May 26th, 2020, Annalena Kärcher
Why always choose the easy and familiar route? When you get the chance, why not get to know something completely different, which you might otherwise never have gotten to know? Annalena Kärcher, student in business economics, asked herself this question and spent two months in the Kaunas office (Lithuania).
As part of my three-year dual study degree course, I had the opportunity to get to know the Kaunas branch office in Lithuania and become a member of the team there. Without any great expectations, basically due to my general lack of knowledge about the country, I took this bold step and was pleasantly surprised with the way it all unfolded.
Kaunas is the second largest city in the Baltic state of Lithuania. It is located inland, between the capital Vilnius on the Russian border and the port city of Klaipéda on the Baltic coast. If you consider that Baden-Württemberg alone has a population of about 11 million, Lithuania, boasting a population of roughly 2.8 million, appears somewhat small in comparison. Despite its very inconspicuous size, you shouldn’t underestimate this country. In addition to contemporary and traditional art, museums, architecture and extensive history, Lithuania also offers numerous nature reserves, rivers, lakes and breath-taking countryside.
My daily routine in Lithuania:
LABAS RYTAS! This was how I was greeted every morning when I arrived at the office in Kaunas. A pleasant atmosphere, smiling faces and a touch of irony were always in the air and helped to relax the mood and make you happy that it was another day at work. The people of Kaunas are very open-minded, warm-hearted, but also honest and direct, something I appreciated very much. After a quick chat over a cup of coffee about how you were feeling today and what was going on in your professional and personal life, we used to get down to work. Actually, I was always busy and never bored. Besides having to work through a huge pile of BOMs and order entries, I was also allowed to visit customers. A tour of the production facility of one of our largest customers was also organised.
Lunch breaks in Lithuania are a time when everyone comes together. It’s not unusual to go to a restaurant and have a tasty meal. The best thing is that lots of restaurants in the old town offer so-called daily menus for workers at midday that are much cheaper than the same dishes in the evening. My colleagues liked to use this time to introduce me to some Lithuanian delicacies (e.g. Zeppelinas, Kugelis and other delicious potato products) and to help me discover places in city centre that only the locals know about. These included, for example, a very old traditional “donut shop” called “Spurginé”. The shop is very small and inconspicuous, located in the heart of Kaunas, in the pedestrian zone. This is where they still prepare handmade baked goods, similar to what we call “Fasnachtsküchle”. No matter what time of day you get there: It’s always full and the pastries are always fresh and warm.
After work, my colleagues and I sometimes went to a nice bar where you can sample various types of Lithuanian beer from local breweries. In Lithuania it’s not customary to eat before drinking, like in Germany; instead, so-called “thirst-inducers” are eaten while drinking. These are salty snacks that basically encourage you to drink more. Examples are different types of nuts or various cheeses served with crispbread and fresh olives. These thirst-inducers are from local shops, which I also discovered and frequently visited to buy some nibbles.
An exciting and adventurous trip was usually planned each weekend. Be it a weekend spent at the Curonian Spit by the sea with expansive dunes, an excursion to a national park, ice-skating at renovated manor houses or simply exploring the city. There was always something to see and do. Especially worth seeing and highly recommendable is the Lithuanian countryside as well as discovering the country’s rich history and architecture. Further, I was also able to experience and enjoy the amazing hospitality of the locals.
Food & Culture:
There’s plenty of amazing history and culture to discover. For instance, the many museums, renovated manor houses throughout the country, former presidential palaces, old Russian military installations and also towns with a German heritage. These places have a lot of history to tell us, especially about the Second World War and the periods of both German and Russian occupation. In many of the museums you can learn a lot about Lithuanian history, which is also partly related to Germany, making them a must-see when visiting Lithuania in order to get at least a small glimpse of the country’s past.
There’s also plenty of delicious food to try. Especially in rural areas and at weekend farmer markets you can discover homemade sausages, Baumkuchen (‘tree cake’) and delicious handmade pastries. Some things might look a bit strange at first, but you should have at least tasted and seen them once. Many dishes are prepared with potatoes and are a little bit more greasy than you might be used to back home in Germany, but this shouldn’t stop you from enjoying these specialties to the full
A lot of my friends and family in Germany, but also my colleagues and their relatives and friends in Lithuania, whom I was lucky to meet, asked me why I decided on going to Lithuania in the winter - the most uncomfortable season of the year. I’d probably never have come up with the idea on my own, as I didn’t really know much about Lithuania beforehand. Of course I knew that the country existed, and where to find it on a map, but that was more or less it.
Lithuania was one of the suggestions and options given by the HR department for my desired period. I was also fortunate that I had great support from my last department and they also gave me advice which I definitely took to heart: Why always choose the easy and familiar route? When you get the chance, why not get to know something completely different, which you might otherwise never have gotten to know?
I’m extremely grateful that I was able to gain this valuable experience abroad and would’ve regretted it very much had I not picked Kaunas. The team integrated me from day one and I had an unforgettable time.
During this period abroad I learned so much and developed on a personal level. I was neither familiar with the local language nor with any of the locals or the country itself. The time at the Kaunas office enabled me to not only enhance my language skills, but I also became more confident with regard to foreign languages. Now, I find it easier to deal with unfamiliar situations and can cope with them in a more relaxed manner and enjoy getting involved, without jumping to hasty conclusions.
Lithuania was a great experience that I’ll never forget. I can personally recommend the Kaunas office as well as Lithuania and visiting all the Baltic states to everyone. This will definitely not be the last time I visited the region.