Lizzie Clemons

Lithuania

Hometown:Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
School: Pine Crest School
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club:Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Host District: District 1462
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Vilnius

 

My Bio


Sveiki! My name is Lizzie, I'm seventeen and after my senior year at Pine Crest, I'll be moving to Lithuania for a year of learning the difficult language and immersing myself in their culture. I am excited because my ancestors are from Lithuania, so, I'll be connecting with my roots! I can't imagine how different my life will be - I was born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, and live with my family whom I'm sad to leave, but I know that this will be the experience of a lifetime. Throughout my years in school, I've come to love Biology and Chemistry. I find it interesting how teamwork is necessary in the molecular world. If all of the small atoms and molecules didn't fit together perfectly, all of the complex things that create our world wouldn't exist. Outside of school, I love running, going to the gym, working on my community service, traveling with my family, and hanging out with my friends. Even though leaving my amazing friends will be tough, I look forward to making new friends in Lithuania! This summer when I finally met Nomatter, the high school girl I sponsor in Zimbabwe, I realized that it isn't difficult to connect with people from different cultures. Once moving past the language barrier, it's easy to get along with anyone. This experience gave me the desire to broaden my horizons and get to know the world and all of the unique cultures in it. Although I'm nervous about learning the language and moving to a completely new place, I'm thrilled to have this amazing opportunity and look forward to all of the new and different experiences in my future. I'm so thankful to have the support of my family and to be sponsored by Rotary for this amazing adventure.

With my first host family

With my first host family

Swinging in Nida

Swinging in Nida

The Vilnius Christmas Tree

The Vilnius Christmas Tree

With my second host family

With my second host family

Enjoying Fall!

Enjoying Fall!

Beuatiful Lithuanian Fall

Beuatiful Lithuanian Fall

The Lithuanian Exchange Students playing in the colorful powder post Color Run!

The Lithuanian Exchange Students playing in the colorful powder post Color Run!

My Host Sister and me!

My Host Sister and me!

Trakai Castle - one of the most unique castles in Europe

Trakai Castle - one of the most unique castles in Europe

Uzupis- the art district of Vilnius

Uzupis- the art district of Vilnius

Color Run Vilnius

Color Run Vilnius

The gorgeous view of my new home, Vilnius!

The gorgeous view of my new home, Vilnius!

Welcoming the Basketball Team home

Welcoming the Basketball Team home

My amazing host mom and me :)

My amazing host mom and me :)

My mom and I dancing on a frozen lake

My mom and I dancing on a frozen lake

The Hill of Three Crosses, aka where to find the best view of the city

The Hill of Three Crosses, aka where to find the best view of the city

My actual (yes, actual!) Lithuanian relatives and me.

My actual (yes, actual!) Lithuanian relatives and me.

My host sister and I hanging out on frozen lakes around Trakai Castle.

My host sister and I hanging out on frozen lakes around Trakai Castle.

Vilnius Old Town

Vilnius Old Town

A Bonfire one night along Gediminos Prospektas

A Bonfire one night along Gediminos Prospektas

Journals: Lizzie - Lithuania

  • Lizzie, outbound to Lithuania

    Right now, I’m looking at my final five days in Lithuania… I’m embarrassed I haven’t written in so long, but the past few months have flown by - it’s as if I blinked and the seasons changed from winter to spring to summer. At the moment, going back to the United States doesn’t seem real… even though I’ll be back in less than a week, I feel as though I have months left in Vilnius.

    Remembering the past 10 months, I’ve learned, grown, and changed a great deal….
    I’ve learned that life can be difficult, but without the challenges and bumps in the road, life wouldn’t be interesting.
    I’ve learned that some of my best friends come from the most unexpected places.
    I’ve learned to be open to anyone, anything, and anyplace, and to say yes to everything (within reason).
    I’ve learned that while there are lows in life, those are temporary, and there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
    I’ve learned that technology (i.e. phones, computers, internet, television, etc.) isn’t a necessity.
    I’ve learned that sadness is self-inflicted and happiness is a choice.
    I’ve learned to always stand up for myself and that my own problems are mine. I’m the only person who can work through them and face them.
    I’ve learned I’m from the ‘United States’, ‘The US’, ‘The States’, ‘The USA’, or ‘The United States of America’, but not from ‘America.’
    I’ve learned to eat with the spoon or fork in my left hand and not switch hands during the meal.
    I’ve learned a new language and culture, and fallen in love with my new home.

    It’s strange. My emotions lately have been a bizarre melange of sorrow when thinking about leaving, happiness when looking back on my experiences here, excitement to go back to the USA after such a long time, but also apprehensiveness to return to Florida. Over the past ten (almost eleven) months, I’ve made a home for myself in Vilnius, Lithuania, and a bit of my heart will always be here. It upsets me to realize that I won’t be able to walk along the cobblestone streets of the Old Town every day or go for runs in the green, green parks sprinkled throughout the city. I can’t believe I have to say goodbye to one of the most beautiful cities in the world…. I can’t believe I have to say goodbye to my new family members. That’s yet another thing I’ve learned here - you don’t have to be related genetically to be family, all you need is love for one another!!

    Lithuania has given me more than I could’ve imagined, a lot more than I had expected, and I’m tremendously grateful for this experience. Thank you Lithuania and Rotary Youth Exchange for giving me this gift and opening my eyes to the world.


  • Lizzie, outbound to Lithuania

    A few days ago, I celebrated (with astonishment) my 6 month anniversary in Lithuania. It’s a weird feeling, realizing that everything in my current life revolves around this small country in the corner of Europe…

    Now, when I say, “home,” I’m referring to my host family’s apartment in Baltupiai. Hear me mention my mom or sisters, and I’m talking about my Lithuanian family. Ask me where to get coffee and I’ll point out the coziest cafes, those which serve drinks in actual mugs rather than paper cups, those with the tastiest coffee, and where to find free wifi. Craving a vegan or vegetarian meal? I’ve made a point to visit every healthy restaurant in Vilnius, so I’ll gladly direct you to my favorites.

    It’s bizarre. I never would have imagined knowing this city so well, but that’s what happens when you make a home for yourself in a new place. Remembering my first day in Vilnius, it seems as if it were yesterday, but also feels like a lifetime ago. Arriving as a tan (how I miss my sun-kissed skin), scared-for-the-winter, yet eager-to-learn Floridian girl, I had absolutely no clue what to expect in the mysterious but enticing year lying ahead of me. I didn’t anticipate my Lithuanian host families to treat me as their real daughter. I couldn’t predict becoming so accustomed to public transportation that I now eat, drink, and sleep bus schedules. In no way did I expect to adjust to the cold, sticking to the Lithuanian mantra, “when in doubt, wear animals." Especially, I never thought I’d love my new siblings so much that the thought of leaving them makes me tear up.

    I’ve learned and grown so much over the past few months, and honestly, that’s due to the amount of time I’ve had to myself – one huge difference between my life in the USA versus Lithuania. Back home, I was constantly surrounded by loved ones and close friends. I definitely didn’t understand what “alone” meant until moving here, and while so much me-time can drive one insane, it provides the precious time to think a lot and write a lot. Looking at my bookshelf overflowing with journals, I’m both impressed and slightly disturbed by my strange need to record all of the random thoughts and ideas racing through my head at 100 kilometers per hour. And what you may not know is that this behavior is strange for me – in the USA, I was the student who would get a pit in her stomach upon receiving any writing assignment, completely dreading it and putting it off until the last minute. Surprisingly, my life in Lithuania has been the trigger for the swift metamorphosis from hatred to passion for writing. Now, I excitedly await picking up a blue-ink pen (the only thing I’ll write in journals with) and jotting down anything and everything I’d like. That’s the beauty in writing, the immense freedom at your fingertips.

    In all, yes, being away from home is difficult, leaving loved ones to venture off alone to a rather unusual country is scary, and the thought that I’m currently 8,617 km away from everything that I’ve known is shocking. However, it’s easily been the adventure of a lifetime and has given me the unique opportunity to discover what I genuinely love to do. So, next time I tell someone I’m spending a year in Vilnius, Lithuania, I hope they don’t reply with, “….but why?!?!” and instead ask about my new home… I’ve got lots of great things to say.


  • Lizzie, outbound to Lithuania

    I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last wrote… Time flies while on exchange! Thinking about the past few months, I’ve celebrated several big holidays here (Halloween, Thanksgiving-a big celebration for a girl from the States- and Christmas). I’ve switched to my second host family and experienced living with snow (let me specify that this is quite different than going on a vacation to snow).

    In the States, I’ve grown up almost viewing Halloween as a routine because the same thing happens every year… There are always little trick-or-treaters knocking at our door, always a few costumes to make, and always enough candy to last a lifetime. Thinking about it now, after spending this holiday in Lithuania, I’m sadly aware that I took all of the ghouls, goblins, tricks, and treats for granted. The fake cobwebs, carved pumpkins, and over-the-top costumes are a beautiful part of the American culture, making us awesomely unique. So, while I was a bit nostalgic on this day, I embraced the Lithuanian Halloween, after all, when on exchange, do as the Lithuanians do.

    Different from the one day celebration in the States, Halloween here includes October 31st (Helovinas), November 1st (Visų Šventujų diena - All Soul’s Day), and November 2nd (Vėlinės - The Day of the Dead). October 31st isn’t really observed, but November 1st and 2nd are big family days, celebrated by going to ancestors’ graves, cleaning them and lighting candles, then standing in silence for a bit to remember them. Initially, I found this to be incredibly gloomy - it was tough for me to adjust from my American Halloween expectations to accepting that these days are full of remembrance and mourning. Kind of similar to the Lithuanian culture, the holidays are very introspective and peaceful.

    Now that I’ve experienced the traditions of Visų Šventujų diena and Vėlinės, I actually think that they’re some of the most beautiful customs I’ve witnessed. I like how Lithuanians remember their ancestors, visiting their graves at least once a year. People often fear being forgotten after death, and I feel like these holidays ease that worry. I was reminded that family is the most important thing, which is always good to remember.

    Then there was Thanksgiving (Padėkos Diena), which unsurprisingly is not a holiday here, but I always enjoy the tradition of writing what I’m grateful for. So, this year I’m thankful for the fact that I’m in Vilnius, Lithuania, learning a new language (one of the coolest languages), and making new friends in a fantastic corner of the world. I have the BEST host families, who make me feel as if I’m their real daughter every second of every day. I’m very grateful that I am not withering away in the cold and that I’ve experienced my first snow here!

    Walking home from school on November 20th, my face was pelted with tiny chunks of ice. Pushing through the wind and falling snow, I was probably the happiest person on the street. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, tilted my face towards the sky, and stuck my tongue out to taste my very first Lithuanian snow. I’m also thankful for travel, new experiences abroad, and opening my eyes to the world. I never could’ve imagined living in Lithuania at 18, and I often pinch myself to realize that I’m not living a dream, but that my reality is even better than anything I could imagine. I’m just thankful for everything in my life right now, so it was a great Thanksgiving!

    Then, Christmas quickly took over Vilnius… It seemed like it happened overnight, big trees were put up, lights were strung everywhere, and several Christmas markets popped up throughout town. This along with the chilly weather and Christmas music in every shop made me feel like I was living in a little winter wonderland!

    As Christmas Eve (Kūčios) grew nearer and nearer, my excitement grew to see the special traditions and magic of the night. After spending all day cooking, decorating the tree (eglė), and setting the table with small fir tree branches and candles, my host family and I gathered around our feast. Prior to the meal, we each broke off a piece from a Christmas wafer, and the longer piece means the longer your life will be… Nobody informed me of that until afterwards, so I broke off the smallest piece possible to try to be respectful… oops.

    We said a prayer, then began our meal, which traditionally doesn’t include meat, milk products, or eggs, but ours included some milk and egg products-a slightly modernized version of the traditional one. It consists of twelve dishes, one for each month or for each Apostle (depending on your source), and you must taste each dish in order to guarantee that each month in the next year will be prosperous.

    As I’ve mentioned, I find it special how the Lithuanians always remember their ancestors during their holidays. During Kūčios, the table is set with an extra plate for each family member who either couldn’t make it or who had passed away in the previous year (we had one extra setting at the head of the table for my host mother’s father). After the meal, the uneaten food is left on the table because it’s believed that the souls of the departed ancestors would visit during the night, the food making them feel welcome.

    Then following dinner is when the Christmas magic comes to life. Lithuanians have many Christmas Eve traditions (Kūčių Burtai - translates to ‘Christmas Eve Magic’), and my host sister and I did a few of the following:

    Straws of various lengths are placed on a table beneath a cloth. Each person draws a piece, and the longer the piece means the longer life. (similar to the Christmas wafer tradition)

    Write down ten names of boys in your life (friends, boys you find attractive or like, anyone!), crinkle up the slips of paper and put them under your pillow, sleeping with them there until the next morning. Immediately after waking up, choose one name randomly, and that person will be your boyfriend/husband.

    Put a candy, coin, key, and eraser each under their own teacups, then mix all the teacups up and choose one. If the coin is chosen, you’ll have a rich year; the key means you’ll stay in your parents’ home a long time; the eraser means you’ll have a year full of studying; and the candy means you’ll have a sweet year.

    Reach into a container full of kūčiukų (these are little cookie-type things in the shape of a small ball; a typical Lithuanian Christmas sweet) and pull out a big handful. After counting them, if you have an even number, you’ll be in a relationship this year, but if you pull out an odd number, you’ll be single.

    “Taip,” “ne,” arba “nežinau” (Yes, no, or I don’t know) is a game where each of these words are written on a slip of paper. Fill a pot with water, place a candle in the middle, then place the pieces of paper floating in the water around the flame. Ask a question and stir the water, then the one which swims is your answer.

    Of course, waiting for Santa Claus (Kalėdų Senelis) to make his way to our home. We all said Merry Christmas (Linksmų Kalėdų) to one another, and headed to bed.

    While the holidays here have been some of the most fun times, my favorite moments are when I’m mistaken for a Lithuanian girl. Comfortably asking a random person for directions, ordering coffee with ease, and getting a surprised gasp when I tell someone I’m from the States make me tingle with excitement. The quote, “to speak another language is to possess a second soul,” couldn’t be more accurate. I sometimes feel as if I have two identities, an American and Lithuanian one, which are both so incredibly different but so unique.

    So, Rotary, thank you for absolutely everything. While Lithuania isn’t a typical destination, it’s one of the most beautiful corners of the world in all aspects-the country itself, the people, the culture, the language, the history, the food, everything here is extraordinary. I’m often asked the question, “Why would you choose Lithuania of all places?,” but it really should be, “Why would you consider anywhere else but Lithuania?”

    Lietuva, aš tave myliu.


  • Lizzie, outbound to Lithuania

    I’ve been in Lithuania for a little over six weeks now, and I can’t believe how quickly this time has flown by… I left my comfortable and cozy life in South Florida for an unpredictable and unknown future. Honestly, I was kind of terrified upon leaving home. I’m not the type to get home sick, but I am the type that likes to know exactly what will happen tomorrow and next week and next month - you could say that I’m a big planner. However, I couldn’t be happier to be living in Lithuania for the next year. So far, I’ve celebrated my eighteenth birthday, run in a Color Run, started school, traveled all around the country (keep in mind it takes only 3 hours to travel from one side to the other), helped welcome the National Basketball Team home, and had some of the most phenomenal cultural experiences.

    Before leaving the States, I often got the reaction, “….but why Lithuania of all places?!” or “okay, funny joke Lizzie. Seriously where are you going?” To tell you the truth, originally I didn’t really have a reason - mostly, I just thought it would be cool (literally, it’s freezing here). But once I discovered how many of my relatives are/were Lithuanian, I began to feel a weird bond to the country. Now that I’m actually living here, that bond has strengthened and I’m definitely attached to the people, culture, and beautiful city of Vilnius. Everything is different than my Florida life, but that’s what makes me fall in love more and more each day.

    As I wander around the old town, I can’t help but think that I’m living a dream - I casually stroll down cobblestone streets, passing churches and buildings which are hundreds of years old. Then on my way home from school, I meander through Užupis - the art district with it’s own constitution - and maybe stop to get a coffee with friends. Also, yes, I walk everywhere, which is a refreshing change from the confining reliance upon cars that I’ve become so accustomed to in the States. It’s interesting how something as simple as taking a little extra time to walk can really give you an appreciation of the city and world around you. That’s one thing that I already love about how Lithuania is changing me - it’s making me really appreciate the little things.

    Now I have a newfound gratitude for forests, mushrooms, fresh produce (my host mother has one of the best gardens ever), clean air, basketball, the ocean, warmth, and so many other things…. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted something as delicious as raspberries off the bush, smelled such crisp air as in the Lithuanian forests, or seen anything that compares to the otherworldly beauty of the Baltic Sea (and that’s saying something coming from South Florida, where I go to the beach weekly). This has already been such a life changing experience, and a lot of that is due to the remarkable people who I’ve been lucky enough to get to know.

    On the first day of school, I sat there, understanding nothing, praying that someone would talk to me and tell me that everything will be okay. Well, I was kind of ignored! Prior to coming to Lithuania, I was warned that the people wouldn’t go out of their way to speak to me because they’re shyer than Americans. However, once I stood up and said in my best Lithuanian accent, “Labas, mano vardas Lizzie ir aš iš Amerikos,” (Hi, my name is Lizzie and I’m from America), almost every single person in my class went out of their way to talk to me. Indeed, Lithuanians are shy, but they’re some of the most welcoming, helpful, patient, and genuine people I’ve ever met. I’m constantly surprised at how willing my new friends are to teach me the language… Seriously, the way to make a Lithuanian smile is to try to speak the language, even if you 100% sound like a foreigner, they LOVE when people try.

    Upon meeting new people, I often receive the response, “wait, you’re not Lithuanian?” I find that to be a huge compliment because it means that I do sort of fit in here - I look Lithuanian! Woo! Although, while my appearance may help me fit in, my proficiency in the language makes me stick out. This language is extremely difficult, and that’s an understatement. It’s ranked as one of the top three most difficult in the world… yikes… But I’m learning more and more each day. Some of my favorite moments are when I successfully have a conversation in Lithuanian, reply in the language without thinking, and when I can actually read the homework assignments my teachers give me. While the language is tough, frustrating, and sometimes discouraging, it’s so fun, rewarding, and exciting to learn.

    So, what have some of my incredible cultural experiences been?! To name a few, I’ve been to Trakai Castle, gone mushroom picking, and participated in basketball celebrations. Trakai Pilies is one of the coolest castles I’ve seen (well it’s a castle, so of course my inner princess thinks it’s awesome) - it was built in the middle of a lake and therefore has natural protection due to it’s island location. Throughout history, it’s been used as a fortress, palace, prison, and now a museum. I was surprised with how well the medieval feel has been maintained… as I was wandering around the beautiful grounds, surrounded by high brick walls, I couldn’t help but wonder if a knight in armor would suddenly appear.

    Then there’s mushroom picking. I ventured into the forest, bundled up in my warmest clothes with my knife in hand, ready to hunt and chop down some mushrooms! My host mom tried to explain the difference between poisonous and edible ones, and honestly the two look almost identical… if I were alone, I would definitely accidentally eat the poisonous ones, oops. So as we were quietly walking around the forest, I breathed in the delicious air and realized that I’ve never been in any place like this before - I can’t even describe how peaceful, crisp, silent, and shockingly stunning it is.

    And lastly, I’ve been to several basketball celebrations, including a few games from the FIBA Basketball World Cup shown in stadiums and welcoming the team home. Before moving here, I was a basketball fan, but I wasn’t obsessed with the sport. However, Lithuanians are more than obsessed with basketball.. It’s practically a religion. During the World Cup, one of my friends said that if you don’t like basketball, you’re not Lithuanian, end of story. And as I’ve been here, I’ve grown to love the sport. The excitement spreads like the plague, and I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, anxiously watching the scoreboard flick back and forth and back and forth during many games.

    As I’m looking back on these past six weeks, I’m realizing that my time here is moving far too quickly. To be completely realistic, not every day is a perfect happy wonderland in Europe. Yeah, some days are really hard and frustrating, but that’s life… without those challenging days, what would make those amazing days extra special?! I’m so grateful to be spending a year here, and I couldn’t thank Rotary enough for this phenomenal opportunity. So many people told me that this would be a life-changing experience, and now that I’m in Lithuania, I recognize how life-changing this is :)

    Also, here are a few things which I find interesting:
    1. Women here are gorgeous and have some of the best eyebrows I’ve ever seen.
    2. In school, guys wait outside while the girls enter the classroom first, we stand until the teacher says we can sit down, and keys are used for lockers (not locks).
    3. Early in the morning, some channels on TV only have a clock or a “beeeeeeep” sound, unlike the constant television programs in the States.
    4. Often, girls who are really good friends greet each other by kissing on the lips.
    5. So many people smoke cigarettes here… I heard that smoking was big in Europe, but didn’t realize how true that was until now.


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