Quarantine through the lens of foreign students

Erasmus

Audronė BALEŽENTYTĖ

In a rapidly globalizing world, internationality is defined as an opportunity to live in the rhythm of another culture. The exchange of values, historical traditions and customs promote advanced cultural communication. “Erasmus+” allows students to contribute to this global phenomenon by themselves. Celia Álvarez Aparicio and Mohab Maher Mahmoud Elsayed Salem share their experiences of studying in Lithuania.

 

                

What is one difference between education in your home country and education in Lithuania? How were classes different there from classes here?

Celia: I am studying Environmental Science and here I have noticed that there are not many foreign students in this field. Then, I did not have the opportunity to choose that many courses and only subscribed to the ones where there were enough students. Also, I have noticed that the class dynamic is a bit different, and we had more individual tasks here than at my home university.

Mohab: In fact, I have always hated education (formal education). I always thought of academic establishments as a prison, they raise students to be whatever except what they really are, exactly like in the novel “1984”.  Since I came to Lithuania, I felt flexibility, the university always offered help to let you achieve what you want. Flexibility is what could describe my feelings. On the other hand, in my home country, I had normal lectures where professors teach students in classes, but in Lithuania, I also had consultations which helped me to strengthen my self-learning skills and built patience for knowledge.

What is one part of Lithuanian culture that you were excited to experience?

Celia: The simple fact of coming to Lithuania was already the biggest excitement I could experience due to the huge differences between my home country, Spain, and Lithuania. Facing daily problems in a different language, interacting with new people, living on my own for the first time were the things I was also looking for.

Mohab: Dancing! Dancing in Lithuania is very different from my home country – traditional dances in Lithuania are done in groups and they are very funny. In Egypt, where I am from, it is more about solo performance. Food in Lithuania is very delicious, I liked it all; especially the potato pancakes, fried bread and Raguolis.

Have you ever travelled abroad? What did you find interesting in Lithuania while you were living here?

Celia: Yes, I have travelled abroad, but never for that long. I have been here in Kaunas for almost one year and one thing I really liked was that when I had to take the bus, the public transport was quiet and the atmosphere was cozy. At home, there is always a lot of noise when I take public transport. Also, I love living in the centre of this city because you can get almost everywhere on foot and I cannot do that in my city. Having the nature that near to where I live is a pleasure.

Mohab: It was my first time travelling abroad, I was afraid, but since I arrived at the airport, I’ve rested assured. People were very friendly and helpful. However, I do not speak their language and they may not know English. I was fascinated by the urban planning, the sidewalks and green areas were heaven for me. I liked walking in the streets, and it was a wonderful experience walking into the forest for the first time. Lithuanian language is too difficult to learn, so is my mother tongue. Nevertheless, there are some similarities.

What is your favourite phrase/word to say in Lithuanian language?

Celia: My favourite phrase is definitely “Viskas bus gerai”.

Mohab: Unfortunately, I do not know much Lithuanian, but I would say Prašom; it saved me from lots of embarrassing situations.

How do you feel about quarantine? Did you have any difficulties?

Celia: I tend to overthink a lot, and with the quarantine, I have been feeling overwhelmed because I could not stop thinking or I couldn’t really go out to clear my mind. Moreover, being far from home is also difficult, and I felt helpless because I did not know how to support my family and friends.

Mohab: At first, the number of infected people was smaller than in the rest of the world, then out of blue, the whole education was suspended until further notice and daily routine must have been changed. I was looking forward to new experiences, new friends and some places to visit. The quarantine ruined it all successfully, I had to stay at home. Additionally, there is a curfew in Turkey where I am right now. It was difficult to communicate with people only through the internet. Taking into consideration that English is not a common language here in Turkey, you rarely meet someone who understands what you are saying.

What advice would you give to another student?

Celia: I found refuge in music and in writing about my feelings. I would encourage them to find something that helps to switch off their minds. For me, it was also helpful to dress as if I were going out when I had to study, to set little routines and goals for the day, to take care of my personal hygiene, to eat healthily and practise some sports indoors.

Mohab: I would say, stay safe. The whole world is on these repressive measures. Stay in and protect yourself and your family, and look after your mental and physical health in these times. You can read more, exercise more, learn whatever you wanted to learn, or at least you can enjoy the merit of having free time which you are not used to.

 

What was the most common thing people asked you about while you were living in Lithuania?

Celia: They mostly asked me about the weather, typical food of Lithuania, the language and the university life in Kaunas.

Mohab: If I disregarded the notion of working on my Lithuanian, I would say, they always asked me where I am from, most of them thought that I am Indian. No offense intended, but I am not Indian. People also asked me about Egypt and what to visit, some of them have already visited Egypt. We shared some stories and places; it was surprising how curious Lithuanians are about Egypt.

What did you learn about yourself?

Celia: I am an introspective person, and this experience brought me a lot of knowledge about myself. I was not aware that I was not spontaneous when it comes to making new plans, and now I feel like I adapt better to changes. I learnt that I really like meeting people from different places and getting to know their background. I also realized that I need time for myself because I get overwhelmed if I don’t rest on my own.

Mohab: Since I came to Lithuania, I have met many people that I have never thought of. I met people from all over the world, it was a very nice experience. I had some struggles since I came there, but I did not panic and steadily surpassed them. I am not at the end of the journey to look back for the lessons I have learnt. I am in the middle of it and trying to have something to look back through.

Did you experience culture shock? In what ways?

Celia: Yes, I did. Actually, one of the main reasons to come to Lithuania was that everything would be completely different. I feel like it is harder to interact with Lithuanians and they are less open-minded than Spanish. Moreover, the weather itself was a culture shock for me because where I live it is always too warm. Another shocking fact was that I could not recycle as much as I do at home.

Mohab: It was not only me who did not experience culture shock. I was among 70 nationalities from Europe, Africa, Asia, America, almost all over the world, and none of us felt culture shock. Firstly, I was surprised, after a minute of thinking, what kind of differences am I looking for, I would say thanks to globalization I did not feel alienated or estranged.

What is the number one thing you are excited to do when you’re back?

Celia: Well, I know I’m going to miss my life in Kaunas and Kaunas itself, and I haven’t even left yet. I really want to meet my family and friends but I do not feel prepared for my departure. One thing I cannot wait to do is playing the acoustic guitar I have at home.

Mohab: I want to meet my friends and get back to my daily routine there, walking, jogging, reading in the park and cooking for sure.

What is one thing you would change about your studying abroad experience?

Celia: Somehow, I wish I had more teamwork tasks because I find it interesting when you are working with someone with a different background from yours. But honestly, I wouldn’t change anything because I really enjoyed it as it was.

Mohab: If I could change one thing, it would be COVID-19. I would like to travel to many places, cities and meet new people and friends.

How would you describe studying abroad in five words?

Celia: Challenging, amusing, fulfilling, unique and open-minded.

Mohab: Food, swimming, quarantine, curfew, running.