Study Days in Lithuania: Become an Ambassador of Higher Education

Study Days in Lithuania: Become an Ambassador of Higher Education. And that’s exactly what I became after an intense two-day seminar in Druskininkai, South-Lithuania. A picturesque spa town only five kilometers away from the Belarusian border. Accompanied by fellow full time degree students Linara (Kazakhstan), Fengyi (China) and coordinators Egle and Zymante from the International Office, a personal driver took us from the academic heart of Kaunas to the luxurious appearing hotel Europe Royale. I shared my room with Fengyi, who immediately fell down on the bed, stating how lovely, big and soft it was. 
After a quick lunch we started off with a welcome word in all of the attendants’ languages. Kick-off of the event: my “goedemiddag” (good afternoon) in Dutch. The introduction was followed by some more Dutchness. Thijs van Vught, marketing specialist at Tilburg University, gave a presentation on how to stay unique on the internet – marketing on-line. Being used to lectures given by gifted Lithuanian professors, still, my heart is filled with joy when seeing a Dutchmen presenting in a typical Dutch interactive way with some little jokes in between but keeping the main message in mind. Mr. van Vught gave exactly such a presentation which was definitely appreciated by all students and coordinators considering the broad smiles on their faces and active participation when questions were asked. He gave us an insight in how much effort it costs to make students aware of a study program to the point of applying and enrolling. It’s expensive and events like study fairs are not always as lucrative (in aiming to get a student enrolled) as they might seem. The students mentioned several examples on how they ended up at the study program in which they’re participating now. Some used an agent, some simply Googled for any random Master program, some trusted on the University’s place at the world ranking list and others relied on the advice of family and friends.

I told that positive and fast communication played an important role in my decision to apply for a study place at Vytautas Magnus University. E-mail contact settled the matter for me when hesitating between a Master program in Tallinn and Kaunas. The communication process with the University in Estonia passed off laboriously. It took a long while before my questions were answered – if they were already answered at all – and in the end I was just completely ignored. Interestingly enough, since I stated I would be highly interested in applying for one of their Master programs. Vytautas Magnus University on the other hand replied fast and in a welcoming, friendly tone which was very appealing. As confirmed by Van Vught, corresponding correctly and accurately to prospective students is of utmost importance. 
 After a short break the coordinators joined a session on how to promote yourself (in this case the University) on the internet. The students were expected to design a marketing strategy for possible target groups attracting them to study in Lithuania. This group work was a nice way to get to know other students studying full time in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda. The group I joined consisted of students from Italy, Nigeria, Turkey, Greece, China and Norway. A colorful team with varying backgrounds. After a lot of brainstorming we got a clear overview on what kind of people could be considered as prospective students wanting to fulfill their Master or maybe even their complete Bachelor in Lithuania. We eventually had to pick two target groups, write down our ideas on a huge sheet of paper and present it in front of all other students and the coordinators which accompanied them. 
Together with Giorgio from Greece I was appointed to take this task on me. I first of all told from my own experience that most foreign students come to study in Lithuania because they want something else. They are different from the hordes of people going to France or Spain. They want something new, something exciting. Lithuania is special. Even though the country sometimes only seems to be made up of flat land, potatoes and storks, Lithuania has a lot more to offer. Its history is impressive and for me personally fascinating to look at from other than the Western on Germany focused history books. Lithuania’s cities are worth visiting, offering so much more than that to be found in tourist brochures. Lithuania is different. To come back to the topic of the presentation, I mentioned that post-Erasmus exchange students could be a valuable target group. They often seem to have the desire to go back to the place where they spend the best six months of their lives. A possible pitfall however could be that they have a too idealized image of how it will be to be a Master student in Lithuania. Erasmus students are well known for their party behavior while full time Masters need a bigger dose of seriousness and structure. However, thoughtful students would be able to extend their Lithuanian experience in a unique way. Giorgio stressed the importance of attracting students from Asia being interested in studying medicine or IT, wanting to get a European degree in an expenses favorable country in the European Union.  
This brings me to the presentation by a student from Jamaica. She mentioned we should stop calling Lithuania ‘cheap’ all the time. Lithuania is a respectful country with hard working people and a well working economy. It is an affordable country to live in. It was really beautiful how she stood up for this, shining a light on Lithuania in a honorable way. 
After a long but interesting day it was time for a well deserved diner. Still, the time to relax had not come yet. During a walk through Druskininkai with Fengyi, Egle and Zymante we discussed the presentations given earlier that day as well as the functioning of VMU’s International Office and Kaunas’ foreign students (and their pranks). It’s always good to realize one again how much work is done to satisfy the foreign students and to provide them with the best information and guidance as possible. Such a pity there are always people disrespectful to the rules, especially this academic year. Nevertheless, I’m sure I speak on behalf of the majority of international students when stating that we’re very pleased with all assistance provided by the International Office and their employees. The day ended with a warm bath with heaps of foam.
An early breakfast and a chilly morning-walk later it was time to start the second day of the seminar. Again another interactive presentation was waiting for us, this time given by a Lithuanian lector from Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, Eigirdas Zemaitis. In a Steve Jobs-kind of presenting style he introduced us to innovative and creative working tools. We were shown a lot of movies and applications in which smart technology can make our lives a lot easier. From automatically translated menu card apps till the tactical placement of virtual objects seen on the screen of one’s phone, mouths fell open of amazement. All young students suddenly felt very obsolete. During the workshop we tried to put our minds boosted with creativity into action on the question how to contribute to society through innovative and creative communication. Suddenly we all felt like being back in kindergarten again. Piles of Lego were divided on the groups’ tables. We had to create bridges, think about the stories behind them and furthermore we had to show through our Lego construction why exactly Lithuania is an attractive country to fulfill a study program. It might have looked a bit silly, youngsters in their twenties fanatically playing around, it was actually a good way to structure and come up with new ideas.  
A picture was made from our creative constructions accompanied by a poster depicting the main ideas of Lithuania’s attractiveness. Students thought quite differently about what makes Lithuania so special. Some guys mentioned beautiful girls and affordable tasty beer whereas others mentioned that Lithuania is a green country with a lot of space and historically fascinating cities. Concerning studies the low tuition fees were mentioned and furthermore the Lithuanians themselves we considered to be very helpful and welcoming. During the course of this two day seminar in Druskininkai I noticed a small contradiction in how most students think about Lithuanians. On the one hand they state that especially the University staff members play a big part in making the students feel comfortable in their new environment. They do their upper best to provide as much help as possible. On the other hand I heard several times that students face difficulties in connecting with their Lithuanian classmates. They’re not too eager to speak English – even though they chose an English Bachelor or Master degree – and they tend to be competitive, not easily wanting to share information which could be useful for fellow students as well. This is of course a generalized idea, however, it was remarkable to hear the exact same story from several foreign students.
After having presented the final outcome of our Lego creations to our coordinators and the other students it was time for some formal thank-you speeches and a group picture. In the corridor new friendships were confirmed by exchanging e-mail addresses, business cards and Facebook friendship requests. My compliments to the organization of this successful event! I’m convinced that every single student who attended is a perfect ambassador for Lithuania’s Higher Education. I’m very proud to be the Dutch representative and I’m looking forward to advise prospective Dutch (as well as all other nationalities’) students about the possibilities of a study career in the land of Vytautas, Lithuania.
 The pictures come from the Vilnius University for International Students (official) Facebook page.

American-Danish-Dutch radio spirit collected online

Even though I don’t like to listen back to it myself – I’m not in love with my own voice –  you might wonder what keeps the international students living in Kaunas busy. There is probably no better summary of that to be found than the conversations in the High, Drunk and Fat Show hosted by Sarunas (America), Astrid and Simon (Denmark) and myself (The Netherlands).
For the ones who are not aware of the meaning of the show’s name a short explanation once again. Since we’re joking around with stereotypes (we’re aware of that) we decided to call me ‘high’, because of the coffeeshops in the Netherlands, the Danes are said to be drunk all the time and the Americans to be fat. So, there it is. The High, Drunk and Fat Show. The nice thing is that Sarunas is the most skinny American I’ve ever seen, I don’t use drugs and the Danes… well, they are not always drunk. Just sometimes.
Simon was so kind to collect all shows made till so far by putting them on his Mixcloud profile. Click here to find them! We’re heading towards the last shows of the 2012 fall semester already. Time flies!

Lost tea towels in Lithuania

Never thought I would ever dedicate a blog post to tea towels, but I just couldn’t withstand. During an enjoyable little daytrip in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius I found something which will hopefully spice up my dish washing sessions a bit. 

Aren’t they lovely? The only thing I don’t really understand is why this particular souvenir shop – offering amber and Lithuania merchandising – also had these nice two Swedish pieces in their assortment. Doesn’t matter. I like them.

International Student Day Kaunas

For the ones in Kaunas not having any plans for Friday evening yet: it’s International Student Day! I’ll give a presentation about the pictures I’ve made in Kaunas this semester and furthermore I’ll touch up on some basic photography tips. You’re more than welcome November 16th, 20.00 o’clock at VMU Theatre (Daukanto 22, first floor)!

Unexpected notes caressing your ears

Do you know this feeling? Sometimes, when you least expect it, you are touched by musical notes of joy and happiness, pleasing your ears and your inner being. Others around you often don’t even notice it. The inspiration for this little blog post came after a drink in the pub with my international friends. When preparing to leave, after a long sit with modern music, suddenly P. Lion with his ‘happy children’ was played. “Oooh, this 80s beat, love it!”. For me it was a welcome change of form. However, it raised some of my friends’ eyebrows.
Right before the basketball match between Zalgiris Kaunas (Lithuania) and Cedevita Zagreb (Croatia), starting the warming up phase of the players as well as the supporters, it was suddenly there. A deep bass. I felt it straight away without even having heard the first few truly recognizable notes. Alan Parsons Project‘s Sirius! I absolutely love that. In a time in which commercial music is taking over the world some true hearted classic pops up without any announcement. The only problem is… When something like this happens I get a massive smile on my face and say “oh listen!”, people look at me as if I’m crazy. “Listen? To what?”. Somehow I can really enjoy these small things, probably because their so scarce.
Maybe you’ve experienced something like this before. Being in the supermarket, ready to pay and leave, but the song on the radio is so good you’d rather cross the cookies and chocolate department once again before going to the pay desk. I had that recently when walking around in IKI with a shopping cart filled with an onion, a paprika and a beer – no worries, I still had the ingredients for a proper meal at home. There it was. This mysterious song. Violins through whole IKI. A delightful bass. Hmm, nice! Since the sweets department was packed with hungry students I decided to investigate the small shampoo section while actually just listening to this calming song, trying to memorize parts of the lyrics in order to be able to find the song back later on. And, it worked. “Trouble is my middle name but in the end I’m not too bad” is what I remembered. In this case Google is your best friend. Hello Hooverphonic with Mad About You! Nice, a Belgian band through the loudspeakers of a local Lithuanian supermarket. Such a shame I never discovered this Bond-like song (released in 2000 already!) ever before. 
Enjoying the small things is what it’s all about!

Picture Special: Kitty cats in Kaunas

The other day someone told me I’d be more than able to make a ‘Cats in Lithuania’ calendar. Well, instead of doing that I’ll just show some shots made during the last few weeks here. Somehow there are always a lot of curious cats popping up in front of the lens of my camera. Interestingly I’m not even so much of a cat-person. Anyways, here they are. Spotted in the streets of Kaunas.

Maybe now it’s time to collect some dog pictures.

City Chief Police Office, warm apple pie and quickly getting rid of the ‘dead ends’

After bullying my brain with my philosophy home-take midterm exam I decided to take it a bit more slow today. Still, my day was quite active, but at least my head got a day off from Harry Frankfurt’s ‘On Bullshit’. My first little adventure started this morning when I for the first time took one of the trolleybuses while being all alone. A squeaking old, strangely lime-green painted third hand (at least) trolleybus took me from the city center to one of Kaunas’ many grayish suburbs. There my friend Arturas was waiting for me. The aim of my little trip was a visit to the Kaunas City Chief Police Office. Sounds scary, but no, I just had to apply for my temporary residence permit there. Since I was told that absolutely no one there would be able to speak English I was advised to be accompanied by a Lithuanian. This was a good tip. After having seen pretty much the entire building and some posters depicting Lithuania’s most wanted creepy criminals we finally found the dusty office where I could hand in my well prepared folder of required documents (thanks to VMU’s helpful international office!). Within 2 minutes I was done there. Arturas showed me a cozy local market in the basement of a modern IKI supermarket and at yet another shopping mall we had a huge piece of warm apple pie with chocolate ice cream. That was a nice little break on a rainy day like it was today. Still I’m astonished by the prizes of restaurant visits here. For my apple pie, a coffee and a glass of delicious kefyras I paid only 2,30 euro’s (but the waitress forgot to charge me for the coffee, well, that was anyways just 29 eurocents). Arturas is planning to travel around the globe the next four or five months leaving this week already. I made use of the fact that he’s still around by joining him to the hairdresser. He needed a tropic-proof haircut while I just needed to get rid of the ‘dead ends’ I’m always complaining about. I curiously browsed through the Russian Cosmopolitans and German look books with sad looking models having antique shredded haircuts. Hmmz… Then this turned out to be the quickest, strangest and cheapest haircut I’ve ever had. Firstly my hair was straightened. Secondly, I had to get out of the chair, stand straight up, waiting for the hairdresser to accurately cut the lower part of my precious thin silver coupe. Thirdly, oh no, that was it already. Done. So, a quick haircut while facing a wall without mirror. Interesting. The price was luckily one which made my wallet smile, again. 5,80 euro. Every day is an adventure…