Leaving New York, welcomed by a new destination.
I had but to part with New York City to travel further – this time to a different continent, Europe, a country in Northern Europe, washed by the Baltic sea and officially called the Republic of Lithuania. I learnt that Lithuania, a very small country with an area of 65,200 square kilometers and the population of 3.6 million, was founded in the 13th century.
While still at the customs I heard people speaking a strange language which appeared to be the Baltic language of Lithuanian considered the oldest Indo-European language. As a visitor to a foreign country I was advised to remember 3 main words: labas (pronounced as la:bas and meaning „hi“), aciu (a:chiu:- „thanks“) and atsiprasau (atsiprashau-„I‘m sorry“).
After spending more than a week at the customs which I didn’t like at all, I finally got into the hands of people who had been awaiting me for some time already. I traveled to a small town of Elektrenai, located just in the middle between two biggest cities of Lithuania,Vilnius and Kaunas. Elektrenai is situated on the lake and has amazing surroundings, especially in spring and summer. The renovated ice-palace can tell stories about international ice hockey tournaments and both the victories and failures of Lithuanian ice hockey teams.
The host school which invited me to Lithuania is called Elektrenai Versmes gymnasium (versme is „a stream“ in translation). A four-year gymnasium, which carries out basic and secondary education, special-curriculum and non-formal learning programs, is attended by around 500 students from grades 9 to 12 every year. The mission of the school is to educate independent, honest and smart individuals. Almost all students learn English as their first foreign language. However, they can choose from German, French or Russian as their second foreign language. From grade 11 students choose several optional subjects such as photography, theater, film and visual art, tourism, nutrition, psychology. We have numerous after school activities – sports, drama, the choir, debate clubs and finally an IEARN club called Deliberations in democracy.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the school has been the headquarters of iEARN Lithuanian center since 1998 which means participation in numerous international projects. The iEARN team has won the European School contest twice and each time 24 students and 3 teachers went to Strasbourg, France to participate in a huge international event at the European Parliament.
I toured around the school and was attracted by graffiti on the 1st floor .
The class of practical work –woodwork seemed like a museum of national crafts. I wished to be photographed with some amazing pieces of art made by students for various school events.
Later on I was introduced to iEARN students, 11 graders who queued in pairs to read my stories. Inspired by other student magical moments, they wrote theirs with a secret hope to see their experiences included in my second volume. Maybe.. Who knows?
After the tedious working process a suggestion to capture magical moment written contributions was made and followed by a loud cheer. Students rushed to the school entrance for the photo. I was in the center of attention.
Next day I met younger iEARN students, 9th graders. They were interested in me as much as the older students. Prior to meeting me, they had read numerous stories on my Internet site, pointed out the most interesting ones and had a class discussion.
Two more days passed. They wrote their magical moments during the English class and shared the stories with their classmates and the rest of the school community. In addition, they prepared a surprise to me introducing another iEARN project “The Wall of Names” initiated by a Lithuanian iEARN school in Ziezmariai and showing me the project result- the meanings of their names and the slogan (Keep improving!) created out of a single letter of each participant name.
One special evening my host teacher Daina Valanciene, the coordinator of iEARN Lithunian center, took me to an amazing event -“My Dream“ performed by China‘s Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe. “My Dream“ has already played in 77 countries. An incredibly talented young people, half of whom are visually impaired but gifted in music, and half of whom are hearing impaired, but gifted in dance, performed a magical show. I sat stonelike, speechless. Yes, that was MY exclusive moment….Watching the disabled artists spreading joy and magic among the audience.
I was lucky to be able to participate in an informal meeting with the artists. The main actress Tai Lihua said, “To all of us, some things are given, some things are withheld. But one can always choose one‘s outlook on life, and look more on the positive side, and face life’s disappointments with a cheerful and grateful heart.“
That Friday the school students didn’t have any lessons. It was time to celebrate another cultural event- a two-day drama festival Felicia held biannually in our school. I was greatly surprised by the fact that 350 out of 500 gymnasium students participated in the theater festival. Classes performed plays produced either by teachers or students. The first festival day started with a 2-hour parade followed by a documentary video film about previous festivals and their most impressive moments in the school assembly hall.
Then an honorable guest, a theater and movie star got onto the stage and performed some pieces from his works. Finally, class performances began. One after another… One funny, another sad or dramatic… till late Friday evening. I enjoyed the shadow show and mimes most.
The second drama festival day, Saturday started with another famous guest, a theatre and TV film actor, the program host. The rest of the plays were performed followed by an appropriate audience reaction – laughter or absolute quiet…
My afternoon was exciting. I met Donata, a former school student, whose contribution was in my volume. I opened page 21 and asked her to read the story “The Bracelet and the little girl”. Vow! You should have seen that! When Donata saw her personal story, she was delighted and tearful at the same time and hurried to show me to her university friends insisting on their reading her magical story. She couldn’t believe her story was published. I felt like a VIP.
Teacher show came as a pleasant surprise– they danced and sang on the stage imitating the winners of the Eurovision Song festival. Students applauded and shouted in support.
The last part of the festival was the announcement of winners and a special huge festival cake tasting. Goodbye, festival. Two days were fabulous. The event was also an opportunity for former school students, student parents and local community members to meet and share festival impressions.
On Sunday I left Elektrenai (I would return there after 3 weeks to participate in the last bell’s festival)) to travel to the central part of the country, the municipality of Kaisiadorys, to meet iEARNers at Ziezmariai gymnasium.
My second destination – Ziezmariai gymnasium
Lying down between two big Lithuanian roads with the ribbon of railway and a bustling motorway, Kaisiadorys municipality is located in the middle of Lithuania, between the most important cities Vilnius and Kaunas, two largest rivers, at the cross of three ethnographic regions. Amazing landscape and plenty of cultural places attract tourists: the ancient farmsteads, mounds, trees, churches, monuments. One of the most attractive places is the largest folk museum inLithuaniacalled Rumsiskes. It is famous not only for its expositions, but also for its traditional events which uphold the traditions of ancient Lithuanians. The second President of the Lithuanian Republic Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas grew up in Kaišiadorys district.
While in Kaisiadorys municipality, I had an opportunity to visit a lovely town of Ziezmariai which can boast of a big school – Ziezmariai Gymnasium. It was built in 1512. Unbelievable!
Today about 600 students aged from 6 to 19 attend this school. This gymnasium has old traditions, events such as the carnival, St. Casimir’s fair, a fashion show, Halloween and others.
I was very glad to visit Ziezmariai, because I had a superb opportunity to participate in a huge national event “European winds”… I saw students flying kites high in the sky, I had fun and laughed with them. Students read various wishes to Lithuania and ES. Those students were from I*EARN club, which was set up in 1998 and always united about 20-30 students. Students from this club are very energetic, creative and responsible. I*EARN club has been led by the club coordinator Natalija Kocienė. I think she is a great lady.
Back to that fabulous event….On Saturday in May I spent the time in the company of the blooming trees and wind friends, kites. The President of the Republic of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite invited Lithuanian schools to join the festival of kites with wishes for Lithuania and Europe. Flying kites on May 10 at 11.30 gave a signal that Lithuania celebrates Europe Day and is ready to preside over the EU Council in July. The kites were rising up into the sky, with wishes to their country and Europe from the I*EARN club members of Ziezmariai gymnasium: “Courage to work together”, “Peace and welfare in their communion protecting the values of the peoples as well as their uniqueness and cooperation”, “Cherish the old traditions and bring up better youth generations“, „Make the closer union among the peoples of Europe “,” Aspiration towards the common goals and sovereignty in transition“, Let the Anthem ring in their hearts”, “Patience and truth achieved with the help of honorable works “,”Be an example to other members of EU“, “Lithuania, always wait for your children …”
The students told me they wished other countries would learn more about Lithuania and Lithuanian lifestyle. They were happy to have me together since I could spread a word far away.
After this memorable event, during the working week I got to know the members of the school community- everybody had a chance to read my stories and discuss their magical moments. I encouraged the students to write down their exciting moments and send them to my internet site.
I sadly parted with Ziezmariai gymnasium to visit another site –Radviliskis.
THE THIRD VISIT – RADVILISKIS LIZDEIKOS GYMNASIUM
I have been travelling for about two hours to the town Radviliskis which is in the North of central Lithuania.49.2 thousand people live in Radviliskis district. The town is an administrative center of the district from 1950. Radviliskis is an important railway junction in Lithuania and in the Baltic States, too. There are 29 educational institutions in Radviliskis district. Imagine! I had to remember all that information.
At last I came to Lizdeikos gymnasium, the oldest school in the town. There I was met by a lot of students, teachers who welcomed me greatly. Later, I was introduced to the 1A form students who had already read the essays on my pages in the internet and had written their own essays about the magical moment in their lives.
I took part in the integrated English-information technology lesson where the 1A form students made presentations to their classmates about a magical moment in the lives. But the first thing was – the English teacher showed me to them. They were astonished, delighted, cheerful seeing me in front of them. I was following every word said by the students when they expressed the opinions about the book. They liked me because they had found out a lot about different countries, traditions, events, lifestyles of children all over the world. Also, there were numerous guests – the English teachers from other districts of Lithuania came to greet me and to learn about my uniqueness. They admired the lesson and decided to take part in the project with their students next year. It was a great pleasure for me to hear all that. Oh! They took photos – I was always smiling and happy.
And finally, the English teacher and her students emailed their essays to the contact address on my pages. I thanked the teachers and the students of Lizdeikos gymnasium and started my trip to another place in Lithuania, the capital city Vilnius.
THE FOURTH VISIT – VILNIUS GABIJOS GYMNASIUM
Good bye Radviliskis. I am heading to the capital city Vilnius, one of the oldest cities in the Baltics and the largest city in the country with the population of 500,000 inhabitants.
The Old Town of Vilnius with its numerous churches, narrow houses, and winding streets is called the architectural pearl of Eastern Europe and is included in the List of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
A professional tour guide Sigitas took me to the historical places dating from the 13th century.Gediminas Tower, which my host Daina is pointing at, is the only remaining part of the Upper Castle. Gediminas Tower is an important state and historic symbol of the city of Vilnius and of Lithuania itself. It is depicted on the national currency, the litas, and is mentioned in numerous Lithuanian patriotic poems and folk songs. Having climbed to the top of the hill, one can enjoy the panoramic view of the old city.
The Cathedral-Basilica which I was taken next is a must –see sight. Built in 1251, this startlingly white building is the most important Catholic church in Lithuania and the venue for the main Christian, folk and national festivities. Many prominent people of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy – noblemen, bishops and dukes – are buried in the vaults of the Cathedral.
After a tour in the Old city of Vilnius I am back to new students, new teachers, and a new school. This time Gabijos Gymnasium in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Gabija gymnasium was established in 1986. Gabija is a modern, continually learning community, open for positive changes and innovations, cherishing its members and fostering their constant need for knowledge and best use of potentials in life. We have three schools under one roof: primary, secondary and gymnasium. Every year about two thousand pupils attend our school so we work two shifts.
The school participates in different kinds of both national and international projects, student exchange programs, Socrates and Comenius projects.
Touring round the school I was surprised to learn that not only does it have a school logo, but also a school flag. Cool!
Ms Rita Žumbienė, a teacher of Gabijos Gymnasium, introduced me to more than fifty inquisitive teenagers aged about fifteen-seventeen who found out about my unifying message for creating a better understanding and world and of my travels. My “magical moments” made a huge impression on the students and immediately they wanted to share their own sincere memories.
I hope my visit has left a contagious impact on Gabijos students and my pages will be enriched by lots of “magical moments” from my new friends.
BACK TO THE WEST OF LITHUANIA – ELEKTRENAI VERSMES GYMNASIUM
I was sincerely happy to get back since I have already made numerous friends there always smiling at me and waving friendly. I was invited to participate in a traditional annual school festival called the Last Bell. It was kind of sad event for the school-leavers marking the end of their 12 year studies in this gymnasium and the beginning of state exams.
The last bell rang…… These students will never hear it again. Most of them will enter universities as freshmen and will be far away from their precious school next September.
There were tons of flowers brought by students to their beloved teachers. Everyone was dressed smartly for the occasion. School-leavers’ parents and friends attended this event as well. Every class left a testament for the future generations and a present to school. Laughter and tears…..Joy and sadness. The emotions poured out.
An iEARN teacher Teresa Einoriene, the participant of the Magical Moments project, was the tutoress of one school leaving class. When addressed, she couldn’t help crying describing her magical moment –her dear children, students who she had been bringing up and teaching for 8 years and who loved her dearly…
Next day my hosts suggested visiting the Lithuanian countryside and promised a fun day. Surely, I agreed! Another new experience!
I found out that Lithuania’s an old agricultural country and dairy industry is one of the most traditional sectors of the Lithuanian economy. No wonder that 60% of Lithuanian dairy products (drinking milk, sour cream, dairy butter, yogurts, cheeses, ice-cream) are exported.
I was introduced to Aldona and Albertas, an elderly couple, living in Zuvinciu village. I described my project and read some student magical moments. Aldona, a former chemistry teacher and Albertas, a former school principal were listening quietly fascinated by student stories.
After I had finished, they were eager to share their magical moments. Aged 83, after 55 years of successful marriage life, they were still happy together and cherished every day gifted to them. Their magical moment? After many tedious stressful years of teaching in a big city, they moved to the countryside. Nature and quiet surrounding them all the time was their continuing magical moment and the source for optimism. Waking up early in the morning, watching the sunrise, listening to the bird choir, planting vegetables and fruit, flowers and seeing them grow………….
My last day at Versmes gymnasium in Elektrenai, my farewell day in Lithuania. In a few days, Daina, my host in Lithuania will be taking me with her to the iEARN annual conference in Doha, Qatar. She will present me and the project and I will get to meet people from all over the world. I’m really lucky to have met Daina, she is so wonderful and inspiring.
I have made lots of new friends here, both students and teachers, interested in my magical stories and ready to share theirs.
The principal of the school, Mr Egidijus Kontrimas met me like an old friend. He had known about ME for 3 years already – as long as his students have been participating in “Magical Moments Around the World”. As a proof to that there were 3 stories from Versmes students in my first volume which the principal was quick enough to find and proudly point out. As the host, he was on board of the team planning my activities and sightseeing. Now he was standing in the doorway, waving a traditional Lithuanian cap and wishing me a safe trip to the next destination.
“I am truly delighted to see my students participating in such an inspiring international project and I personally will encourage the continuation of their involvement in the activity,” he promises and quotes John Lennon , ” You, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one I hope some day you’ll join us And the world will live as one”.
“We hope to see you back here, in Versmes gymnasium in several years when you have toured round the world,” adds the principal. GEROS KLOTIES! (Good luck! in translation)