Have you ever heard this cliché saying that 'Life begins outside of your comfort zone'? Yeah, me too. And yes, I also think it’s overrated. Why? Because life happens anyway. It’s the collateral beauty of life that starts far behind what you call 'comfortable situation'.
It took a couple of days spent road tripping around northern Lithuania to make me realize that.
What happened? Basically just a series of fails (or simply: things which didn’t go as planned), one after another. When you’re on a social project like that, do not expect your itinerary to go perfectly. But that’s the fun part! Because:
- when the bus which we were traveling with, broke down in the middle of the road, we were left without a transportation. Perks? Amazing insight into the true local life in all its colors; squeezing in the old tiny bus with other Lithuanians, getting into a conversation with the driver, seeing the 'vintage' bus station and just chilling on a sidewalk with all our bags, feeling like a Gypsy family on the move.
- when our first assignment happened to be in a rehabilitation center for adults, earlier than expected, we were totally terrified. Perks? Being thrown into deep waters takes out the best of you and makes you realize you really can nail a great presentation in front of strangers.
- when one of our hosts canceled in the last moment, we had to find the nearest cheap hostel. Perks? It was like taken out straight from the Communism times. Imagine 8 people alone in a huuuge hotel, where you have portraits of Communists leaders looking at you in the 'conference room' and a bathroom at the end of a long dark corridor which used to be an old psycho hospital.
- when we got lost during our canoe trip, in the middle of the river we did not know the name of. Perks? An intense canoeing course. Feeling like on one of the famous survival tv shows. And camping under the stars in the middle of the forest when we actually finished all this.
Those crazy days happened during Roadtrip Lithuania – a 6-weeks social project, organized by AIESEC Lithuania. In short, Roadtrip Lithuania was a 6-weeks long, meaningful adventure across the country. Being part of the international group of 6 volunteers was a dream come true as the project was a pure definition of what I call ‘awesome’. We were packed in a small hippie bus with a mission to travel around Lithuania, give presentations about our culture in local educational and social institutions, get to know Lithuanian traditions, places and people, and document everything like true travel journalists.
To find full content simply go to roadtriplithuania14.blogspot.com. Photo and video credits belong to Rogelio Robledo, Kamia Fernandez, Li Wu, Caterina Falvo and Zé Vieira Lopes.
Here’s the more in-depth report of one of the weeks.
Stop number 4: Šiauliai, where WIND BLOWS unexpectedly, wildly and with the echo of the old scouts songs.
How can you organize a unique volunteering project? Take 6 people from 6 different countries, put them in a classic hippie bus and let them travel around Lithuania. Add lots of new places, a dozen of new skills and a pinch of adrenaline. Is that all what it takes to create a perfect space to promote responsible tourism? Let’s see if there’s some ingredient missing.
Our trip continued in Šiauliai, the fourth biggest city in Lithuania. We stayed in a charming hostel called Simona House, very close to the city center. ‘So, what’s the plan?’ Well, the plan was to discover and learn new things.
We started to complete this task when we saw the famous Hill of Crosses, a place near Šiauliai, where, from 1831, Lithuanian people started to put crosses. Of course, it didn’t survive the Second World War, because of Soviets’ attempts to destroy every religious act. Luckily, however, the crosses continued to show up, and today’s Hill of Crosses consists of more than 100 000 crosses from all over the world. ‘Wait, 100 000…? That’s a lot, how can you fit all on a small hill?’ Well, as we could find out during this trip, it is possible, and the crosses are still added there every day. Visiting The Hill of Crosses is definitely an experience worth recommending to anybody, no matter if one’s religious or not.
The experience didn’t fade away as the sun did. Excited but frozen – Lithuania was challenging us every day with its changing weather. Still, this way we were able to develop the sense of predicting the weather (‘it’s gonna rain today!’), and also a skill of adjusting to any conditions, such as for example walking bravely in a hail.
Of course, we had more important concerns than the weather. On Wednesday we visited Agapao Rehabilitation Center, where we were supposed to give presentations about our countries and ourselves. To be honest, we were quite worried about what exactly we can say to our audience. We didn’t know how and what to communicate and how to behave. As we saw, it turned out to be completely different than we’ve expected. Imagine this feeling, when you are standing in the middle of a classroom full of adult strangers, and you have to deliver a quality presentation that should interest them. I guess this is what they call ‘being out of your comfort zone’.
So yes, the first few minutes were quite challenging. But as soon as we all started to give our presentations, we found out that it is going to be much easier than we suspected. We talked about our countries, about ourselves – no pretending – and it worked! Somehow we managed to start this curiosity we wanted to achieve. Our viewers began to ask questions and interact with us; we could feel that they are truly interested in what we want to tell them. At the end of the meeting we just sat there and asked about their stories, names, professions, interests. This impact, happening at the spot, was simply visible and we could experience and enjoy every second of it.
A similar situation happened in the afternoon the same day when we visited Šaltinio Orphanage in the city. This experience was also very intense, because those kids didn’t speak any English, so we could communicate with them only by gestures, looks and few Lithuanian words we already knew. But, as it turned out, the language barrier was not able to interrupt us with having a proper communication with them. Again – we just started our job. Rogelio, Zé and Li played basketball with the older ones, and Kamia, Cate and Karo were playing some funny games and songs with the younger children. And it took only a few moments for them to bond with us! After just 2 hours, when we had to leave, they were really sad, and so were we. This feeling, when you know that you’re probably not going to see those kids again, was quite devastating – especially when we realized how much this kind of visit means to them.
The next day, when we visited Agapao Day Care Center, the situation looked quite the same. At the beginning, there was a little prejudice, shy looks and not that much interest, but once we all sat on the floor in the circle and put out our flags, traditional candies, jalapenos and other gadgets, the spark turned out into a curiosity flame. Those kids were hungry for our attention, and as soon as we started to talk to them individually, they opened to us completely. Again, it was so hard for us to leave them, but at least we can be sure and calm that we gave them a pleasant and nice time, made them interested in something different and, hopefully, started a wave of positive changes in their lives.
In the evenings, when we were all summing up those days, I could see that they were very impactful for every each one of us. I realized that traveling and meeting new cultures is just one part of the ‘recipe’ of the project. Our presentations and games with kids and social impact we could experience is another thing – and this is what makes the project unique and fully meaningful.
But what about the team itself? Well, after 2 days spent on delivering presentations and organizing activities with kids, we had one day when we could focus on discovering the beauty of Lithuanian nature. On Friday we had a canoeing day and it was very… interesting. Quite challenging too, because we didn’t expect a lot of what may happen – from the weather (yes, it rained a little), through the adventures in the meantime (being stuck in the rocks with the water inside the canoe), to end with a fact that we did almost twice more kilometers than we thought we will do.
We spent nearly 7 hours in the canoes, but it was perfect for our team bonding. Even though we were canoeing in pairs, we created kind of a common trip; helping each other to get out of the rocks, randomly sharing cookies in the meantime…
At the end of the day, exhausted, wet and hungry, we went camping in the forest. That was not the most comfortable situation in the world, especially after a tiring canoeing day, but as soon we all sat by the campfire, it was all OK again. The adventurous day ended like from one of the Jack London’s stories; staring at the fire, telling stories, enjoying each other’s company.
The next chapter of our great Roadtrip adventure came to an end. It was a very intense week, full of changing landscapes around us, kind people on the road, unexpected situations and impactful moments. We discovered the other part of the project’s recipe and we enjoyed it, so we are waiting for other opportunities to positively change the environment around us.
How can you organize a unique volunteering project? Take 6 people from 6 different countries, put them in a classic hippie bus and let them travel around Lithuania. But also, add a lot of scary situations, when they have to challenge themselves and interact with completely new people. Let them do the change – and is that all? Let’s wait and see how it’ll go!