22 ºF)!

Needless to say, I’ve gotten used to the weather here and now, seven weeks later, I am completely, utterly, head-over-heels in love with Lithuania.  Yes, the snow can be daunting at first, but it can turn this city into such a beautiful wonderland.  (Just remember to layer!)  I’m looking forward to warmer weather, too.  I hear that Vilnius really comes alive sometime during late spring and that the Old Town (the old part of Vilnius) suddenly fills up with people strolling around, and eating at outdoor cafes.

For any potential visitors to Vilnius, I would recommend Gediminos Prospektas, which is basically the epicenter of Vilnius.  It’s a beautiful, historic street running through Old Town.  (On February 16th, one of Lithuania’s Independence Days, 16 bonfires lined this street in celebration, and groups of Lithuanians were gathered around them, singing Lithuanian folk songs.  If you’re around Vilnius during that time, you should definitely go.)  Also, there are some great coffee shops along Gedimino.  My favorite thing to have is the “Winnie-the-Pooh” at Coffee Inn.  It’s a latte with honey!  Yum. Plus Coffee Inn is a cool little place that’s always full of students, and local artists have their work up.  It’s a chain, and sometimes the bigger venues even have musical performances.

Lithuanian food is pretty great.  There’s this great desert called šakotis, which you’ll see everywhere, it’s this big spiked cone of a cookie, basically.  And you should definitely try the kepta duona (fried bread with garlic and cheese), gira (a Lithuanian drink made out of fermented bread), and kibinai (a pastry with meat inside.  Technically, it’s not from Lithuania, but the Lithuanians seem to have perfected them!).  If you’re feeling a bit healthier, I’ve found the seafood and salads here to have been consistently amazing.


Ellen: "Labas! Hello!"

My name is Ellen and I am currently interning for the US Department of State at the embassy in Vilnius.  I have already been in Lithuania for almost 7 weeks and only have 3 weeks left until I’m back home in the States.

If you want to know a little bit about myself, here are some quick bullet points!
- I am 21 years old.
-  I was born and raised in the Southeastern part of Virginia right by the beach, but I now attend a university in Northern Virginia (NoVa for short) about 20 minutes outside of Washington, D.C.
- When I return home I’ll be entering my last year of college.  Wow, how the time flies!  It’s weird to think about.  I’m definitely not ready to graduate yet!
At school I study History – mainly European, but I’ve also taken several courses in U.S. history and some in non-Western history.
- This is not my first time in Europe; I’ve been to Germany, Poland, and Hungary.  It is, however, my first time to Lithuania and to the Baltic’s!  Since coming here I’ve gotten to see Riga, Latvia.

I was excited to find out that I would be interning in Lithuania.  If not for this opportunity, I do not know if I would have ever made it to this part of the globe.  For a history major, I was disappointed in how little I actually knew about Lithuania, but being able to see and learn, in person, about a country with such a rich and proud history has been an experience that I never would have been able to receive from pages in a textbook.  

Although this is the first time that I have been to Lithuania, it is not the first encounter I’ve had with Lithuanians.  The school that I attended from the 1st-12th grade used to receive several Lithuanian exchange students.  Before I even knew about the popularity of the sport here, this is where I began to associate Lithuania with basketball.  Our Lithuanian exchange students ALWAYS played on our basketball teams, and the majority of the time, we would win!  Several of them even continued on to play basketball at different U.S. universities!

One event in Vilnius that left me speechless was the Kaziukas Fair.  We have festivals in Virginia and across the rest of the United States, but I have never witnessed anything to this extent. 

People came from across Lithuania, the Baltics, Poland, Belarus, and other locations just to shop at the fair.  Another intern and I ventured to Gedimino in the early afternoon thinking that we would be able to casually walk around and look at each booth.  If you’ve been to the Kaziukas Fair, you know that’s impossible.  

Walking room is limited because of the sheer amount of people in attendance, and if you stand still for too long, you’ll probably get pushed around, not because someone is dying to get you to move, but because the Kaziukas Fair is like river - the current is constantly sweeping you forward.  I can’t think of anything comparable in the United States.  We eventually managed to stop and find souvenirs for friends and family back home.

I think that’s all for now, but please let me know what you are interested in hearing about, whether it is life in America or what I have experienced, so far, in Lithuania!