Life in Lithuania: an experience through the eyes of immigrants
Written by Milana Zhukava, a 3rd year student at EHU university in Vilnius
Emigration, as a phenomenon, has existed as long as humanity itself. As the saying goes – the fish is looking where it is deeper, and the person where it is better. People who have withdrawn from their usual habitat are in a state of discomfort, increased stress, which makes them put much more effort in everyday matters in comparison with the local population. The key to success in this case is tolerance to the cultural characteristics of the arrived group, a low level of bias and social stereotypes from natives.
We asked several dozen participants from different countries who decided to live in Lithuania to tell us what was the most difficult in the process of their adaptation and what were their reasons to choose to stay in Lithuania.
Based on their answers, a list of the most common problems and experiences faced by an emigrant was obtained. The main three problems faced by respondent immigrants are listed below.
LANGUAGE, LANGUAGE, LANGUAGE
To start with, language is the biggest barrier in integrating into any country. Even those who have studied the language of the country which they have moved to, are often faced with the fact that they cannot fully express everything they want to say in a foreign language. Language is a big problem when looking for a job in Lithuania- employers, of course, are in no rush to hire employees with grammatical errors in their speech. Lithuania states that it is willing to accommodate international people and integrate them as best as it is possible. Could employers offer employees work-related language courses like it is done in many EU countries?
Respondents were asked to share where foreign language assistance is most needed, when living in Lithuania and it is clear that the health and administrative matters are the most common ones.
“A list of doctors that speak English – in all the major cities. An explanation about how healthcare works (what it covered by social insurance and what isn’t as well as the steps for treatment).”
On the other hand, the respondents mention that over time, more and more information appear in English, such as ATM machines and supermarket checkout machines.
Secondly, foreigners face difficulties filling documents and facing other bureaucratic matters. Taking care of visa and residence permit is not everything a foreigner encounters along the way. Immigrants are faced with various kinds of registrations, work permits. Furthermore, there is medical insurance, driver’s license, car registration, taxes, buying real estate … All of which is in Lithuanian language with minor exceptions. Even with polite European employees, it is not always easy to figure out what and when to fill out and pay.
CAN WE BE FRIENDS?
One more issue, highlighted by answers of the questionnaire, is difficulty in making new contacts. This problem seems weightless only at first glance. In practice, many immigrants are faced with the fact that without the usual circle of friends and acquaintances, life becomes limited and new social connections are not easy to be established. Cafes, events and general interest groups are socialization methods for expats. In Lithuania, as far as the answers reach, communication and information about events and celebrations occur through the expat groups on Facebook. Information about some events are also found using LRT, 15min.lt, local websites, helpful apps like Traffi and Baltic.
“It would be nice if events advertised were in English. I would attend more events if I knew about them.”
It can be easily concluded that more language & cultural exchange, internationally minded cultural events, eagerness to host foreigners is needed. Also, events that will make them interact with the locals, especially aged people group, because they are among the greatest number of age-group for discrimination in Lithuania. It could also be suggested that advertisements on multi-racial inclusivity and tolerance could be imposed.
“It would be nice if there were information sessions offered about different services or departments so ex-pats could know what is available in their city (for example: Can anyone use all the libraries? Do you have to have a library card? Etc. Tours of the music hall or theater that are offered in English would be nice.”
HIGHLIGHTS OF LIVING IN LITHUANIA
Nevertheless, despite the difficulties in integration, all respondents chose Lithuania as a country to live in. Questionnaire’s participants shared highlights about living in the country: security is at a high level, there is little harassment in religious beliefs, and generally, people are ready to help if it is needed. Another thing that the questionnaire revealed, is that Lithuanians are open minded- the moment you start communicate with them, they will open up and treat you as an equal. Local people, especially the younger generation, know English all of which easens the integration process.
“I lived here in the late 90’s and now again and great strides have been made. It is pretty easy to live here. Aš myliu Lietuvą!”
There are also many collaborations between Lithuania and the rest of Europe, especially in the creative and business sectors. Lithuania itself seems to be becoming more cosmopolitan by the day. There are few websites and services being offered in English and even made especially for foreigners in Lithuania:
On the MIPAS website you’ll find practical information about migration, integration and return:
On Livelithuania.net you will find information about multicultural events, resources to learn the language and other skills as well as step-by-step handouts to help you with administrative tasks: www.livelithuania.net
INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION FOR MIGRATION(IOM) office in Vilnius provides foreigners with voluntary consulting on different issues of integration. http://www.iom.lt/en/home.html
I AM A FOREIGN STUDENT IN LITHUANIA AND I HAVE SOME SUGGESTIONS
It can be seen that services and other general content in Lithuania is increasingly being translated into English, but, nevertheless, the main struggle for foreigners’ integration remains the language barrier, which, in fact, leads to other shortcomings. Having integrated some methods and laws towards the language issue, it would be possible to stop many other difficulties that arise (from communication problems and loneliness, to administrative issues). When you understand and are understood, you become aware of yourself in society, you interact with it, and no longer feel like you are wearing blinders, or have been deprived of your voice. I see solutions to the language problem in integrating both English and Lithuanian directly.
Regarding the English language – the widespread introduction of QR-codes with the ability to translate important information into English and more languages is an idea used in other countries around the world as a tool for integration. This would especially work for hospitals and administrative organizations. It is important to put more attention on making all the beaurocracy more available – more multilingual. Also, a big step towards “everyone” would be a creation of an app that would be translated into English and other languages, which connects all other apps (bank + accommodation + health + utilities + public services + foods + businesses), as for example, this is successfully done in the Chinese messenger WeChat. Over the years, the messenger has penetrated into all areas of life from buying clothes to renting real estate thanks to it’s QR-code-based payment system, and all news about default is discussed there. The app has a convenient translator. You can order a taxi, buy movie tickets or rent an apartment right in the app.
Regarding the national language, there is a need of more understanding and patience on the part of employers and the country as such. With certain investments and support from the state and private organizations, it would be possible to achieve conditions under which voluntary learning of the Lithuanian language would take place. Money support for businesses which try to employ foreigners could help with adding an economic value to the country. Language courses at work, related to the specifics of work dictionary, courses in kindergartens and schools would not only benefit people from foreign countries, but also add to a more resilient community as a whole.
Governmental involvement in migration and integration processes and possible changes in laws and legislations could be reconsidered. The Demography, Integration and Migration strategy for 2018-2030 in Lithuania neither stresses the importance nor offers concrete ways to help immigrants being more integrated and assimilated in the country. Despite this, we can clearly see that independent initiatives are taking place, slowly but surely, ensuring that life in Lithuania is better today than yesterday.