Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Time - Jackie from Westmont

“So, Dad, I decided I want to go to Lithuania.” 


It was a warm day at the end of April; only a month before the end of my first year at Westmont College. The decision was made. In less than one year I would be on the opposite side of the world; at that time I had no idea what this semester would hold for me.  My parents were both supportive of my decision and even pushed me to take my experience further and travel when the semester was over. I was shocked and excited. 

The next six months was bombarded with over planning by my parents, so many questions from me, and funny looks from those that heard where I had decided to spend my semester abroad. I could have never for seen how this semester would change me, challenge me, and bless me. 

But it has. I have been changed. I have been challenged. And I have been blessed. 

One and a half weeks left. 

It doesn't seem real. 

After that, I am traveling through Europe. I can't even tell you how excited I am, but at the same time I am sad that I will no longer be living in Klaipeda, Lithuania. I realize that I love being here more because of the people than the location. I know that I can find other wonderful people at other destinations as well, and I pray that I do. 

To those of you that are thinking about coming to Lithuania, I say: Go for it!
To those of you who have already decided to come, I say: Great choice!
To those of you who are not sure what to expect, I say: Don't expect anything, but embrace everything. There will be hard times and there will be unbelievably fun times. One thing that I can guarantee for anyone who comes to spend a semester at LCC: You will not leave here the same. Let it happen; let this place and these people change you. 

ECCLESIASTES 3:1-14

1 There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:
 2 a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
   a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 6 a time to search and a time to give up,
   a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
   a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 8 a time to love and a time to hate,
   a time for war and a time for peace.
 9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Academics Not Just in Classes - Derek from Eastern

Prior to my arrival at LCC, I had no idea what the semester would hold.  I could not have predicted that I would be presenting a research project at the 2011 Annual Academic Conference with my economics professor, Dr. Dale Levering.

What brought about such an activity? You might ask.  Well, the path to the academic conference started earlier this semester when my economics class was given the task of determining an area of interest that would later be used to write our own policy briefs.  As I thought over a possible focus, the topic of welfare came to mind.  In my own cultural context of the United States, I often had thought about the welfare system and the many people who are affected by it as both recipients and workers within the field.  After discussing the topic with Dr. Levering, he agreed that the topic is a deeply interesting one and suggested that it could be used for a research project for the academic conference at LCC, which was dealing with the topic of “Volunteerism and Philanthropy: Ideal or Ideology?”  Also, he offered that we could co-author the paper and thus gave me the opportunity to research this topic more deeply.

After a period of research and discussion, we produced a project entitled “Western Social Benefit Systems and Subsidiarity: Degradation versus Dignity.”  This project deals with the development of western welfare systems from a Biblical context to the current system that now exists and the ways in which it has diverged from its original purpose of protection against poverty into a system of provision and entitlement.  In light of this divergence, we discussed the damaging consequences that this system has on the overall dignity of the recipients.  As a solution, we offered the theory of subsidarity, or placing the power at the lowest competent level, thus shifting the current system to a locally-focused one as a method for better serving the needs of individual communities.  Also, volunteerism would play a large part in this new form of welfare that goes beyond the system of transfer payments now in place.  This information is just a small sampling of the complete presentation, but it is enough to familiarize everyone.

In being the main presenter for this project, I felt a little intimidated as I wanted to effectively represent our key points.  Despite my slight intimidation, the presentation seemed to be a success and spawned discussion amongst other students and faculty alike.  In the past, I have attended similar events, but now I have had the opportunity to really be a part of one.  I am grateful to both Dr. Leveling and LCC for giving me this opportunity to be part of such an event.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Western Europe? - Sean from APU

After being in Lithuania for three months (which is crazy to think about), it has been quite an adventure discovering Europe and the immensity of its history and the diversity of its cultures. Seriously.

The term "Eastern Europe" is one of the easiest ways to describe the environment I am surrounded by, but it's kind of a cop-out phrase. Geographically, Eastern Europe contains so much that it is a bit of an insult to group all these countries together. Even though there may be a noticeable similarity between them, it has been nothing short of incredible being able to experience what this area of the globe has to offer.

...Which brings me to the next part of my blog: Brussels. It's more or less considered the center/heart of Europe, considering it acts as the center for all the European Union institutions and serves as the headquarters for NATO. Nevertheless, getting a glimpse into everything "Western Europe" was the best mid-week trip of my entire life. No exaggerations here.

To keep this short, here's a few things that I loved about the two-ish days (Tuesday-Thursday) Alyssa, Allison, and I spent in Belgium.
  • Seeing green grass everywhere in 70-degree weather.
  • Napping in direct sunlight in the park.
  • Belgian waffles, chocolate, and fries. Obviously. (I may or may not have eaten five waffles within a 24-hour period. Judge away.)
  • Exploring the city via Metro excursions.
  • Seeing Adele for my first concert. (I'm kinda obsessed with her.)
  • Staying in a hostel right next to a Godiva chocolate factory.
  • Standing in awe of how beautiful all the buildings/structures were.
  • Independently exploring a foreign country! Holla.
And here's a long string of pictures!


Adele performing at the Cirque Royal


Fries! (aka "frites")


Brussels' Arc de Triomphe


St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral


The European Union Parliament building


Alyssa, Allison, and I at the Grand Place


Belgian waffles


Grand Place at night


The Atomium at night

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Separation and Cultural Differences - Jackie from Westmont

The semester is coming to a close and I had thought that I had done pretty well not crossing any cultural lines that shouldn't be crossed. Everyone I have met has been easy to get a long with. My roommates have been great. Communication with people has been a common thing. I have enjoyed learning about other cultures through food, living situation, and conversation. I didn't expect what happened this week to happen at all. Another study abroad and myself were telling "your mom" jokes, completely unaware that we were frustrating her roommate, a Lithuanian. As we were walking out of the room still laughing to ourselves, the roommate simply stated, "Lithuanians don't joke like that." Being oblivious Americans my friend and I thought nothing of it and continued walking out of the room quoting White Chicks (if you've seen that movie you know that "your momma" scene that I am referring to, if not, it's on youtube). For the next two days her roommate did not speak one word to us; in fact, she barely looked at us. For awhile we just thought she was mad about her housing situation next year and was acting that way with everyone. We finally realized that was not the case and she was clearly only mad at us. We searched our memories to find something that could have ticked her off. Nothing came to mind. Finally, we confronted her. She explained to us that she was not happy about us joking about mothers. WHAT? we thought, THAT WAS THE REASON? We were blown away that she did not speak to us for two whole days over an issue that to our American minds was so silly. Eventually she began talking to us again after we apologized and assured her that we were unaware of the fact that we were offending her. Obviously, another way to learn about other cultures is through argumentation, though it may not be the prime way to learn it is very effective. 
More than ever this week I was aware that there are still things going on at home while I am away. I found myself wishing that I could be in two places at once often this week. I miss my family and friends terribly, but I love being here with the people that I have become close to this semester. I'm still learning, I'm still growing, I'm still cherishing it all.
...Also, we got to go to the beach this week!!! It was beautiful!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Life at LCC - Josh from Messiah

There are plenty of opportunities for involvement with student life at LCC, and I've tried to make the most of all of them. I really value all the opportunities for involvement and service that exist on college campuses, and so I was looking forward to what I could learn about LCC's community by participating in its student life. So when I arrived at LCC, I resolved to to be open to every opportunity that came my way. And I don't regret that at all.

At my home institution (Messiah College) I've always been involved with College Ministries, specifically with the Chapel worship teams. When I came to LCC, I heard they were looking for some help with the chapel band so I offered to help out. Since then, I've had the opportunity to lead on a number of occasions, and it's been great. I've been privileged to lead people in worship in many  places, but worshiping with fellow believers in the LCC community has been such a great experience. Contrary to chapel at my school, chapel is not mandatory here, so the dedication and passion among the people who gather every Wednesday is that much more evident.

I've learned a lot at LCC, but from that experience specifically I've learned some important things. I've been exposed to many ideas that have challenged and supported my convictions, but all of them have helped to strengthen my faith in God. It's been a period of real growth as I've wrestled with different ideas, had many insightful conversations, and sought God more personally in a new and foreign place. But through it all, I'm encouraged each week as I gather with fellow believers to worship God -- the same God they worship back home, the same God I've encountered throughout my life, and the same God who has been active through all of history in all parts of the world.

I've also participated in different LCC events. I was part of a team for the KVN comedy show in January, which was a hilarious learning experience to be sure. I also played guitar and sang with Ukrainian student Angelina Kovalyova at a little coffeehouse show at Kubu Cafe, which was another familiar activity for me but in a whole new part of the world.

Monday, April 4, 2011

On the Other Side - Sean from APU

LCC puts out a monthly student newspaper called the Student Times, and it truly is great. Articles range from current issues students are facing (like campus security, the new dorm being built, etc.) to movie reviews and annual LCC events. One section is called Study Abroad Diary, where an SA student shares anything about their experience. In one of the earlier blogs, Alyssa posted her February article about cooking and grocery shopping in Lithuania, ending up with her making the surprise/disappointment of "hot dog pasta." I was asked to write one for March, and I would like to share it with you! "On the Other Side" a little more on the reflective-side, but hopefully it gives you a little insight in what this semester could look like for you:


If I could choose only one word to effectively summarize this semester so far, it would be adventure. After all, it’s my automatic response when everyone back home asks the extremely loaded question, “So, how’s Lithuania?” as if it’s possible for me to verbally express it in full. Although “adventure” is the typical word to use when describing a study abroad semester, mission trip, or any other international endeavor, for me, this is truly an adventure—an incredible opportunity of discovering what happens on the other side of the world.

Yes, it’s true. Hawaii is literally on the other side of the world, and it just so happens to be my home. Obviously, it’s not very common for a full Filipino from Hawaii to be in Lithuania; I don’t even think more than 3% of the entire population of Hawaii could locate Lithuania on a map. Believe it or not, “Why would you ever come to this cold wasteland?” is a question students ask me on a weekly basis by students. Although I definitely do not agree with the harsh term they used, I could see why the place I consider home draws a bit of curiosity from others. Though it doesn’t seem appealing for someone like me (affectionately called “the dude from Hawaii!” by fellow LCC students) to choose a study abroad program in a place that is freezing, 99.9% white, and somewhat random, I wanted to experience something completely unique—an essential factor in every adventure.
Within this adventure, filled with contrasting times of frustration and utter joy, I have definitely loved witnessing the uniqueness of this intercultural community on the other side of the world; living in such an enriching environment such as LCC’s is an awesome gift, which I hope students don’t ever take for granted.

Several breath-taking moments throughout the semester have become milestones I will never forget. To be honest, one of those moments was during the Kazakhstan Independence Day celebration about three weeks after I departed the States. I very much enjoyed listening to the presentation and being educated by people I now consider my friends. However, when I realized the mere fact that we, in community, had the opportunity to celebrate and embrace the cultures of those different from us, it really hit me, and I fell in love with this campus, this city, this entire experience.

Without a doubt, my perspective on culture has expanded. I thought being in such a diverse place in Hawaii was sufficient enough to somewhat understand the intercultural, international, intereverything of humanity, but after having the opportunity to befriend, explore, and reflect on this entire new experience, I don’t think I’ll ever grasp the magnitude of differences that are represented in this world. It’s actually kind of a good thing because it gives me a reason to travel forever.

From the awesome opportunities that come with living in Eastern Europe, like going to a Russia v. Sweden hockey game in Stockholm, to the fulfilling, yet subtle everyday moments, characterized by embracing the brilliance of the same sun that shines in my home, choosing to participate in this exhilarating and transformational adventure on the other side of the world was an absolutely great life-choice.
If you actually read the whole thing, I congratulate you. It's pretty lengthy.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it.
A few of us study abroads are heading to Brussels, Belgium tomorrow. I will for sure update you all on that! Stoooooked!

Peace.

(Click here if you would like to read the whole March issue for the Student Times.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Explore - Jackie from Westmont

Oh to explore. Downtown Klaipeda is a fun area to walk around in. This past Saturday a few of us went down to the market and spent the afternoon exploring the area.
 Apparently we only went the smaller outside market but there is also a large inside market...more exploring for another day! This smaller market had vegetables in one area, fruit in another area, meat and bread and flowers....it was great! We went to the thrift store, called Humana, near the market and Rachel and I bought lighter coats...cause the sun is shining!!! and the temperature is rising!!!! We ate some Kebabas for lunch. Kebabas are Lithuania's fast food. They are meat, cabbage, tomatoes, some sort of sauce, and maybe some other stuff, in a wrap or in pita-like bread. They are quite delicious. After that we went souvenir shopping. There were some venders outside selling some beautiful jewelry made from amber. A few people bought some jewelry for loved ones. I will definitely be going back. When we were done with that we went to a very hip coffee shop with crazy furniture and people's drawings all over the walls. Rachel got this terrible drink that was a raspberry hot drink. It literally tastes like melted Smucker chap stick and that was the consistency as well. But they had good coffee and tea and some ice cream....which makes them great in my book!

For dinner we went to the Pancake dinner that was hosted by the spiritual life team from LCC. It was the closing event of spiritual life week. Pancakes are great. The events this week for spiritual life week were awesome. I really enjoyed going to them. They had a few panels. One talked about Dad's and how they affect our view of God as father and the other talked about Romantic relationships. I couldn't go to any of the other ones because I have a night class a few days a week, but the ones I went to were very well done. I liked the panels because it's always good to hear real stories about how other people are dealing with different aspects of life. It helps you get different perspectives and hear about how other people are learning and growing in their lives, which in turn helps you grow and learn!

I'm still loving it here but I am really ready to be done with school. I want to explore Klaipeda so much more! I am going to go outside now, where the sun is in fact shining and the wind (of course) is blowing. =)
Blessings!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Alyssa’s Insights on Russia Trip - Alyssa from APU

SPRING 2011
When we finally made it back to LCC on Sunday afternoon I felt like a world traveler. I still look back at my pictures and think to myself, "Did that really happen? Did I really spend 8 days in Russia?" The trip was just another reassurance that I picked one of the best study abroad programs. I am getting such a unique view of the world by living in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, it will forever change how I see the United States in relation with this part of the world. Unfortunately, unless you (my readers) never actually tour Russia, you will never actually understand what I am trying to show you and convey to you. But I hope this made it a little easier and made you yearn to travel in Eastern Europe. It will change your perspective on life. I guarantee it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Good Things - Jackie from Westmont

SPRING 2011
The weeks are literally flying by!! I can't even tell you how crazy it's driving me!

This semester I went to the Alpha course meetings. These courses are an intro to the Christian faith, but what I like about them is that they deal with life in general by asking the very important question: what is the meaning of life?

This weekend we had a retreat so that we could fit in all the meetings before the end of the semester. So we went to a cabin just outside of the civilization of Klaipeda and spent Friday night there. We talked about the Holy Spirit, went in the sauna, and watched a weird European movie. It was wonderful. I would encourage anyone to get involved by joining a Bible Study or the Alpha course when they come to LCC for a semester. It's a great way to meet other students as well as get a look into the European worldview.

In other news: Two of the other study abroads and I are traveling after the semester is over. Rachel and I just bought all our plane tickets! I am really excited that we have this chance to explore more of Europe!! Kirsten is going to meet us in Budapest and hang out with us there! Being able to travel...and travel for relatively cheap is a great benefit to spending a semester at LCC! I am stoked!!

Until next week!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

No snow on this parade - Sean from APU

SPRING 2011
March is definitely one of my all-time favorite months—mostly because of my birthday and the coming of Spring.
(Obviously, December wins 'cause of Christmas. And Christmas trumps everything.)
Yet a thing that I am not a fan of is that March is in the middle of the semester, where every professor has unofficially agreed to assign a bajillion mid-terms, projects, and papers within a two-week period.

You might think that this would leave me dead by the end of the month, and you're right. Except for the fact that I'm in Lithuania.
If you haven't noticed already, Lithuania is a magical land that is very different from real life. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. Yes, there was so much to do, but I have proudly conquered the notorious "March Death." Much of this is due to the fact that I'm still adventuring throughout the city, learning about the culture(s), and investing into friendships.

...I also think LCC was fully aware of "March Death," and knew the perfect solution to prevent it from reaching it's students: The Parade of Stars.
During this annual contest, students have the opportunity to gather as a country and share its culture with the LCC community. Each team submits an art piece, then conducts a presentation during the event that best represents their country according to whatever theme is given (this year's theme was "Legends & Tales"). Whichever five teams score the highest in the first two stages, proceed to the final round, in which a representative must answer 10 questions regarding the countries represented. The event is beyond entertaining because of the creativity and humor of fellow students—not to mention that it was educational, and just plain fun.

To kill the suspense, Latvia won. And they definitely deserved it, especially because of their ridiculously awesome presentation, which ended with a rendition of the YouTube video of the wedding entrance to Chris Brown's Forever.
But the U.S. placed in the top five countries (out of seven), which was pretty exciting if you ask me.

There's no doubt that our presentation contributed to our "success." Most of the students and faculty said our's was in their top three performances of the night. I suggest that you productively spend your time watching us embarrass ourselves in a talented, funny, creative, and educational way. Hopefully we represented your country well! Peace.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hill of Crosses - Alyssa from APU

SPRING 2011


On our way to Riga where we took the train to Moscow, we stopped in Šiauliai (northern Lithuania) to visit a popular historical and spiritual site: the Hill of Crosses.


I had been looking forward to visiting Hill of Crosses ever since arriving in Lithuania and upon arriving and seeing the masses of crosses, both large and small, made my heart skip a beat. The cross is the cornerstone of Christianity and Catholicism. It represents the redemption, grace, and sacrifice of our merciful God by sending His  son to die for the world, for our sins. Seeing hundreds of thousands of crosses made me overwhelmed with so many different emotions.  Furthermore, knowing that this site was where countless Lithuanians visited during the Soviet occupation to lay down a symbol of their religion, their culture, their tradition, and their beliefs that were being heavily suppressed made me feel so encouraged that the light shines in some of the darkest of times. Being at Hill of Crosses was  one of the most memorable visits of my time in Lithuania so far.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Torn - Jackie from Westmont

SPRING 2011
Well folks, it has hit me. We only have about six weeks left here in Lithuania and I feel like I have so much left to explore! Things have definitely gotten busier here. There is so much to be done before the end of the semester but I am looking forward to all the fun times I have left here.

It definitely hit me this week that I am not at home. That sounds crazy, I've been here for over half a semester and it finally hit? But it's true. I think it was a combination of being really tired from Russia and not being able to talk to my family for awhile, as well as seeing all my friend's from Westmont posting pictures from their spring breaks back home. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE being here and I don't think that I am ready to leave at all, but I miss some of the things that I grew up with. I am very much torn between these two places.

This semester hasn't been easy but it has been worth it! I have been learning a lot about myself, other cultures, and my own culture. I still have more to learn and I am excited to do it!

I am excited to be participating in the Parade of Stars, which is a contest that showcases each country represented at LCC. It will be a fun way to learn more about each culture and share a bit of my own culture. Speaking of that, I have to go to practice for our amazing performance which we have yet to put together!!!
It's all good, we still have two days ;)

Blessings!