Foreign Lithuanian language students discuss Lithuania and their experiences here
Why do foreigners want to study Lithuanian language? What do they admire about Lithuania? Is it difficult for them to assimilate in this country? These questions were discussed and answered in the discussion called „What image of Lithuania do foreign Lithuanian language students form?“, which was organized by the International Relations Department of Vytautas Magnus University and took place on January 14th at Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania.
The participants of the discussion included Lithuanian language teacher Indrė Šadvilaitė, the Head of International Relations Group at VMU Vilma Leonavičienė and three former students of Lithuanian Language and Culture Courses, who are now living in Lithuania – Fatih Güler from Turkey, Sophio Tabatadze from Sakartvelo and Alyona Shyba from Ukraine.
Fatih, the Social Pedagogy and Ethics Bachelor’s student from Turkey, first arrived to Lithuania in the summer of 2015 and soon fell in love with Vilnius. He names the acute size of the city, clean air and easy-to-use public transportation system as the biggest benefits of living here. However, he remembers spending long hours trying to grasp the differences and correlations between Lithuanian and Turkish languages. Sophio, the postgraduate diplomacy student from Sakartvelo emphasizes the importance of mentors and teachers she encountered when she began learning Lithuanian, but says it took her a lot of personal motivation not to quit midway while trying to understand grammar and structure of the Lithuanian language. Even though both students admit that mastering this language is not an easy task, they both agree that practice makes perfect.
According to Alyona Shyba, a Lithuanian language student from Ukraine and a professor at Chernivtsi National University, language is the best vessel to get to know a specific culture. “Leaning about culture without learning the language“, she says, “is like seeing a flower, but not being able to smell it. Ukraine and Lithuania share a lot of history and both countries are very dear to me. When I am in Vilnius, I want to be home with my family, but when I am home, I truly miss this city. I want to learn this language perfectly”. But if the Lithuanian language is as difficult as all the participants of the discussion say, what really attracts them to it? According to Vilma Leonavičienė, who guided this discussion, language courses attract students from many different countries and backgrounds. Some have Lithuanian roots and are looking for ways to get back in touch with their or their family‘s past, while others learn Lithuanian language purely by choice and interest. „A big part of students are just looking for new challenges. Others are genuinely interested in a post-Soviet country, which speaks one of the oldest remaining Indo-European languages. It is interesting that many of these students fall under the „Lithuanian spell“. They fall in love with our country and like to come back here again, shares their experiences with friends and family members once they return home. These people are truly the strongest ambassadors of Lithuania“, says Ms. Leonavičienė.
So what image of Lithuania do foreign Lithuanian language students form?
“We, as teachers share a part of our national identity with our students. Every student who learns or even attempts to learn the language then becomes a part of Lithuanian history, and Lithuanian history becomes a part of their own personal history”, says Indrė Šadvilaitė, Lithuanian language teacher of Vilnius Lithuanians’ House. “It’s not only the language that they bring back home, but the memories of people that they met here. They tell stories about Lithuania to their friends and loved ones. Every Lithuanian language student in a way becomes an ambassador of Lithuania. Some don’t even understand it yet, but they will”, she adds.
This discussion was a direct result of Lithuanian Language and Culture Courses. Organized at several Lithuanian universities every summer and winter these courses usually last for one month. During this time, the students undergo an intensive programme of lectures, workshops, discussions and sightseeing tours to learn the Lithuanian language and deepen the knowledge about Lithuanian lifestyle.