"4500 miles from home...my summer in Lithuania"

Stories from my time working and living in Vilnius, Lithuania this summer!

  1.  

    Iki pasimatymo Vilniuje!

    Well this is it. I’ve got just under 24 hours left in Vilnius, and I cant even begin to comprehend all the things that I have done and seen in the past 10 weeks. When I arrived in June, August 13th seemed such a far off day, but in that funny way time works, its just about time for me to go. Two weeks ago, if you’d had asked me, I’d say I’d be ready to go home in a heartbeat. I miss my family and friends, and its always nice to hear English on the street. But now, I feel more and more of me longing to stay in Lietuva.

    Sure, there are things I am certainly looking forward to about going home: my mom’s cooking, crabs (I haven’t had any all summer, of course!), my family and friends, WAC, English. It will be so nice to have all of that when I am safely back in Maryland on Saturday…

    But its the people I have met and the things that I have seen that I will miss. My internship has been a worth-while experience and definitely an incredible insight into the life that I could have joining the Foreign Service. I’ve learned so much from my bosses and the other Americans and Lithuanians I’ve worked with at the Embassy. I think now I’m more certain than ever that this is the life that I want. I’d like to travel, see the world. I know that seems so idealistic or cliche, but its what I want. And I’m going to work for it. Interning here in Vilnius has been an incredible start hopefully to a great future. The people here at the Embassy, American and Lithuanian, have welcomed me into the Embassy family, and I will miss all of them very much.

    I have been very fortunate to make some real Lithuanian friends while I was here. Working at the Embassy, its very easy to stick close to Americans, but if you don’t get out there and meet the locals, then you won’t have truly experienced where you are. My new Lithuanian friends, from the Embassy, from my kayaking trip and my weekend on the coast, have been incredible hosts to this incredible country. I’ve gotten to know these people, they’ve gotten to know me. And their friendship is my strongest bond with this country. They’ve shown me the real Lithuania, which I am more grateful for than they might ever know.

    And as for Vilnius…it has been such a privilege to live and work here for a summer. I hope my pictures have been able to exemplify the vibrant, rich, and deep history that this city has. Being almost 700 years old, Vilnius has seen it all…from the Lithuanian Empire that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, to their union with Poland, to the horrors they saw under German and Soviet occupation. Each street, each block, each building, has a story, is a part of the history of this wonderful city. And when you wander through the narrow streets of the Old Town, you can feel it. The city creeps inside of you and although you don’t know its exact story, who lived there, who died there, who survived in the Jewish ghettos and who didn’t, you can still feel it. The power that is the history of this city is phenomenal. And the demons that this city have overcome in its past help add to the individuality of this city over anywhere else in Europe.

    I’ll miss wandering through the Old Town. Walking along narrow cobblestone streets lined with small specialty shops, churches and cathedrals, and restaurants. I’ll miss turning a corner to see beautiful streets meander their way towards the Town Hall Square or the Cathedral. The small courtyards hidden behind busy streets with great bars or restaurants. Walking along Literatų or Stiklių streets, my two favourite in the Old Town. Crossing the “border” in to Užupis to visit the art galleries and cool shops. Walking down Pilies (Castle) street to the Cathedral Square, watching the sun set behind the belfry and cast a beautiful glow on Gediminas Castle on the hill just behind the church. Wandering along Gedimino Avenue and stopping in the stores to window shop. This place, after almost 700 years, 2 world wars, German occupation and the Holocaust, and then 51 years of communist occupation…is alive! This place has a soul, a heartbeat. The history, the culture, the people, the food (especially the good beer), the streets are all alive. And that’s what makes Vilnius so different from everywhere else. Vilnius know’s where its been, and it knows where its going. I think it has a bright future ahead of it.

    A friend at the Embassy shared a quote with me that I think is fitting of my time here in Vilnius: “Artumas – tai ne mylios, tai mintys,” which roughly translates to “Closeness is not about the miles, its about the thoughts.”  So I’ll never really be that far from Vilnius at all. But for now, iki pasimatymo Vilnijue. You were certainly worth being “4500 mylių nuo namų.”

    Pictures from the Marine House Hail & Fairwell Party and my last days in Vilnius:

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150329507692392.395245.694302391&l=fac2729371&type=1

  2.  

    Down to 2…

    So, I’m down to two weeks left in Vilnius. I can’t believe that the summer has gone by this fast, and that I’ve been living in Lithuania for this long! But its been an experience for sure…and I’m still trying to squeeze in some stuff to see and do before I leave. But some cool things have happened in the last few weeks…

    Two weeks ago, the Ambassador invited all of the interns from the Embassy to accompany her on a tour of the Vilnius Jewish ghettos from WWII. I was actually really looking forward to this, because many of my pictures in the Old Town that are on the small streets winding around the Rotušė and behind Pilies Street are part of the ghettos. The tour quickly turned from informal event, to the Ambassador inviting the Lithuanian Prime Minister himself to join us.

    The first part of the tour was at a primary school off Vokiečių Street. Buried beneath the school are the remains of the Vilnius Great Synagogue, destroyed by the Soviets in the early 40s. When the temple was built in the early 1600s, it was not allowed to be as tall as the highest church in Vilnius, so instead, they built half of the temple underground. It was really cool to watch the excavation, and there is definitely more for them to find.

    We then went to the site of the graveyard of the synagogue, now also destroyed, where myself, the other Embassy interns, the Ambassador and her family, along with the Prime Minister and his wife, and a translator, met with out tour guide of the ghettos. She was 89 years old, and lived in the Vilnius ghettos during the German occupation. She escaped the ghettos when she was a teenager, and watched as her whole entire family was taken away to concentration camps. She was the only one in her family to survive the war. After leaving the ghetto, she became a partisan fighter against the Soviets, and survived the entire Cold War, undetected, to see Lithuania become the democracy that it is today. She led us around the entire ghetto, showed us where she lived, where the gates guarding the ghettos were, told us what life was like and how she survived. It was absolutely incredible, and this little lady was still kicking!At the end of the tour, the Prime Minister invited her to his home for tea and cake, but she turned him down, saying she had other things to do! It was an incredible experience. She spoke in a mixture of German, Yiddish, and Lithuanian. So I was able to speak to her after the tour in German, and thank her for telling her story.

    This past weekend, I took a trip to the seaside! Going to the Baltic was high on my list of things to do when I came to Lithuania, and I jumped at the opportunity to go. I went with a new Lithuanian friend, but first we spent a night at the Tamsta Music Festival just south of Vilnius. From all the Lithuanians I’ve met, they told me that Tamsta should be on my list of things to do…its the biggest music festival of the summer. And it was a BLAST! Besides the downpour as we tried to put up our tent, but the music was great and the people were, too! And the guy headling the show Friday night, Aloee Blacc (“I Need A Dollar” is his hit song), is American! So there were at least two Americans at the festival!

    The next morning we made the 3 hour drive (from one side of the coutnry to the other — thats how small it is!) to Palanga, the seaside town. My friend Gytenis spent all of his summers in Palanga, and we ended up hanging out with friends of his that evening. It was a lot of fun. The next day we had beautiful weather (75 and sunny), so we spent the day on the beach with our new friends. That evening we went to Klaipeda, the main port town for Lithuania. Klaipeda was once part of Germany/Prussia, so it was interesting to see the mix of old German architecture that survived WWII mixed in with Soviet architecture, which is now the dominant in Klaipeda. But it was great to go to the coast, and now I can say that I’ve been in the Baltic Sea (but only my foot…that water was FREEZING!!!)!

    In other news, I’ve finally started my Lithuanian lessons at the Embassy. Let me tell ya, Lithuanian is quite interesting, and I stress quite interesting! But I can now have simple conversations, count, and conjugate some basic verbs. Laba deina! Mano vardo Antoine (Antanas). Kaip sekasi? Gerai? Puikai! Aš dirbu ir gyventi in Vilnijue dabar. Malonu susipaszinti, gero varkaro!

    Well its down to 2 weeks until I’m back Stateside! I’ll be sure to report before I leave!!! Iki pasimatymo!


    Here are my pictures from Tamsta, Palanga & Klaipeda:

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150318074212392.391691.694302391&l=3b5e3581fe&type=1

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  4.  

    HRC!

    7 July 2011

    So I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to add a new post in a few weeks. Things at the Embassy have been quite busy, especially over the 2 weeks right before the 4th of July…and more so the week before the 4th. We kinda had a visitor to Vilnius. A really, really, important visitor. Of course, it was none other than the big lady herself, Hilary Clinton!

    Before I came to Vilnius I had no idea that she would becoming, and when I got here, the Embassy had only found out a few days before. And after missing 4 chances to see her when I interned with State in DC last summer, I was completely thrilled at the fact that, even though I had to fly to Lithuania, I was going to see Hilary Clinton. And by God were things busy at the Embassy! As people came in from DC and other various Embassies in the region to help us out with the visit, things turned into controlled chaos. But in the midst of all of it, I was completely calm (unlike some other people here at the Embassy who were deservedly stressed with all their work). But after years of doing theatre, the build up to a show always comes with anticipation, excitiment, and a little bit of chaos. Thats how I treated the visit, as if it were a show we had prepared for, rehearsed, built a set, learned the lines, and all that was left was for the curtain to go up. And you always have the ones who are petrified just before Opening Night that something horrible will go wrong. But almost every time, it comes together, and the show goes off brilliantly. Needless to say, the Secretary’s visit was extremely sucessfull!

    I did not get to meet her, but I did get to stand within a few feet of her and hear her speak at the Embassy which was really cool. She took a picture with all the children who’s parents work at the Embassy, and I was really tempted to jump in the middle of the shot and be in the picture, but I held back…

    All in all, the experience of helping prepare and go through a Secretary of State visit was incredible. She was only here for a day and a half, but the amount of work that went into the whole ordeal was incredible. The people who came in from Washington and other overseas posts were fantastic to work with, and many of whom I can now call friends. And the celebrations afterwards we’re also a blast, too! I finally taught some people how to “Dougie” (a current dance craze) and it was nice to have the long weekend off with the 4th of July the Monday after the Secretary left Vilnius.

    As for my first 4th of July out of the good ol’ USA, it was quite nice. Although the weather here has felt more like London than it has Maryland, I trekked out to Trakai Castle and the surrounding town. Trakai sits on a peninsula, and was one of the richest cities in the Baltics throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The castle sits on an island between two lakes, and is absolutely stunning. I explored the castle and then stopped for lunch at a pub with a view of the castle and the lake. Although there weren’t any fireworks, hot dogs and hamburgers, funnel cakes and crabs, it was still a good day!

    Here are my pictures from Trakai!

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150298388582392.385443.694302391&l=80d9bad5ba
  5.    An accidental shot of the Angel Statue in Užupis that turned out awesome!

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    An accidental shot of the Angel Statue in Užupis that turned out awesome!

  6.  

    Man patinka Vilniuje!!!

    14 June 2011

    Its almost been two weeks since I landed here in Vilnius, and I still am in awe at how wonderful this city and this country is. Who would have ever known…

    Unlike when I went to London for 3 months, I have had to make a bit of a transition to being here. When you walk down the street, you do NOT hear English. At all. Unlike in many European countries now preparing for the barrage of summer tourists, Vilnius is still kinda off the beaten path in Eastern Europe, with more people flocking towards Prague rather than up towards the Baltic. And with tourists you have English. Now, this is not to say that there aren’t any tourists here (I have noticed some in the past week and a half), but Vilnius doesn’t see extreme tourism. This is why Vilnius excites me, because I can stand in the Rotušė Square and almost every person I see will not have English as their first language. My friend here at the Embassy calls Vilnius “real Europe,” and I think that’s a good way to put it. Its pushed me a bit outside of my own comfort zone, because I only know extremely basic Lithuanian. But when I go to the store and the cashier talks to me in Lithuanian and I respond with “Aš nekalbu lietuviskai…angliskai?” they shake their heads, finish checking me out and hand me my change. But when I respond with “Ačiū, viso gero,” (Thank you, goodbye) they kinda smile and appreciate that I’ve made an attempt to learn their language in their country. I’m trying more and more each day to push myself outside of my comfort zone and immerse myself into the true Lithuania. Thankfully I’ll be starting language classes at the Embassy soon!

    For the Lithuanians who do speak English back to me, they have been some of the nicest people I have ever met. The whole stereotype of people from this part of the world being harsh and cold simply isn’t true. If you can make a Lithuanian comfortable around you, then they will want to make you feel comfortable, too. I’ve had a few chances to talk to Lithuanians that don’t work at the Embassy, and they ask questions about where I’m from in the States, what I think of Vilnius so far, and what the TV show “The Jersey Shore” is really about. This past weekend I also had a college student at the Vilnius University bar tell me that if I told any girl in the room that I was American, that they would dance with me and want to talk to me right away! Yet, when I tell them how beautiful I think their city and their country is, they are quick to share similar feelings about their home and they are glad that an American recognizes the beauty of this small place, too. They are proud of their history, their culture, and their achievements, but are very willing to share everything that this place has to offer. And I really like that, a lot.

    I’ve had some great opportunities to meet with locals outside the Embassy. I’ve played soccer with locals in Vingis Park which was a blast, seeing as it was my second time ever playing soccer! I’ve met some very nice locals when I went out this weekend with some new Embassy friends. The good news is they certainly like to dance, so I’ll fit right in! And this coming weekend I’m going on a canoeing trip in the countryside with some locals. I can’t wait to learn more about the people here and have fun, Lithuanian style. And the people I’m working with are great as well, and have welcomed me right into the Embassy family here, which I appreciate more than ever!

    The best part so far, even though its only been almost two weeks, has to have been taking a break from a walk through the Old Town and a hike up to Gediminas Castle by enjoying the cool evening with a Švyturys in Rotušė Square while watching a dozen or so hot air ballons take off into the evening sky. You’d think it couldn’t get any better, but somehow, Vilnius surprises me every day.

    New Pictures:

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150273080182392.378263.694302391&l=34b2d3ad28

  7.   Šv. Onos bažnyčia (St. Anne’s Church’s)

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    Šv. Onos bažnyčia (St. Anne’s Church’s)

  8.  

    Sveiki atvykę į Vilnių - Welcome to Vilnius!

    5 June 2011

    After months of waiting, and 3 planes rides from two different countries (I’m counting my flight to Newark, New Jersey from DC as an international flight because Jersey is a country of its own…) and 7 time zones I’m finally in Vilnius! I’m just getting through my 3rd full day and I’ve already had an incredible experience so far. After traveling and settling in, I was grumpy and got a bit homesick for America, but after a goods nights rest and a good first day of work, I know that this summer is going to be fantastic.

    Myself and the other interns I’ll be working with are all settled in to our apartment. We’ve made a few trips to the grocery store, called Maxima, just down the street. Unlike most European countries, our Maxima is open 24/7 and is like a condensed version of a super Wal-Mart or Target. It’s got everything from clothes and electronics, to fresh produce and breads and Lithuanian delicacies, including pig fat and cow tongue!

    But since I’ve been here there have been 3 major things I’m trying to get used to: the weather, the number of hours of daylight, and the exchange rate. First off, the weather is simply GORGEOUS here. Since I’ve been here, it’s been 75, sunny, a slight breeze, and NO humidity. So the weather for this summer is looking good.

    Secondly, the sun rises around 4.30am, and doesn’t set until around 10.30pm! So when it starts to get dark outside, its actually much later than what I think, and I have to remind myself that I should go to bed soon. Apparently, in the time around the summer solstice in a few weeks, the sun doesn’t set until 11.30pm and is right back up at 3.30am. Since we’re farther north, the sun stays up longer.

    And finally, the exchange rate is awesome. Many things in Lithuania are cheap to begin with. For example, I bought pasta sauce for spaghetti for 5 Litas, which is a little over $2. Or, the popular national beer, Švyturys sells for 5Lt or less in the grocery store. This is much better than London, where I was paying $6 for the cheap pint at the pub! So the exchange rate is going to be great for the summer.

    As for the city…its amazing. Only outside the city centre do you notice the left-overs from the Cold War Soviet occupation, but the Old Town or Senamiestis is just incredible. My second day here I was able to take a quick walk into the Old Town and see some things, and this past Saturday I went on a walking tour of the Old Town and Užupis, an avant garde artist community. I was able to take some stunning pictures which I’ll post a link to below! I cant wait to take more time to wander the streets of the Old Town.

    And today, I had a chance to go out to the countryside for a traditional Lithuanian cook-out. Some of the people who I’ll be working with invited me to go with them to a farm well outside of Vilnius, where instead of hot dogs and hamburgers we had smoked carp that was just caught fresh that morning, grilled pork kebabs, tomatoes, fresh cucumbers and homemade pickles, and fresh rye bread. It was a great way to spend a Sunday.

    Here’s a link to pictures from the start of my journey!

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150265926367392.375869.694302391&l=3701991731

  9.  
    Do not doubt that, in the midst of great opposition, the world is unfolding as it should. Be at peace.
  10.   T-minus 24 hrs and counting…
31 May 2011
Who knew that I would end up in all places Lithuania? Seems like an extremely random place, doesn’t it? Just this small obscure country along the Baltic squished somewhere in between Poland and Russia. Yet I find myself beginning to contemplate the fact that in under 24hrs, I’ll be on an airplane to this small place, ready to spend 10 weeks living and working in this small country. Wow!
For those of you who may not know, I’m starting this blog to document my summer working at the US Embassy in Lithuania, and to share stories from my life in its capital city, Vilnius, where I’ll be living. This will be my second internship with the State Department, after spending last summer working for State in Washington, D.C. And when I applied for another internship with the State, I wanted to go abroad again to get a better understand of how American foreign policy works in the field. I’m so excited for this opportunity, because everything I’ve learned about how diplomacy works, I’ll be able to see it applied in the field away from policy makers in Washington. 
Yet, why Lithuania, you might be asking? Well, I wasn’t so sure myself either! When I applied for the internship, I listed that I would be willing to go to just about every country in Europe, hoping that at least one would be interested in my application. And sure enough, I was selected for the intern ship in Lithuania. One of my goals in life is to see as much of the world as I possibly can…I’ve got the travel bug! So, why not start in Lithuania? I’ve been to Iceland and spent 3 months living in London, but why not make my first trek to the Continent somewhere a bit off the beaten track (aka France, Italy, Germany, etc.) and head off to the small  place tucked away along the Baltic coast?
From the research that I’ve done, Lithuania is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Its home to multiple UNESCO World Heritage cites, including the Old City of Vilnius, one of the largest preserved Old Cities in all of Europe (just down the street from where I’m living!). Plus the Curonian Spit along the Baltic Coast boasts some of the best beaches in all of Northern Europe (which I’m definitely looking forward to visiting). And although they do speak Lithuanian, apparently English is widely spoken…thank God!
So as I procrastinate packing, and start to write this blog instead, I find myself not really scared at all. This is hopefully the beginning of my time traveling the world, and seeing as much as I can. Lithuania is going to be an amazing experience, and I cannot wait to hop on the plane and go!
Viso gero Amerika….labas Lietuva!

    Full image link →

    T-minus 24 hrs and counting…

    31 May 2011

    Who knew that I would end up in all places Lithuania? Seems like an extremely random place, doesn’t it? Just this small obscure country along the Baltic squished somewhere in between Poland and Russia. Yet I find myself beginning to contemplate the fact that in under 24hrs, I’ll be on an airplane to this small place, ready to spend 10 weeks living and working in this small country. Wow!

    For those of you who may not know, I’m starting this blog to document my summer working at the US Embassy in Lithuania, and to share stories from my life in its capital city, Vilnius, where I’ll be living. This will be my second internship with the State Department, after spending last summer working for State in Washington, D.C. And when I applied for another internship with the State, I wanted to go abroad again to get a better understand of how American foreign policy works in the field. I’m so excited for this opportunity, because everything I’ve learned about how diplomacy works, I’ll be able to see it applied in the field away from policy makers in Washington.

    Yet, why Lithuania, you might be asking? Well, I wasn’t so sure myself either! When I applied for the internship, I listed that I would be willing to go to just about every country in Europe, hoping that at least one would be interested in my application. And sure enough, I was selected for the intern ship in Lithuania. One of my goals in life is to see as much of the world as I possibly can…I’ve got the travel bug! So, why not start in Lithuania? I’ve been to Iceland and spent 3 months living in London, but why not make my first trek to the Continent somewhere a bit off the beaten track (aka France, Italy, Germany, etc.) and head off to the small  place tucked away along the Baltic coast?

    From the research that I’ve done, Lithuania is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Its home to multiple UNESCO World Heritage cites, including the Old City of Vilnius, one of the largest preserved Old Cities in all of Europe (just down the street from where I’m living!). Plus the Curonian Spit along the Baltic Coast boasts some of the best beaches in all of Northern Europe (which I’m definitely looking forward to visiting). And although they do speak Lithuanian, apparently English is widely spoken…thank God!

    So as I procrastinate packing, and start to write this blog instead, I find myself not really scared at all. This is hopefully the beginning of my time traveling the world, and seeing as much as I can. Lithuania is going to be an amazing experience, and I cannot wait to hop on the plane and go!

    Viso gero Amerika….labas Lietuva!