My study abroad program ended several months ago, and with it, so too did my college education. Fortunately, though, my traveling has continued. I am now working in the Travel and Economic Development Division of a public relations firm in New York, and I’ve no doubt that my study abroad experience is the reason why I am here.
Lithuania almost feels like a character in a dream now. For four months, I was a part of the Vilnius community, a part of the Lithuanian culture. And then, suddenly, I wasn’t. I woke up and the character vanished.
But in the short time I knew her, Lithuania changed me. I see myself differently. I see the world differently. And I expected that others would notice, that they would comment on it. They never did, of course, because both my personality and my physical appearance were just as they had always been. The changes I’d experienced were exclusively internal.
One such “change” was a renewed sense of purpose. For the last four years, I had been a wanderer, a vagabond of sorts drifting from one interesting place to the next, studying human rights and world religions and international relations. My cited major was “Global Studies,” a rather vague term with a definition that varies from college to college, and virtually no equivalent word in any foreign language. The subject includes history, politics, geography, religion, language, philosophy, economics, law and the environment. It’s a perfect choice of major for the indecisive and curious student.
I found that my focus, my academic/professional interests, shifted with each semester’s transition. As a freshman, I completed an internship with a human rights NGO in Costa Rica. Then I tried my hand at journalism in India. In China, I became fascinated by comparative politics, so much so that I developed my own independent study course around it (focusing on China, the U.S., and the former Soviet Union). My interests were fickle, my activities disjointed, and yet they were all similar enough that I could successfully convince others that I had a plan. But the truth was that I didn’t have a plan. I was a wanderer, after all.
Lithuania, and specifically my internship there, taught me that my “lack of vision” was okay. In fact, diplomacy, like politics, is a broad field. It, like “Global Studies,” includes working to solve everything from environmental issues to religious skirmishes, while simultaneously walking the tightrope of politics between two or more countries. One Foreign Service Officer told me, “In the last six years [with the U.S. State Department], I have lived in four different countries (two of them in the middle of war zones). I have worked with the press, managed visas and consular issues, and dealt with human rights violations. There is no job description for what I do.” And in those words I found a bit of solace, for I am indeed a wanderer. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing though because, in the words of JRR Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost.” I think they’re diplomats.
As I reflect on my time in Lithuania, I am struck by the clearness with which I can recall it. At the same time, I almost feel removed from the memories, like I’d read them in a book or saw them at the cinema. Was I really there? My feelings remind me of something a Lithuanian woman said to me, regarding her life in the USSR. “I remember lining up for bread,” she told me. “I remember the hunger. I lived it. So, why does it not seem real?”
My time in Lithuania feels to me just as the woman’s time in the USSR felt to her: illusory. I think of the country as a close friend, one I knew for only four months before moving away. I listened to her stories—her history with Poland and Russia and her fierce battles for independence—and I visited her favorite spots—the Hill of Crosses and Gediminas’ Castle Tower. We ate together, indulging in everything from Freedom Cheese to Varenas mushrooms. For four months, we shared our lives. Naturally, saying goodbye was emotional. So I chose instead to say, “Sudie, Lietuva.” Until we meet again!