Proud and quirky, with breathtaking landscapes and a fascinating history, Lithuania is a jewel in the Eastern European crown. Generally unexplored by Westerners, students studying abroad in Lithuania will be astonished by the wonders the country has in store.
Deeply steeped in ancient legends and fierce national pride, Lithuanian has civic roots that reach back more than 1000 years. In its heyday in the 14th century, it was the largest state in Europe, extending from the Baltic to the Black sea. Annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944, the Lithuanian people fought hard to maintain their unique national identity. Since they declared independence in 1991, Lithuania has been one of the most stable of the former USSR states.
Today the myriad influences of pagan traditions and the Catholic and Orthodox Church blend with Soviet, medieval, and baroque architecture to create a state that is entirely distinct.
Throw in a dash of artists’ colonies where the elite came to think, a hint of the exceptional nature preserves where priestesses danced under 1,500 year old oak trees, and a pinch of a party city where the music plays on the beach until 3 am-- and you’ve got a recipe for an amazing study abroad in Lithuania.
There are many factors to consider when studying aborad in Lithuania. While after you arrive, your university may provide you with a ‘mentor’- a Lithuanian student who will show you the ropes- here’s some advice to help you before you before arrival:
American students will find the Lithuanian education system pretty familiar. Bachelor’s degrees are given after 3-4 years of study, and the year is broken up into a standard two semesters.
Lithuanian and international students are often housed in university Dorms (equipped with kitchens and all the other comforts of home). If you prefer a bit more independence, ask your program for advice regarding apartment rentals in your area
Lithuanian is the official state language. Lithuanian is one of only two Baltic languages in Europe, completely different from it’s neighbors Russian and Polish-- Although it’s cousin, Latvian, is closely related, even they are not mutually intelligible, making Lithuanian truly unique. Because of the long Soviet occupation, about 80% of the population speaks Russian, but the Lithuania people try to distance themselves from their USSR past. Many young people also speak English. Several universities offer classes in English and Lithuanian.
Social Life and Student Culture
The important sights of Lithuania are astonishingly varied. Some students may find themselves awed when standing the in the echoing crater of a former Nuclear missile silo. Others may swoon over the 1000 year old oak trees where the skeleton of Napoleon's army soldier and gun were found in the inner hollows.
However, all students will swoon at the traditional Lithuanian cooking. Black bread, cream cheese will start you off, followed by Cepelinai (pork or cheese curd enveloped in grated potato and sauce) or Kepta duona (Fried rye bread with garlic and cheese that’s a staple at every party.)
Also, if you happen to be placed in a more rural area, hunting for mushrooms is a pretty common traditional activity!
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The country’s capital Vilnius, is almost too quaint to be true. The baroque-style Old Town is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors are often shocked by the picturesque capital’s lackadaisical feel, but don’t be fooled, Vilnius has plenty of sights and activities to keep you occupied. Tucked in between the pastel layer-cake buildings are the bizarre treasures that give the city its curious charm. Look for the world’s only statue of psychedelic musician and composer Frank Zappa.
Or spend a day in the self-proclaimed, unofficial, independent Republic of Užupi- the tiny artist community has an unusual constitution, that lists laws like “A dog has the right to be a dog,” "People have the right to have no rights,”“People have the right to be happy" and of course, "People have the right to be unhappy."
Vilnius University is the oldest in Eastern Europe, founded 1579. With 20,000 students and covering many subjects, study abroad students are sure to find their niche.
If you need a break, head to the seaside town of Palanga. Laid-back resort in the winter, in the summer it becomes the party capital of the country- don't blink or you’ll miss the opening of the latest club. The town sits next to the sand dunes of the 100 km long Curonian Spit, which separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea coast. This curious nature preserve is totally incongruous, resembling the Sahara more than the northern pine forests that surround it.
Klaipeda is the largest town in the region, and home to LCC International University, a liberal-arts institution that conducts classes entirely in English.
Kaunas is the 2nd largest city in Lithuania and is known for it’s thriving student population. Although the city was once known more for it’s industrial and gritty feel, the government has worked hard to re-vamp and re-brand. Today the city is more notable for it’s great student vibe, many museums and beautiful architecture. Mykolas Romeris University is the largest university in Kaunas and provides in over 40 disciplines, although classes are only conducted in Lithuanian. Vytautas Magnus University is much smaller than other universities, with only 9,000 students. The cozy size of this school is great for international students who are looking for a homier feel.
Contributed by Julia Brady
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