Like many of the other study abroad students, I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Lithuania. I heard it was going to be cold and it was, but I didn’t really hear much else that would prepare me for what I was about to experience. Talking about something and living through it are two different things. All I knew was that I was in for a wild ride.
Fast forward a few months and I had gotten used to being in a new place. I was settled in with my roommates, made friends with the other North American students, and found a routine. All I needed was a bus pass to make going around town a little easier.
On my way back from the mall one night, my friends and I decided it was time to buy magical bus pass. We got to the ticket counter and I had to go first because no one was quite ready to be the first person to speak, no matter how long we’d been there and how many times we repeated the necessary phrases in Lithuanian.
I walked up to the woman at the counter and asked, “Ar jus kalbate angliskai?”
“Ne,” was her reply, as was her friend’s.
My Lithuanian vocabulary was limited to “hello, do you speak English,” even though I wanted to know more, so I didn’t know how to proceed.
The duration of my forty-five minute transaction consisted of large, frequent hand gestures and very loud speaking. The clerk’s friend tried to help explain things to both of us, even though it didn’t really clear anything up.
The whole moment was chaotic and embarrassing for me more than anything. I laughed after the fact with my friends, but a lingering feeling of incompetence persisted because of an already existent insecurity of my American identity. That ugly feeling showed up in times when I could not communicate with community members or when I was the only representative American in a social situation. I wanted to portray myself as well as I could, but there were just times when that wasn’t possible for various reasons.
The awkward interactions never ended, but they did get fewer and fewer as the semester went on, mostly because I had to figure out ways to laugh at myself and learn from them. The LCC and broader Lithuanian community were supportive during my stay and they really allowed me growth in transforming my singular cultural identity into a global identity. This global identity involved allowing personal relationships with people who are from different cultures and welcoming their knowledge and traditions to shape me.
By Ember Hayden ’17, English Language and Literature