The first thing that wowed Karyna about Vilnius when she first arrived from Minsk was its narrow streets, which looked like they were the guardians of hundred-year-old secrets, and the general atmosphere shrouding the entire city. She liked the university where she had decided to study law from the very first day too. Naturally, the fact that her native city of Minsk was just a few hours away by train also helped her to make this decision. Today, Karyna is happy that she decided to settle in a foreign country and tells us how she went about starting her life here, what is surprising about Lithuanians and what Belarus could learn from its neighbour.
Photo from Karyna’s personal archive
A piece of her homeland in Lithuania
Karyna’s decision to study in Lithuania was determined by the fact that the European Humanities University of Belarus was in Vilnius – the same university that was previously located in Minsk. However, due to restrictions of its academic freedom, the university decided to relocate to Lithuania.
“I left Minsk when I was only seventeen. Although I wanted to study abroad, I did not want to go very far away, so, Vilnius was the perfect choice. I liked the idea that I would be able to live in one of the oldest European cities and would have the opportunity to familiarise myself with the common history of Lithuania and Belarus. After all, some time ago we were one country”, says Karyna.
Foreign language – key to finding a job
When she was still in school, Karyna tried several jobs: she sewed toys, worked as a waitress and even worked as a courier. Karyna, who started her Master’s studies this year, was finally able to start looking for a job in Lithuania, seeing that at long last she has some free time. However, the search was not easy.
“I was searching for a job with a lot of conditions of my own. Firstly, I do not speak Lithuanian. Secondly, I am a student and cannot work full-time. Foreigners often get jobs in positions where a foreign language other than English is needed. Those coming from other countries can look for jobs where their native language is required, but this didn’t apply to me. In the Lithuanian labour market, there is no shortage of Belarussian or Russian-speakers. I was saved by my knowledge of German”, she says.
She speaks German and has spent a year in Germany, where she learnt about the culture of the country. According to Karyna, it was the language and experience abroad, which particularly helped her to stand out from other candidates. She is now working for an international company, Transcom Worldwide Vilnius, which provides contact centre services. Karyna says that she has found her favourite job and the staff are like her family.
“I did not want to neglect my studies and I was fortunate to land a job where I could have a flexible schedule. Furthermore, the company’s internal culture and attitude to employees are a great incentive for students. For example, it is always possible to have a day off for examinations or other study-related commitments.
Another fear of mine was that I might feel isolated and different from the rest of the staff: I only speak a few words of Lithuanian, and my work colleagues here do not speak Russian. Although we all speak English, for some reason I thought that it would be difficult to communicate. As it turned out, I could not have been more wrong – today, these people are my friends, they are always there to help and give advice”, says Karyna.
Would miss the never-ending festivals and the Mount of Gediminas
Although Karyna herself does not have much experience of this kind of work, she says that she rarely hears her friends and acquaintances talking of such a fun and exciting working culture and atmosphere as the one she is working in. When asked about the main differences between Lithuania and Belarus, she says that she was particularly surprised by the interactions between work colleagues.
“I was very pleasantly surprised: in Lithuania, it is customary to celebrate your birthday, Christmas or Valentine’s Day with colleagues. On International Women’s Day, colleagues spoiled us with coffee and muffins and good wishes. In Belarus, events such as these are not celebrated at work and colleagues rarely congratulate each other on their birthdays”, said Karyna.
Besides her work colleagues, Karyna says she would miss the Mount of Gediminas the most, were she to leave Lithuania. This site, rarely visited by Vilnius locals, holds a particular fascination for her.
“This is a romantic place where I come to admire the whole city and to watch planes landing. This scenery opens up in the evening, when the lights are switched on. Unfortunately, access to the castle was limited in winter, and this was yet another reason to wait for the spring”, Karyna says of her favourite spot in the city.
When asked what advice she would give to any of her countrymen coming to Lithuania, Karyna said she has noticed that Belarusians mostly come to buy things rather than to sightsee and gain new experiences.
“I realise why people do this –most of the goods people buy in Lithuania cost substantially more in Belarus or are not available at all. However, I would strongly advise them to spend more time on leisure and seeing Lithuania, which indeed has many things to show”, concludes Karyna.
This article was originally published at delfi.lt