Friday, October 26, 2012

The Orphanage - Franklin from Gordon

There is an orphanage about a kilometer from LCC. I had been there once before today. During the previous visit we got to know the children's names, personalities, and a little bit of their humor. We played the most exciting game of Duck, Duck, Goose ever and threw teddy bears at each other.

Today was slightly different. We arrived at the orphanage and were greeted excitedly by Martinas, one of the children. He was dressed to play outside, and outside we were promptly led. We went to the gym to see if some of the kids playing there wanted to come with us. Martinas suggested (and decided) that we go to the park not too far from the orphanage. I actually didn't know that there was a park, but it's past a memorial cemetery and quite far down a bike trail in the woods. I had actually been there before, but by a very different and round about way one of the first days here. Regardless, it is a very nice playground. There is also a high ropes course being built in the woods around it. We stayed with six or seven kids for about 45 minutes laughing, chasing each other, and eating cookies. The kids know very little English, most of which comes from pop songs and, therefore, is practically useless. However, we can still have fun. Although most of them do speak Russian so my friends can translate for me. One girl named Evelyna has some physical handicaps, but has a witty, ornery, and contagious sense of humor to make up for it. She has a difficult time speaking, so she often spells words in order to communicate. However, she seems to be one of the few children who has a fairly good grasp on English (and Russian and Lithuanian). She always seems to understand what I'm saying no matter what language I happen to try. Today, she decided to chase me and get as close to me as possible without me noticing and then pretend to fight with me. Then she stops, gives me a judgmental look with her hands on her hips, and asks why I laugh so much. Then she proceeds to laugh at my reaction. She's quite hilarious for a 10-year-old.

Our time there was short today, but very enjoyable. All but two of the LCC students were planning on going to church in the evening and we had to catch the bus to make it there in time, so we had to go. Even after just 45 minutes, the children didn't want us to leave. On both sides, it made all of us sad. They love the attention and care they get from us, but we know that they have hard lives. Although they are sufficiently cared for, they still lack a proper family. We learned in our Study Abroad Seminar that adoption is very rare in Lithuania, and even more so for children with handicaps. It's strange to think that they will go through all their childhood without immediate family, and then they will enter adulthood, leave the orphanage, and still not have a family.

On a different note, I have been thinking about the friendships I've made here. Right now, they are rewarding and I love that I get to hear about people's lives. But what happens when I leave and most likely never see any of these friends again? What is the purpose of my investment? Should I invest in lives and friendships here? Please pray that the friendships I make here will not just be a relationship between me and person, but, that by being here, I could be used as a tool to assist people in their relationship with Jesus. What else is a lasting impact? Pray that I have opportunities to talk to people and live out my faith...or at least give them something to think about.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Culture - Missy from Eastern

Every day I discover little differences and surprising similarities about Eastern European culture. Today, I learned even more about the difference in common foods. I was very lucky to get a care package from my church a few days ago; along with a host of useful things, they included some homemade cookies! I shared them with my roommates and they asked  me what each kind was called–chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, sugar–they had never tried or heard of these! Brownies are also apparently a uniquely American treat. SO, if you didn’t think we had culture–we do. 

All my life, I have wished that I had some sort of unique or interesting heritage to celebrate; in a culture that embraces diversity, being a plain white-bread WASP in America has never seemed all that exciting. Most people think they have grown up in the most normal place in the world–and before I came to Eastern Europe, I felt this way about my home. Being here has made me realize that I do have valuable and interesting cultural traditions (as well as some cultural characteristics that are not that admirable…more on this later).  
Photo taken from HERE

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Don't Tremble - Karissa from John Brown

When I told people that I was going to study in Lithuania, their first reaction was: “Now, where is that exactly?” (on the Baltic Sea, near Russia).  I also got a lot of “What language do they speak there?” (Lithuanian) and “Do they have internet?” (the fastest in the world).  Apparently, Americans don’t have a plethora of knowledge about this little Baltic state, and most likely everyone was wondering “Why in the world did that girl not pick Australia?!”  I often wonder this myself, actually; in fact, I wonder it nearly every time I step outside into the cold.  However, although I have had some difficulties along the way, I’ve never regreted choosing Lithuania. 

The town of Klaipėda where I live is absolutely beautiful.  I will never get tired of the baroque style buildings with their pastel colors and red clay rooftops.  I love the farmer’s market where I get fresh honey and where apples are a steal.  I love that the sea is a 30 minute walk away, and I love the sailboat I see docked on the river every time I cross the Old Town bridge.  

Aside from that, living here has been an adjustment for me.  People act differently.  It has been hard to get to know people here on campus (LCC International University).  More and more I have been appreciating the friendliness of American culture.  It is something I have definitely taken for granted.  I find myself not really knowing how to act here, even in simple situations, like ordering at a restaurant.  Not to mention that everything is in Lithuanian.  Nevertheless, armed with my translation app and my 3 weeks of Intro to Lithuanian knowledge I have been able to get by so far.  You cannot imagine how overwhelming it is to walk into a grocery store and not know the difference between milk and sour cream. Things that used to be so easy before have suddenly become very difficult.  Why don’t people ever smile at you walking on the street?  Why is my coffee the size of a dixie cup, and why can’t I wear a t-shirt and jeans to class without looking like a slob compared to everyone else?  

Things go wrong all the time, like buying tomato paste instead of marinara sauce and getting my scarf stolen by a random man on the street.  But I am learning, more and more, that my life will always be like that.  I am going to miss people who are far away, I will always wonder about my future, and I will ruin my beet soup.  But sometimes, sometimes things will go okay.  I will have amazing opportunities to share the gospel, I will make unexpected lifelong friends, and I will successfully buy that Lithuanian pastry without needing English.  

And when things do go wrong, I find myself thinking of the song “(Don’t) Tremble” by The Low Anthem, where the chorus goes:

If your hand should lose its grip
Do not tremble, do not sweat
For where then would you get
Where then would you get 

I realized it’s no use getting upset.  It’s better to just relax and go along with whatever life brings you.  Looking back, these catastrophic problems now, will not seem so big, and I may even find that I have grown from them.  Life is a huge adventure, and I am not going to miss it.

And I’ll try to remember this next time I get off at the wrong bus stop, and have to sprint 2 blocks to my teaching practicum.
Do not tremble. Do not sweat.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

One Lap Down - Buddy from Messiah

Comparing my experience to running a mile may not be the best of metaphors (not going to stop me though). I mean, they use the metric system here and to be quite honest, I haven’t seen too many people out jogging… Maybe it is because no one is overweight, and therefore no one needs to exercise? Who’s can say? All I know is that my trip is 1/4 of the way done. If things keep up, this will be the fastest mile I have ever run. Sign me up for the 2016 Olympics, I’m gonna bring home the gold.

You can quote me on that.

So I’ve finished a lap, been here a month, and I’ve hardly broken a sweat! At least that’s how it seems. Thirty days have just disappeared in a flash and I’m not even breathing heavy. Or am I?
If I take a step back, as I am doing now, and have done periodically since I have been here, it is easy to see the actual effect my time abroad has had on me. I’m still pushing, but I am tired. My head is throbbing, and my soul is bruised. But it is a good pain. You know the feeling – you just worked out harder than ever. The next day you wake up, and you can’t get out of bed. But you know you accomplished something; pushed yourself beyond your limits and succeeded. That’s where I am right now. Or rather, I can see that is where I am heading. At this point, I think I am just at the tail end of my workout. I have that one final set to put me over the top, then a cool-down, and then rest. But those can’t happen until it’s time to leave the gym.

I know I am going to get there. You can feel it when you’re in the middle of a good workout and working hard. Let’s tally it up = I’ve traveled some thousand miles across the Atlantic. Stayed up for nearly thirty hours, 6 of those spent in the Warsaw airport. I’ve spent time in five cities, seen a castle, waded in the Baltic sea, partied at a medieval dance club/microbrewery, gotten lost, gotten found, walked a million miles, been borderline sexually assaulted, and made friends from 28 different countries.

Oh yeah, I’m taking a full course-load too. All in all, quite the workout. Move over Jillian.
I am tired. I said it once, and I am saying it again. I’ve had enough new experiences to last me a lifetime, and I still have three months to go. It’s exciting, exhilarating, and any other positive adjective that comes to mind… but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the end. Let me clarify – I LOVE LITHUANIA and I LOVE LCC and I LOVE THIS STUDY ABROAD EXPERIENCE. But all that is tempered by a slight case of homesickness. I miss my family, I miss my house, and I miss my girl. Really, I miss all the nuances that make home, home. Who wouldn’t? In no way am I wishing time away. This trip is too much of a blessing; too much of an amazing opportunity that not everyone has. I have quickly realized just how unique this is and how blessed I am to be here and that has totally shifted my point of view. It has made all the expended energy, and the sweat, and the stress worth it ten-fold. But I’ll be happy to be home when the time comes.

And it makes me enjoy the workout that much more. I’ve got 3/4 of a mile to go, and I’m just trying to hold on for the ride. It’s hard, it’s a sprint (just the nature of the trip!), and now, after laying it all out here, I am starting to breathe a little heavy…

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Some reflections on an Orthodox church - Missy from Eastern

The exterior of the church was striking, with a bright red roof and a gaudy gold bulb atop the steeple, on which a golden cross stands straight and tall. We made sure to pull our scarves up over our heads before entering. Mass had finished a few minutes before we slipped into the small, ornate sanctuary; it smelled like candles that had just been blown out. I don’t know much about the orthodox faith, but I read a book for my theology class called The Orthodox Way by an orthodox bishop, Kallistos Ware. He explained that orthodox worship incorporates icons, pictures, and other sensory stimuli as a means of transcending the mundane to reach the divine.

The icons were innumerable; there were  ornate pictures covering every square inch of wall space in the sanctuary. Frankly, it was overwhelming for a plain old Protestant. There were only about four short benches in the back of the church–the rest of the sanctuary was open; there was a lectern at the front of the room, but it was not raised. There were what looked like two small altars at either side of the sanctuary in front of the lectern. Along the side walls, there were basins and smaller bowls, presumably for hand washing. An older woman entered the sanctuary and carefully crossed herself and bowed before entering the room. She bowed in front of one altar, rose, and paced to the other, where she repeated the crossing and bowing routine. Then she started picking up candles and tidying a few things, which we took as our cue to leave. We sat there a total of 3 and a half minutes, though we could have sat there for as many hours absorbing the artwork in the church.

I am interested in attending a service at the Russian Orthodox Church–even though I am quite certain I will not be able to understand anything that is going on. Our study abroad coordinator encouraged us to seek to experience God outside of our comfortable Western-Protestant worship style. God was, is, and always will be the same. I am interested to see how the lens through which I have always viewed God differs from the way that people in this tradition view Him. Certainly, no culture or religious sect has a true grasp on the reality of God. There is truth that can be grasped because it has been revealed in the Bible, but worship style is very contextual. I hope I am approaching orthodoxy with reverent intrigue without making a spectacle of it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Labas Vakaras - Becca from George Fox

Klaipėda Photo by Becca
 I am pretty sure I fell a little bit in love with this city tonight. Klaipeda is, for me, the perfect mixture of big-city feel and small-town atmosphere. Friday night is the busiest night of the week, and even then you'll spot only a few cars driving down the streets.

Klaipeda is quiet, but not in a Newberg sort of way. In Newberg (where I go to school in the states), life ceases to exist after about 8pm. The streets are silent and "Closed" signs blink through the night, the buzz of electricity the only thing to break the silence.

 In Klaipeda, life seeps out from the doorways of restaurants, bars and jazz clubs. There is laughter and the sound of small talk and the occasional wayward note of a saxophone. There is life, but it is not busy. There is life, but it is not ostentatious or pretentious. Klaipeda is about appreciation and sincerity, antiquity and culture. The cobble stone streets glow with the warm light of street lamps and the occasional couple strolls down the sidewalks on their way home from a drink with friends.

Klaipeda is, at times, other-worldly.

Tonight, Christy, Buddy and I went to a restaurant called Viva la Vita on the 21st floor of a hotel. There aren't many skyscrapers in Klaipeda, so our view was incredible and we sat down right as the sun began to set.

When our waitress handed us menus, we had a drink menu in English and a food menu in Lithuanian. For some reason, we assumed they didn't have a food menu in English and struggled through trying to figure out what to order when the only words we recognized were chicken, mango, fish, crocodile and cheese.

Thankfully Christy asked for a menu in English because what we thought was just steak was actually "Ostrich Steak" and there were a few other questionable items as well. I ended up ordering a chicken fillet grilled in filo dough with some sort of a sauce. All I can say is that it was the first full meal I have eaten in three weeks. It was indescribable. We stuck around for dessert, too, as the yellows of sunset turned to the dark blues of dusk.

At one point, a man was walking around the restaurant with his very happy one-year-old son. The little boy kept smiling at us and we, being as American as we are, smiled right back. So his dad picked him up and stood him on the table while he proceeded to have a conversation with us. As the little boy ripped pieces of napkin to give to Buddy, the man told us about his time in Estonia (where we are headed in about two weeks) and asked us lots of questions about our time in Lithuania. I am in awe at the kindness Lithuanians have shown us when we are in public situations and clearly out of our element. He even offered to help us out if we ever needed it!

Spending a quiet night out on the town was just what I needed. As an introvert, the constant social interaction I face here can be quite exhausting. In fact (and I'm embarrassed to admit this), I didn't wake up until after 1:00 today, purely from being so tired! But going out with just two of my friends (and two of the most easy-going, at that) was a perfect way to spend my Saturday evening.

After dinner, we walked around the Old Town of Klaipeda, scoping out other places to explore throughout the semester. I made a promise to bring my camera so I can capture Klaipeda at night and share how beautiful it is with you all.

The best part of the night, though, and by far the most hilarious thing ever was watching Buddy get attacked by a very drunken Bachelorette party. The bride, who was wearing a bright pink mini skirt that perfectly matched the lipstick smeared all over her face, headed straight for Buddy, flanked by all 7 or 8 of her friends. "Labas Vakaras" ("Good evening") , she said in a slightly slurred and suggestive manner. Christy and I were busting up laughing as Buddy pushed his way through the crowd of girls to reach safety. It was fantastic and the best way to end this wonderful Saturday evening.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Taco Tuesdays in Enns 4th - Lizzy from Cornerstone

I wasn’t planning on writing another story for awhile, or at least until I had traveled a little
more. However a fun turn of events has inspired me to tell you about my night!
Photo by Lizzy

I live in Enns dorm at LCC International University. I live on the fourth floor. I am one of two (North) Americans living on this floor and since we are both from California and LOVE Mexican food we decided to make tacos for our entire hall! We decided to have Taco Tuesday in honor of our love for spicy food, and we invited all to join that lived on the floor. We went shopping down the road at Iki for our ‘foreign’ ingredients and came back in time to start cooking.

We wanted this experience to be as authentic as possible (as authentic as two white girls can make tacos), and so we decided to get creative and  make our own tortillas from scratch and work our way from there. We had everything a good taco needs: guacamole, sour cream, freshly grated cheese, salsa, lettuce, and meat (or rather what we think is ground turkey meat?). We started chopping and slicing, and several people from our hall (consisting of various nationalities) even joined in our preparation for Taco night!

It was truly an amazing experience and my friend and I had so much fun bonding with each other, but more importantly we got to hang out with the people we are living with and got to talk to so many different people and make new friends! I love it when food brings together so many different people, from so many walks of life. I can’t even tell you how many times I couldn’t stop laughing tonight and just enjoying being around these people and making tacos together!

There is so much more I could say, like how nobody really understood why we would make our own tortillas and not just buy them. Yet they were all still so fascinated and wanted to learn how to make their own!! Next time we will do a tutorial as we cook! I had my wonderful dough roller, who helped me make the tortillas just right. And my friend had her helpers making salsa and cheese! The only sad part about this whole operation is that we ran out of food before everyone got a chance to eat a taco! Next time we will have to make extra, or let people who did not get any go first!

Although one of my new friends from the Netherlands decided that he would make his own taco since he came too late for the party. And that is exactly what he did! We were amazed at how intent he was on having one. :)

I am just glad that everyone was able to come and enjoy some good food that they are not used too and that I was able to be a part of it!
This is going to be a good semester!
Enns 4th floor is the place to be at LCC, just ask anyone…but seriously.

God is Good. Peace.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Traveling in Eastern Europe

Photo by Ira
This weekend study abroad students explored two amazing capitals: Tallinn and Riga!