Exactly one year ago my adventure in Lithuania started, with the chaotic and long bus ride, from Berlin to Kaunas which lasted 17 hours. Crazy, how fast time can pass, especially when I realise again, that my time in Lithuania is over and I am not longer living there. After I came back home, a lot of people, were asking me different questions. Like, “how is it to come back?” “What did I learn in that year?” “What were the most memorable experiences I made?” “What was the best moment in that time, what was the worst one?” A lot of questions and a lot of thoughts about it, but it is not easy to sum it up. But I will try my very best.
So let´s start with the goal the ESC officially has, and if I would say it is true:
“The European Solidarity Corps aims to enhance the engagement of young people and organisations in accessible and high-quality solidarity activities, thereby strengthening cohesion, solidarity, democracy and citizenship in Europe, while also responding to societal challenges and strengthening communities, with a particular focus on promoting social inclusion.” (European Solidarity Corps | EU Neighbours)
As I am just talking about my point of view, I would say that I gained new knowledge in every aspect, but in some way more than in others. As I have mentioned it probably before, I was a pretty active volunteer, back home in Germany as well. For me it was always a pleasure to use my free time, working in solidarity projects. I think it is never bad to make as many new experiences as possible as a volunteer, but I wouldn´t say that I grew a lot, just because it was solidarity activity. However, the difference was, to go to Lithuania I needed to leave my comfort zone completely. And that is the key, when it comes to learning. I would say I learnt the most when it comes to how to feel as a European citizen. One reason was, that I moved to another European country, obviously, but even more because you get to know so many volunteers from different countries, especially from Europe. That is what makes this project so unique. This international exchange in a European context. This exchange made me think a lot, how people act they way the do, and what role I have in our society.
What was the best, what was the worst experience?
When I met the first time my coordinator in Lithuania, we were talking about the four emotional stages, you are supposed to have. It starts with the honeymoon phase, where you are overwhelmed by the new experiences you make. I think this one was quite long for me. At least I was really motivated and excited for everything. I wanted to meet as many new people as possible, to discover a lot of stuff and learn the new language. Moreover, I was super excited to life in a shared flat, the first time in my life and to do whatever I want, because I wasn´t living at home anymore. After a while the uncertainty and doubt phase outweighed. In my opinion I never had a time where I was really doubting what I am doing here in Lithuania. But I realised that my motivation to learn Lithuanian started to get lower and lower. It was the time, where the frustration started to hit, at least according to the learning process of the language. In general, this was a topic I was really struggling with, after I had quite a lot of grocery shopping trips, where I bought the wrong stuff, accidently. Like Kefir instead of milk or ketchup instead of tomato sauce. Moreover, I got frustrated when it came to the Covid situation at that time. Everything started to close again, and I couldn´t go anywhere without restrictions. It was even more annoying, because I didn´t know so many people at that time, and I was concerned that it would be hard to get into touch with new people. Furthermore, I realised that there were quite good sides in living with the family together. I had people around me who were caring, and everything was working. With my flatmate it was a bit different. Even though we got along quite well, in some topics we were really different, and it was not easy to find a conclusion. The next phase is called adaption. You get used to your new lifestyle and I started to have a new routine. I think, this was after Christmas when I came back to Lithuania, after spending some time with my family. I knew what I could do in my project, where I am needed and I started have a group of friends, with whom I was hanging out more regularly. It was also when we started to travel at the weekend and tried out new things. The last stage is the acceptance stage. It is the time when you really feel comfortable with your surroundings. This started for sure in early spring. I felt like Lithuania is my new home and I do belong here. I had my group of people I was hanging out with and knew my neighbourhood quite good. I didn´t need to use google maps anymore and I was so used to don´t understand the people on the street anymore. But I know that this was the time, where I also had my worst experience. It was the day before the first of my closest friends left, and I was really sad that this journey will come to an end soon. At that day, I wanted to print some pictures and organise some stuff for a goodbye present, but nothing worked out as it should have been. I was so annoyed at that day, and I was just thinking why the heck is this so hard to organise here. In Germany it would have been so easy, but here nobody understands me, and the system works a bit different here. Also, I cracked my phone, so I couldn’t use google maps anymore and my battery was so bad, that I basically couldn´t use my phone for more than 10 minutes without a power bank. This costs me a lot of strong nerves that day. I had a few more days like that, but they taught me a lot. Sometimes it doesn´t work out how I hoped it would be, but at the end everything will be fine. I guess this is some useful knowledge I gained. Because I had that with so many aspects, and now when I struggle with new situations, I am always thinking: “don´t be so stressed about it, at the end it will be fine!”
However, what was my best experience? This is so hard to say... Because I had a lot of great moments during my time in Lithuania. For example, when we were ice bathing in February. Or when the bars opened again, and we were freezing tremendously, but anyways were going regularly to bars to grab some drinks. Or we were so good at dancing the Eurovision song contest song from Lithuania, that we did that a couple of times in the karaoke bar, which was super great.
I am glad for so many things. The new things I learnt, like crocheting or new places I visited like Lativa, Estonia or Poland. But mostly I am thankful for the people I met in that year and I spent incredible time with. It is still hard sometimes to get used to the idea that this year is over, but that it also something what I need to accept, because now a new adventure starts in Madrid, where I am really excited about.
This article will be my last one. It was a pleasure for me to write them and to keep people, who are interested informed. :)
European Solidarity Corps | EU Neighbours
The 4 Stages of Culture Shock | InterNations