Feels like home: Lithuania in the eyes of foreign students
At the end of the year, we’ve decided to share one of the memorable moments of 2017 – the discussion with international students on studying in Lithuania held at the Opinion Festival this September. Four students from different parts of the world and different cultural background – Aya from Japan (Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences), Hasan from Turkey (Vytautas Magnus University), Aleko from Georgia (Vilnius Gediminas Technical University) and Omer from Pakistan (Vilnius University) – took part in the Erasmus+ moderated discussion and shared their thoughts about Lithuania.
What were your very first impressions about Lithuania?
Aleko (Georgia, VGTU): My first impression was that everything around is green. Also people here are very friendly and open-minded. When Lithuanians hear that I’m Georgian, they become extremely helpful, supportive.
Aya (Japan, LEU): There is a difference from Tokyo, which is crowded, big, where everyone is in a hurry, hurry, hurry. Everyone here is calm, no one is in a rush. For example, we were about to watch a movie and I asked my teacher when does it finish? She said, I don’t know, what’s the difference? But I plan my time. I don’t mean Lithuanians are slow, just flexible. But I’m quite comfortable with this rhythm now. When I first came to Lithuania, it was warm and nice summer. Then I came back at winter and it was so different. It was so cold that I couldn’t even walk to the university – I had to run to every café on my way just to warm a bit. Still it is so nice here even when it’s cold. This year I’m planning to stay for the whole winter and I’m prepared now.
Omer (Pakistan, VU): It is crazy during winter. I knew it would be cold, but I didn’t expect it to be that cold. I had to buy winter jacket and all other warm clothes.
Hasan (Turkey, VMU): Weather is different from my country. When I first came here, the people seemed different. I guess, it’s because of the weather – naturally, it makes a huge impact on people. But later I found that Lithuanians are very warm and kind. They are so eager to help you and they are doing it willingly. I became a volunteer and made a lot of Lithuanian friends. We are teaching and learning a lot from each other. Before I came here, I met fellow Turkish students who studied in Lithuania and they are still talking about Lithuania, about Kaunas. They want to come back. Now I know why. I love Kaunas too. It’s a culturally diverse city, international city – this international environment gives me energy and I’d like to stay in Lithuania as long as I can.
What do you think of the academic environment in Lithuania? Did it meet your expectations and have you fulfilled your academic ambitions?
Omer (Pakistan, VU): I’m happy I chose to study at Vilnius University and I have only positive experience here. I was paying tuition fee for my studies, but when I finished my first semester with excellent grades – the university gave me the scholarship for next semester. I didn’t expect it at all. I also got a chance to participate in Erasmus+ student exchange programme and I spent a semester in Belgium. Vilnius University has very good, experienced, proactive professors who will always help you and the education system is adaptive to student’s needs. In Belgium you have five subjects at the same time, some in the morning, some in the evening. In Vilnius University you have one subject at a time and you can concentrate on it, which is great. The schedule is flexible and students have time for internship, which is also great. I guess, you won’t find this smart type of education system in any other university around Europe.
Hasan (Turkey, VMU): I’m also happy with my professors at Vytautas Magnus University. Not only do they teach, but they also listen to each student’s point of view. And they are very friendly. Tolerant. They always try to help you and – which is more important – they try to understand you. When you have a question and search for an answer – Vytautas Magnus University’s professors will always welcome you with a smile. It helps to adapt easier.
Aleko (Georgia, VGTU): I received the Lithuanian state scholarship for master’s degree studies and it was a huge motivation. Lithuanian state scholarship changed my life, I must say. I learned Lithuanian language, now I want to deepen my knowledge about Lithuanian culture and traditions. Lithuanians and Georgians are very much alike. We have historical, cultural ties and true friendship binds our two countries, so it was very easy to adapt in Lithuania. Now I’m thinking of staying here. Special love from Lithuanians to Georgians made me feel like home. While studying, I have opportunity to visit other European countries, meet international students and I want to thank Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, the Education Exchanges Support Foundation as well as all Lithuanian people for being so welcoming. I made a lot of friends here, not only professors and students, but many people.
In order to attract foreign students, what things should Lithuania emphasize?
Aleko (Georgia, VGTU): Lithuania is a beautiful country – the nature, everything. Just show students around the world how beautiful it is and everyone will come.
Aya (Japan, LEU): Lithuanians love singing and dancing, including professors – they often sing and dance. When I was visiting Klaipeda University, we went sailing – suddenly one teacher started to sing and all Lithuanians were singing along. It was a beautiful chorus. I also love Lithuanian amateur art or folk art. It’s very attractive. I believe you should show this genuine and creative side of Lithuania.
Have you tasted traditional Lithuanian dishes, for example, the cold soup called Šaltibarščiai and do you like Lithuanian cuisine?
Aya (Japan, LEU): First taste of Šaltibarščiai was kind of shocking. When I first saw it, I said I want that soup – it looks pink, cold and very nice. A small sweet thing, I thought. But the taste was so salty… It looks so different from what it tastes. That was shocking.
Hasan (Turkey, VMU): Šaltibarščiai soup is cold. Soups should be hot. In my country you drink it hot.
Aleko (Georgia, VGTU): I love everything about Lithuania, including the food.
Omer (Pakistan, VU): I was used to Asian food – Indian and Pakistani cuisines are full of spices. There are no spices at all in Lithuanian cuisine, just salt. It was a problem, because when I first came here, I didn’t know how to cook and all the food is without spices which I couldn’t eat. Luckily, at the university’s canteen the cooks already recognize me and always give me the spiciest food they’ve got. Still it’s not good enough for me and after a year spent in Belgium as part of Erasmus+ student exchange programme between Vilnius University and the university in Belgium, now I’m bringing lots of spices with me back to Lithuania. And I learned to cook from YouTube. So everything will be fine.
In 2018, Lithuania will celebrate the centenary of the restoration of state. What would you wish for Lithuania?
Hasan (Turkey, VMU): I’ve heard of high rate of suicide in Lithuania. I wish there would be more engaging social activities. I believe that people should be more involved in social life. It helps if you are dealing with problems not on your own, but with the community. It helps avoid such bad things to happen. I wish I could help since I’m participating in a socially-focused projects as a volunteer. I wish things will change for good.
Aya (Japan, LEU): Lithuania’s population is declining – it’s only 2.3 million now. I don’t want it to disappear. It’s a very nice country, which preserved unique culture and language. I’ve heard the story about Lithuanian press ban and that many people gave their lives for conveying a Lithuanian book from home to home – it’s inspiring how people saved their language and culture for their descendants. I wish that Lithuanian culture would continue being what it is and I don’t want it to change or mix up with foreign things. I mean, I don’t want to eat spicy or hot Šaltibarščiai. I want it salty, cold – I want it the Lithuanian way.