My summer abroad started off fairly smoothly. In Newark, New Jersey, I met up with all of the other students and one of our professors for the International Business Institute. Half of the group was previously acquainted as classmates at Messiah College together, but most people casually introduced themselves and made small talk while we waited for our international departure. Notably during our layover in Frankfurt, Germany, my first-generation Kindle looked suspicious going through the x-ray machine, I brushed my teeth, and we lost one of our students. More accurately, he lost his passport on the plane and consequently got stuck in Frankfurt. Unfortunately, we didn’t notice his absence until we took roll call on the charter bus upon arrival in Lithuania. Eventually he caught up with us.
Lithuania is one of three Baltic nations. The independent nation has over 800 years of documented history and was the first Soviet republic to declare its independence. Regrettably, I took our first stop on the tour for granted, and I did not take nearly enough notes or photos of the beauty in old town Vilnius. However, I was still very full of ambition to soak up bits of language in every country we visited, which made the cultural experience so exciting when I used my language skills to communicate with locals! Vilnius was charming, felt safe, and offered delicious food and gracious hospitality. From Vilnius we traveled northwest to Klaipeda where we stayed at Lithuania Christian College, toured local manufacturing facilities, and started our coursework.
Tour of former KGB prison. Doing the internationally-loved “Chicken Dance” with some 55-year-old lawyers at dinner. President’s Palace in Vilnius and Trakai Castle. Lithuania Christian College. Sticking my feet in the Baltic Sea. Crepes filled with ham, cheese, apples, curd with strawberries, and more. Poppy seed cake. Using my knowledge (albeit basic) of the Lithuanian language to successfully order at restaurants and ask for the bill.
The Hill of Crosses, near Siauliai, was one of the most astounding sights of the entire 10-week experience. Lithuanians are known for their cross-making craft (it is actually protected by UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list). Starting in the mid-19th century, locals brought crosses to a mound of earth, which was believed to be holy. At multiple points in history, the crosses were banned: first by the Tsarist authorities and later by Soviet rulers. Starting in the 1960s the crosses were periodically bulldozed, burned or melted down, and the hill was devastated. Despite the risk involved in bringing crosses back, the people’s commitment to their faith could not be destroyed and the hill was rebuilt time and again. Walking through and praying amongst over 100,000 crosses was an incredibly powerful experience and an impactful visual representation of the power of faith despite adversity.
Soli deo gloria