August 19, 2015

Christoph Seyfang from Germany: ‘Semester at KTU Changed my Life Dramatically’

 Bachelor of Business Administration Christoph Seyfang from Koblenz (Germany), now a 34 year-old Export Control specialist at a company that produces parts for helicopters and airplanes, was once a student at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU). When asked about the origin of his last name which to some might sound Chinese, Seyfang laughs and says that it is just a coincidence.

10 years ago Seyfang first came to Lithuania through an Erasmus student exchange programme. Now he travels to Kaunas regularly and feels like visiting his old home rather than being a typical tourist.

Seyfang came to study to Kaunas from his hometown Koblenz in Germany which in Latin means ‘merging of rivers‘. Seyfang said later that one of his favourite places in Kaunas was and still is the confluence of the Nemunas and the Neris at Kaunas Santaka park. It reminded him of Koblenz where two rivers also join together.

What is the story behind choosing to study in Kaunas for one semester through Erasmus programme?

My original idea was to go to Helsinki in Finland. 10 years ago hardly anyone from Germany went to study in Lithuania. It wasn’t a popular destination at all.

After I had applied to one of Finland’s Universities, I was informed that due to too many participants who wanted to spend a semester in Helsinki, the University couldn’t accept me.

I went through other Erasmus offers again and I found Kaunas and a city in Poland that I was interested in. It took me a day to decide and I finally chose Kaunas. I didn’t know what to expect at all because at that time none of my family, friends or anybody that I knew had been to Kaunas.

Now, after 10 years had passed, I can say that it was an accident which changed my life dramatically.

Were there any personal reasons why you finally decided to go to Lithuania?

I decided that going to Kaunas alone and not having friends or being surrounded by familiar faces from my own University or my city there all the time would be a good thing. I know that people from the same country tend to stick together and speak their own language during Erasmus. This makes you not as open as you should be.

I took a risk and picked a country I didn’t know almost anything about and a University I had very little knowledge about. I did it for my personal development. It was a risk that paid off over and above.

What was Erasmus life in Kaunas 10 years ago? What were your favourite spots to hang out with friends after classes at the time?

Our favourite spots were ‘B.O.’ (Blue Orange) at the old-town and an Irish pub ‘Fortas’ for its atmosphere and live music. If we wanted to go clubbing we used to go to ‘Siena’.

In 2004 Kaunas didn’t have as many cafes, pubs and clubs to offer as it has now. However, few places to meet turned out to be a good thing because everybody knew where other Erasmus students will show up. Now there are probably 20 new different places just in the old-town for groups of friends to meet. This makes people split up because everyone is free to choose where they want to go.

Moreover, 10 years ago nobody was using social networks that much. It was just a beginning of Facebook era, and we didn’t use Facebook groups or messenger for communication, the same applies to various smartphone apps.

Do you think Erasmus students are different these days than they were 10 years ago?

Throughout our Erasmus experience in 2004 all of us felt like a big family. I think today it is impossible to become so close because simply there are too many students from abroad. 

In 2004 around 100 students from Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Germany, and Estonia came to Kaunas. There were 7 Erasmus students including myself in my faculty at KTU. Now there are more students from a wider range of countries. 10 years ago it wasn’t that varied.

Compared to Erasmus students now, our group was somehow more mature and it wasn’t all about the partying for us. We were polite, tried to communicate with Lithuanians quite a lot and to adapt to the life in Kaunas. We had a broader view regarding Erasmus programme and what we can take from it. For most of us the reason was to find something new and by that I don’t just mean new places to party.

Seeing foreigners in the streets are nothing unusual now but 10 years ago our group of people were new and interesting to Kaunas citizens. Lithuanians wanted more contact with us, were interested in where we came from and what the reasons for our being here were.

You call the people that you met during Erasmus programme ‘your family’. Did you also find some lifelong Lithuanian friends while in Kaunas?

Yes. I met many of them through KTU Erasmus programme mentors. They were organizing events and showing us new places not just in Kaunas but in other cities as well. KTU students who were mentors for many semesters even said that our Erasmus group was the best they have met while at the University. 

Last year I had an opportunity to witness my friends from the Erasmus times get married. The wedding took place in the beautiful Lithuanian town of Plateliai. The groom was one of my friends from France who came to Kaunas through Erasmus programme just like me 10 years ago. The bride was a Lithuanian woman whom he met at a KTU dormitory also 10 years ago.

There were some people from the Erasmus times including couple of the former KTU mentors among the guests as well. It was a memorable wedding full of Lithuanian traditions, live Lithuanian music and national dishes.

After the wedding they decided to move to the UK and start their married life in a country where they both could speak the same language.

You’ve spent quite some time in Lithuania: half a year studying and living in Kaunas and after the Erasmus exchange was over you still regularly visited Lithuania. Where you ever in a relationship with a Lithuanian girl?

Yes, I was. Currently, I’m also in a relationship with a Lithuanian woman. I met her while visiting my friends during one of the trips here.

Is there something you haven’t seen in Lithuania after coming here at least once a year? What do you usually do when you visit?

For example, when I’m in Kaunas, I always visit the director of KTU Department of International Relations Neringa Narbutienė. She helped me a lot while I was an Erasmus student in KTU and she became a good friend over the years.

I’ve visited all of the tourist places many times over the years, so now my trips are usually without a certain plan. I decide what I want to do or where I want to go together with my friends who live here.

Do you have a favourite Lithuanian dish, snack or drink?

It has changed over 10 years. Currently my favourite summer dish is the famous Lithuanian purple soup šaltibarščiai. I still like cepelinai and I always bring back home some ‘Švyturys Extra’ beer after visiting Lithuania. I also like Lithuanian home-made food.

Do you notice any changes when you come to Lithuania or come back to KTU after every last visit?

Even though the economic situation is still not good, salaries are not rising as fast as the prices, pensioners are struggling, every time I travel to Lithuania I notice some positive improvements. Government of Kaunas city is trying to support the families by building some sports gear, children’s playgrounds, renewing recreation areas in the family-friendly locations. Kaunas old-town has changed dramatically as well.

Whereas talking about the changes at the University, I know that KTU has a strong ‘Erasmus Student Network (ESN)’ now, and the University’s management system is more developed. The University itself is much more professional and much more internationalised.

What did you do in Lithuania on the last couple of times you were here?

I arrived to Kaunas in June for the ‘Kaunas marathon 2015’. This time there were almost five thousand participants from Lithuania and other countries. I chose to run half-marathon distance which was 21 km. This year I have already visited Lithuania three times.

Do you think you will still visit Lithuania as often as now in the future?

It will depend from many life factors but I do hope so because I always think of Lithuania as my second home.

I always tell my family, friends and co-workers that Lithuania is a perfect place for holidays and I’m always recommending Nida as a great vacation spot. Even if I won’t be able to travel here as often as I would like, Lithuania will always be on the top of my list for many holidays to come.