Goodbye Baltics…

They have made me to who I am now… Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Within five valuable years I expanded my world view, got used to different mentalities, survived heaps of snow with -30 degrees and discovered both the most beautiful as well as most dirty places I had ever seen. I found love, and I lost love. I learned to say no and to trust my intuition. I found out the characteristics of being Dutch through self spot and pride, realizing that origin can often be traced back within one’s reasoning. I felt lonely on the most crowded student parties, but yet so fulfilled and energized when strolling along the sea side, through centuries old Russian cemeteries and abandoned side streets, all alone. There’ll be things I’ll miss, like my friends, the warm Baltic evening light, all magic but non-touristy places and the surprisingly informal atmosphere within the universities and internship placements.  There are also things I’m not going to miss, like the Lithuanian style inner-curve-taking way of walking which I still don’t get, the often experienced ‘customer isn’t king’-behavior, and the smell of people drinking so much cheap beer and vodka that they simply sweat pure alcohol, and then always manage to stand too close when there’s no way out, brr. Five years at this beautiful corner of Europe made me more independent, more intelligent, more open, more creative and even less judgmental. Being comfortable with yourself and your achievements is one of the greatest satisfactions you can have as a young adult. Especially as a woman, it was a delight (through a.o. the topic of my Master thesis, having to do with sexual objectification) to properly and comfortably distance myself from the immense female self-body-monitoring that seemingly occupies the lives of the majority of women here. The insight in the mechanism provided self acceptance and satisfaction, leaving a lot of time left to notice other things in life, let it be a special bird or just the change of light. Yes, the Baltics made me realize there is much to enjoy in life. Because of my experiences here, I managed to put my teen-like shyness aside and to perceive the world with open arms, but yet, always strongly relying on all my senses. If I could do it over again, I’d walk the exact same path.

From teen to young adult in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. I left my teen years behind somewhere in Russia, where I celebrated my 20th birthday in 2010.

A view from the outside – magazine of the 25th anniversary of VMU’s re-establishment

 The original article, with the full text below.
Hello! My name is Nienke Bos and I’m a 24-year old student being passionate about hot air balloons and exploring the Baltics. Studying in Lithuania was a logical follow-up of my previous study adventures. I fulfilled an internship in Estonia and my Erasmus exchange and yet another internship in Latvia. Of course I couldn’t let dear Lithuania behind. In 2012 I started my full time Master degree in Journalism and Media Analysis at Vytautas Magnus University. Many youngsters from my home country the Netherlands would rather decide to head to France and Spain in order to ‘study’ there. Well, we all know what that means, don’t we? The stereotype foreign student being more active in studying beer brands than actual academic journals, furthermore accompanied by the sun, see and beach. 
I’m surely a victim of modern times, driven by the need to be different and stand out from the crowd. The fact that many Dutchmen regularly ask me how my studies in Russia, Iceland or even Lapland are progressing determines I succeeded in my wish to be rather different. People have no idea where I’m located and are shocked when I tell them Lithuania is an EU-member state since 2004 already. Such a pity, because even though it might sound cliché, Lithuania definitely conquered a place in my heart. It’s a pleasant country to live in. The quality of education is wonderful, the dormitory is besides small and simplistic actually very cozy and walking around through Kaunas feels safe. The only thing that I as a Dutchman could wish for is to buy Gouda or Olandu suris which is actually made in the Netherlands instead of Poland and to see more tolerance towards cyclists by pedestrians and car drivers. 
I discovered that under a layer of general pessimism and on first hand non smiling faces, there is a majority of warm hearted people sharing honest laughter. The Lithuanians I met are incredibly curious, generous and welcoming. I’m always amused by their self-spot when it comes to their excessive potato consumption. Some however, and then especially the ones not being able to speak English, can be confronting clear about their mood though. It happened more than once people annoyingly sighed when I entered pubic instances,  showing I’m a foreigner in need of help by sending out a friendly hello and a smile.  Apparently not only Dutch people are that straight forward. Maybe my ‘labas’, ‘aciu’ and ‘gerai’ knowledge is just not sufficient enough to please those ones, so I’ll take the blame for that. 
Moving to the Baltic countries was furthermore a true historical eye opener. During my childhood in the Netherlands the history books were filled with German sided stories. The painful Russian impact on the Baltics only became crystal clear during my stay here. The traces of the still fresh past give Lithuania an attractive raw edge though, noticeable within architecture, but to be honest also in bureaucracy. Yet, Lithuania’s drive to be itself, independent and unique shines over all this Vytautas-minded land. Yes, it seems I have something in common with my dear friend, Lithuania.