A tribute to “Refresh in Lithuania”: unexpected journey

In the darkened hall of the Emigration Institute I was watching a professor talking about post Soviet Lithuanian culture.

Edward (26) and Ezra (22) – cousins of Lithuanian descent form the Netherlands were fooling around with their camera in the back. Indrė (28) and Arūnas (26) – sister and brother from Colombia were listening quietly with little motion in their faces. Rima (24) – a Lithuanian American, on the other hand, had an intense look of disapproval for the topic.

She could not understand why the professor (in her point of view) was praising the post Soviet culture and it’s leftovers in Lithuania.

Rima, who lived all her life in a strong Lithuanian community had inherited a strong feeling of distaste for Russia and all that comes with it.

Ezra’s and Edward’s connection to Lithuania was only their heritage and their Lithuanian grandmother. According to cousins, she was still fluent in Lithuanian but never spoke the language or shared any details about the emigration or her life before that. All they knew was that she used to work in a Central Post Office in Kaunas.

They were all so different…

It was a third year of a project called Refresh in Lithuania and it was going really awesome.

Since 2010 we had a bunch of Lithuanians from several different countries: USA, Brasil, Argentina, Germany, Australia, Colombia and The Netherlands.  All these people were amazing in their own way and the contrast that we all got was a priceless learning experience.

It had to be a project for Lithuanian diaspora because our aim was to introduce them to Lithuania as it is now. Naturally but unexpectedly it turned out to be something much more than that.

Every time when there is a clash of several different cultures, when you meet “the other”, there’s always a space for re-evaluation of the self.

Ever been an Erasmus student? If yes, you know what I’m talking about 🙂

Only the difference between Erasmus and Refresh in Lithuania experience is that we all shared the same heritage and we all had roots in the same soil.

Is this common ground obvious when you meet each other? Definitely not 🙂 It’s like getting to know your long lost family or friends who should understand you (and you should understand them) but it doesn’t go as easy as one could wish for at first.

Here is why:

  1. Being a Lithuanian meant different things for all of us.
  2. Some of us were fluent in English, some of us just in Lithuanian and some of us were fluent in neither of these languages.
  3. Each of us represented attributes of the culture we grew up in.

We all could understand the words, whether they were said in Lithuanian, English or Spanish, but it took us some time to understand their meaning.

Each year (2010 – 1012) we spent together an intense two weeks in summer: trips, classes, dinners, nights out, or just hanging around, so we all looked like a bunch of fishes trying to move at the same pace and in the same direction.

First  year “students” were flooded with different activities. Poor guys were saying they did not have enough time to go to the store… Second year we decided to slow down a little and the third year…. well, mostly what I remember is just laughing 🙂 So I guess we did find a way to integrate our differences and to feel like one tribe.

After all, some of us are still in touch and meet from time to time.

To sum up  – Refresh in Lithuania was

  • an experiment based on the idea of a World Lithuanian community reuniting and refreshing itself here in Lithuania;
  • a challenge to put together local Lithuanians and those from all over the world (mostly second and third generation);
  • a journey through time, experiences, stories, personal boundaries and beliefs.

Now it all comes down to beautiful memories:

I remember Alicia, a 62 year old second generation Lithuanian from Argentina who could  speak only Spanish and Lithuanian and who was trying to soak in every little and big experience in such a short time, after spending this huuuge amount of money for her trip. She was always happy.

I also remember Matt (24) – a third generation Lithuanian from Australia who came here after his Lithuanian – Australian grandmother found a Refresh in Lithuania invitation in a local Lithuanian newsletter and told him to go. Matt was a soul of a party and a very well received one by local Lithuanian students. I guess Lithuanian beer helped to seal the deal 🙂

I remember all those Lithuanian – Americans who (with exceptions) could hardly speak Lithuanian but who proudly called themselves  – Lithuanians.

If you’d asked me what was the true essence of Refresh in Lithuania I would say it was for both sides (local and world Lithuanians) to see each other as us. Is it possible with all the differences, languages, cultures, stories, backgrounds and expectations?

Only if you want to 🙂

Ačiū visiems Refresh in Lithuania dalyviams už įgytas patirtis, žinias ir svarbiausia – draugus!

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