It’s almost half a year since I left my home country and moved into Lithuania in summer last year! If I include my time here in 2018, I can say that I’ve been living here for 8 months now. From only traveling around and taking a language summer course in my first visit, this time I’m here for the Eastern European and Russian Studies master program at Vilnius University. I proudly call myself a student again! 🙂
Changing environment from a tropical island in the southern hemisphere (Bali) to a small city in the north (Vilnius, though people here call it ‘big’) wasn’t super easy, though. Not only that the lifestyle is different, but I had to adjust myself again to studying and writing papers after 7 years of extensive work and travel. However, studying abroad had been my dream for God knows how long, so I wouldn’t exchange this amazing experience with anything.
Now studying abroad isn’t just about studying. It’s actually more about indulging ourselves in a new (and perhaps unusual) culture – everything that surrounds us in everyday life. Thankfully I’ve more or less overcome my frustration stage of culture shock. I also managed to identify some differences and similarities between Lithuania and Indonesia. Allow me to share some of them here!
- Numbers, not letters.
The first thing I noticed when I started my master’s studies was the grading system used in Lithuanian universities. They use the 10-scale system here, while universities in Indonesia use the 4-scale one for GPA and provide final grades for each subject in letters (range: A to F). Sometimes I find myself still converting my grades here into the system used in my country to get a sense of how good I’ve done!
- Walkable Vilnius versus… Driveable Bali?
It’s actually the city’s tourism campaign – Walkable Vilnius, promoting the city to be pedestrian-friendly where you can pretty much walk almost everywhere! This is one of the things I like the most about Vilnius by the way. In Bali or Indonesia in general, it’s not convenient to walk even just for a short distance due to the poor condition of sidewalks or the overwhelming heat. We would seriously drive a car or motorbike (or even call an Uber) just for 1-2KM! Not gonna lie, I always did that too back home.
- Missing the sun (sometimes).
Indonesians usually don’t like heat, probably unless when we want to go for a swim. People tend to hide away from the sun, especially at noon when it’s really scorching hot! Lithuanians are the opposite. Most of them are crazy about summer and they always want to have sun. It’s even funny for me to see tanning salons here and the orange-looking ladies modeling for them. On the other hand, you might only find whitening products and medical procedures in Indonesia since having lighter skin is more favorable there! Yet, on certain days I found myself missing the sun here. I like colder or milder temperature, so for me it’s more about how long the sun is up in the sky. I was so used to have the sun always rises at 6AM and sets at 6PM all year long, and here it would really depend on the season. It’s really weird for me in winter when I wake up at 8AM and it’s still dark, then by 4PM the sun is already gone. On the positive side, I really enjoy wearing coats, boots, and beanies cause I don’t get to dress like this in Indonesia (except in some high mountains).
- About the past…
In the past, both Indonesia and Lithuania used to be occupied for a long time, although we experienced different kinds of regimes/occupations. Indonesia was under the Dutch for 350 years (with some interferences from Great Britain, Portugal, and Japan), while Lithuania was under the Soviet Union for 50 years (with interference from Nazi) and Russian Empire in the earlier centuries. Indonesia became independent in 1945, while Lithuania regained its independence in 1990. Indonesian people, especially from my generation, don’t talk about that era anymore. The Dutch left during WWII, as well as Japan, and we made peace with them. I can even say we ‘like’ the countries that used to occupy us now. In Lithuania, it’s not the case. Once I said in one of our seminars at the campus, that I feel like people’s blood is still boiling when they talk about Russia. I also noticed that local TV channels here regularly show some stories about the dark history and the ongoing Russian propaganda. Of course, the more I study in my faculty, the more I understand why – but I’m not going to discuss it further now.
- Have you smiled today? 🙂
One thing that drove me nuts when I first came to Lithuania is the fact that the people don’t really smile here! In the beginning, I took it really personal all the time. I swear to God I once cried after visiting the Vilnius Immigration Office for my visa application. Another time, I got upset after a cashier at one Maxima supermarket was being super grumpy to me when I was just asking about something simple – I don’t even remember what. Not to mention countless times when restaurant or cafe staff puts on a poker face when taking or serving the orders… Smiling in Indonesia is very much expected, especially when you work in hospitality. Even for the people outside this field, smiling is like something default that you do, that you don’t even feel like you need to put some effort anymore in moving your muscles around your mouth. To us, it’s a bit rude not to smile… Once I read in some forum on the internet that if you smile at strangers in Eastern Europe, people will think you’re mentally disturbed. Is that even true?! It took me some time to be fine with it. At least now I know that if a Lithuanian or Eastern European smiles at me, it must be (or hopefully) a sincere and genuine smile!
- Friends buy you lunch. Best friends eat your lunch!
When it comes to friendships, I feel like Lithuanians actually become even more ‘polite’ once you have a closer relationship with them. In Indonesia, it’s the opposite. Lithuanians don’t really ask personal questions, while in Indonesia it’s more common to do that. It’s surprisingly great sometimes cause you don’t feel like your privacy is being violated just because you are friends. I see that Lithuanians would still wait to be seated when they visit a close friend’s place. In my country, if you’re besties then you just walk in and open their fridge right away…
- So when it comes to eating…
Before I moved to Lithuania, I never had to cook, all my life. It wasn’t needed. I could always go outside at any time of the day and find a lot of food options, or I could just have the food delivered home – also regardless of the hour I’m placing the order. It’s just so easy and affordable in Indonesia. In cities like Denpasar or Jakarta, there are so many eating places, competing with each other – from street food to fine dining places – and they make real delicious stuff. Here in Vilnius, there are some nice restaurants and funky bistros, but it doesn’t make sense at all to dine out every day. It’s way too costly! The cheap options are normally just fast food and kebabs. I like McDonald’s and Jammi but I’m not going to eat that every day, OK. What did it do to me then? I LEARNED TO COOK and I actually surprised myself with the variety of dishes I could make at home now. I know I wouldn’t learn this if I just stayed in Indonesia (or in other countries with similar eating culture).
Enough with the differences! So what do we have in common?
- Singing and dancing!
Indonesians and Lithuanians enjoy them very much! I realized that singing and dancing TV/live shows are kind of a thing in the two countries. There are various genres for each of them, from traditional folk music/dance to the modern experimental ones.
- Secular with a majority.
Indonesia and Lithuania are both secular countries that have one religion as the majority shaping the local norms. In this case, Islam in Indonesia (around 87%) and Catholicism in Lithuania (about 77%).
Indonesians and Lithuanians are shy people. The ones who feel like their English isn’t so good, tend to avoid foreigners – unlike people from some other countries who probably speak super broken English but would still be extremely confident when approaching foreigners (Italians for example – oops!).
- But when they hear “Selamat pagi!” or “Labas rytas!”…
Indonesians and Lithuanians would get super excited when they meet foreigners who can speak Indonesian and Lithuanian. They think it’s weird that foreigners want to learn their languages, so they really appreciate it.
- Family comes first.
I seriously noticed this trait of Lithuanians since the beginning – that the people here are family-oriented, just like Indonesians. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but back in the day, I used to think that all Europeans are more of the independent type. Meaning that they don’t involve their family in making individual decisions… stuff like that, if you know what I mean. In this aspect, I think Lithuanians are more traditional. Of course, it depends on the person, but in general, this is the vibe I’m getting here.
- Going West.
Indonesians and Lithuanians look up to the West. There is this perception that things coming from the West are better. In Indonesia, it’s cool if you watch American movies or listen to English songs – or if you study in Europe! In Lithuania, imported products from the West are to be proud of. There is even this thing called Evroremont which is some sort of ‘imaginary West’ concept in the post-Soviet countries where people would feel like they have a higher quality of life if they decorate their homes with furniture and designs from the West. I don’t think it’s something wrong or to be ashamed of, though. I believe that accepting or using things from other cultures/countries is a part of opening ourselves to experience the global world. (Sounds like I’m ready to apply for Miss Universe now)
- High nationalism, nevertheless.
Despite fancying the West, Indonesians and Lithuanians are still nationalists. We want to be acknowledged that we are Indonesians or Lithuanians! Perhaps because we feel like our countries are not so internationally well-known, and we want the world to know more about us. Because there are just so many good things about us that deserve to be recognized! We take pride in our nationalities, and no one shall take that away from us ♥
These differences and similarities somehow helped me to appreciate and love both countries even more than before! I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post as much as I enjoyed writing it.
If you’d like to know more about Vilnius University, and especially about their Lithuanian language summer/winter course, check out my previous post here! ♥