On weekdays, I have three hours of Yiddish class in the morning. From 9:30-11, I have intermediate Yiddish class with Professor Anna Verschik. Beyond being brilliant (she is fluent in 9 languages… still counting), Anna is funny, gracious, and an excellent teacher. Traveling from Estonia to be with us, Anna has been teaching at the VYI since 1998. In her class, beyond learning grammar, we have read several Yiddish stories that are fun and comedic – a reflection of the Jewish culture we’re studying.
second class from 11:30-1 with Professor Velvl Chernin. Velvl is originally from Russia, but in 1990 he immigrated to Israel and is currently a Yiddish professor there at Ariel University. Velvl is an excellent professor; his warmth, funny stories, and passion for Yiddish culture is evident in every class I have with him. He reminds me of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof – he is quite the character. In his class, every day we learn a Yiddish song. He writes it on the board and we scribble it down
in our notebooks and together we sing it – it’s really fun. He makes us speak in Yiddish for the class which has been both challenging and rewarding because on one hand, I’m nervous to make speech mistakes… but then as time goes, I make less of them! Even over the span of one week, I
feel that my Yiddish speaking abilities have improved.
Not only does the VYI attract professors from around the world – but it also attracts a vast number of international students! In our program, I have met students from Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Canada, Hungary, Israel, Ireland, France, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Germany, and the United States. I have made several new friends and I am loving this opportunity to not just understand what life is like in Vilnius, but to also learn what life is like for my friends from these different countries.
Yesterday for instance, after the program we explored different parts of Vilnius together. We visited very famous churches and Barbara, who was raised Catholic, was able to explain to me a lot
about the sites we were visiting. Barbara also toured with me around my first castle in Trakai, Lithuania which was very fun – I had never seen one before!
fabulous travel companion. Ella has been so kind to me and without her, I don’t know if I could’ve
gotten through these crazy 2 months of traveling. Ella always knows when I need a hug or motivation and I’m thankful every day that I’m doing this program with her. Between Helix and the VYI, Ella and I will have had lots of adventures together by the end of the summer and I’m so happy to share these memories with her and continue our time together at Johns Hopkins.
Unfortunately last week, I was struggling with something that is very common amongst world travelers: homesickness. Now, please do not think that I was by any means not enjoying Vilnius or my time at the institute, because I was. I think I felt homesick at first because Vilnius was a place I had never been to before. I missed my parents because I’m used to them always knowing the way – but here, I had to figure the way out myself. I think I let the pressure of this boil over me, and also I was extremely physically and emotionally tired after Helix. While the VYI was fun, I missed my life at home and didn’t think I could get through another intensive four week program.
But now, enough with the depressing stuff because my approach to last week was all wrong - and its time to set things straight.
First, I have to thank my Mom because every day last week she spoke to me on the phone (regardless of how much it cost!) and told me that it was okay – it was okay to miss home, and it was okay to be uncomfortable at first in this new place. She told me she loved me and that she believed in me - words I desperately needed to hear.
A turning point of the week, though, was when I received an email from my dad – an email that put me in perspective and showed me how happy I should be. Taking an excerpt from his note, my Dad wrote: “This is such a special experience for you. Someday you will look back on this summer and shake your head in disbelief that you had such an exciting and unusual adventure.” His words reminded me of something: this adventure is unusual.
His words reminded me of the strength I have in myself to explore a new land and appreciate it. It
reminded me of my ability to take this summer as an opportunity to do something few people have the chance to do and use it in a meaningful way. This note put me in perspective. I’ll always be grateful for my very wise Dad. I’m so excited to see him this Friday in Vilnius when he and my mom come to visit after their trip to Paris. (They finally took a European vacation!)
So, in short, Vilnius is wonderful and all I could've hoped for. It’s beautiful, it’s historical, and it’s rich in culture and life. I’m loving my time here. In many ways Lithuania is like the United States – it’s fun, it’s lively, and everything has a story - stories I want to learn and write about one day. I know these upcoming three weeks will go by quickly so I plan to absorb this experience like a sponge. My brown journal I brought with me is half way full with notes I’ve taken from this trip– I hope to fill it by the end of my time here!
Stay tuned for more, and again, thanks for reading. The supportive response from my readers has made writing this blog all the more special for me. Thanks for helping me create this lasting
All the best,