My time in Vilnius, Lithuania has been one of the best and worst times of my life. I met the most amazing people and saw amazing history and sights, but I also missed my family and friends, and felt isolated at times.
My GLI Global Theme is Inequality and Human Rights. While in Vilnius, I participated in a student-organized protest in solidarity with women in Iran, did research on LGBTQ+ in Lithuania (Lithuania is deeply conservative), and visited several museums on the occupations and murders of Lithuanians, especially Jewish Lithuanians. One of my goals for studying in Lithuania was to learn history from the point of view of the oppressed, and I think I was able to do that here. I also met with many like-minded people from other countries, and learned how they do activism there – specifically in Germany.
I was very aware I am American. I met maybe five Americans in all of Lithuania, though there were probably more. I was constantly reminded by others around me that I am American. It was funny but a little tiring to me that whenever I said I was from the US, people would often launch into a criticism of the US. It was fine, but it happened a lot. I also enjoyed Lithuanian food (a lot of potatoes and meat) and culture. Someone described Lithuanians as a “country of introverts,” which seemed accurate to me. People often said Lithuanians were cold, but I didn’t think so. Lithuanians don’t smile to strangers or make eye contact in public. But every Lithuanian I met was very kind with their gestures when I needed help. The cashiers would ask the people behind me if they had a loyalty card so that I could get a discount at stores, and the people just handed them over. That was incredibly surprising to me, and really nice. I think it will be hard for me to adjust to smiling to strangers again, it felt like a relief not to have to smile awkwardly at people you pass by on the sidewalk.
I learned a lot about myself on this trip. It was my first time living on my own so far away from anyone I knew. I stayed in the dorms my freshman year, but I have been living at home since the start of the pandemic. I also had to cook for myself in Vilnius and had no supplies, so it was a little difficult for a while. I had a few bumps in the road, but I overcame them and have more confidence in myself, which is one of the main things I needed to work on in leadership. I learned how to navigate intercultural exchanges on a daily basis with many different cultures, and people very different from myself. I am so grateful for this experience.