In March, Erik, Melanie, Morgan and Madeleine Marin; took a family vacation to visit their exchange daughter/sister, World Link FLEX Program alumna Rugile Kriksciunaite ’17 (Lithuania/CO). We asked the Marin family, Rugile, and her natural family to tell us more about the visit and the effect global exchange has had on them. Be sure to read all three stories below!
The Marin Family’s Experience:
This spring break our family traveled to Lithuania to spend a week with the family of Rugile Kriksciunaite, the FLEX program exchange student who stayed with us last year. We were a little bit wary of traveling to the Baltic Sea in March. It’s not your typical spring break vacation destination… While it was cold, and there was snow on the ground and ice on the beach, we were overwhelmed by the warmth of Rugile’s family and the hospitality and generosity that they showed us.
Here are some of the highlights from our trip:
* An all night ferry ride across the ice covered Baltic Sea, from Stockholm, Sweden to Riga, Latvia.
* Exploring Riga, the capital city of Latvia, which has had inhabitants since the 2nd century.
* The Hill of Crosses, which is a fascinating combination of symbolism, religious devotion, and nationalism in northern Lithuania
* Fabulous Lithuanian food all week long, including a lavish dinner prepared by Rugile’s mother’s cousin Stefa and another at Rugile’s aunt Rima and uncle Sarunas’ house.
* A tour of the presidential palace in Vilnius and the rest of capital city.
* Exploring the Curonian Spit, a 98 km long peninsula in the Baltic Sea that varies from only 400 m wide to almost 4,000 m wide. After taking a ferry across to the spit we visited the Lithuanian Sea Museum which was built inside of a 19th century fort, and the Hill of Witches which has over 80 hand carved wooden sculptures that depict various Lithuanian legends and fairy tales.
* A visit to Trakai Island Castle which was built in the 14th century.
* A celebration of International Women’s Day with a poetry reading accompanied by a jazz musician.
* A trip to the top of the Vilnius TV tower, which has been remodeled into a restaurant were the tables sit on a platform that rotates slowly around so that everyone gets a view of the entire city. The TV Tower is a reminder of the Soviet occupation and was one of the focal points of conflict when Lithuania declared independence 28 years ago.
The entire experience was fantastic. We spent a lot of time talking with Rugile’s parents about the history of Lithuania, how things were different during the Russian occupation and how things have changed in the last 28 years. We learned about the Klaipėda school district where Rugile’s mother is a speech therapist and her aunt is a school director. We learned about trade, economic opportunities and commerce in the European Union from her father Arvydas, who works for a Norwegian trucking company. The trip really did give us a unique and valuable perspective on life in another part of our world.
Our time as a host family for the FLEX program was wonderful experience. We will definitely consider hosting another student in the future. But we have our doubts as to whether or not the next student could be anywhere near as intelligent, nice and enjoyable to be around as Rugile and her family. We are family now and forever. Our experience has set a very high standard that will be hard to match.
After finishing my exchange year in USA, I left with tears in my eyes, it was very hard to say goodbye to my host family, which became very close to me but in my heart I knew they would keep their promise that they will visit me! And they didn’t lie! On March 4 in Stockholm landed a plane which came from USA with my host family, mom Melanie, dad Erik and my two amazing sisters Morgan and Madeleine. They thought that we will be waiting for them next day in Riga, the capital of Latvia, but we wanted to spend as much time as possible with them, so we surprised them in the ferry which took us from Stockholm to Riga. That evening was filled with excitement and happiness tears! This meeting was very important for my native family because my family was able to say thank you face to face to my host family for opening they home for me, that they accepted me as their family member, that they loved and cared about me.
So on the Monday morning we came to Riga, we visited the old town and Motor museum and then left to Lithuania. In Lithuania we spent 7 awesome days. I wanted to show them all the best and my favorites places in Lithuania. It was cold here but we visited The Hill of Crosses, Curonian Spit, Palanga resort, Klaipeda Old town, Drama theatre, Trakai castle and the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. We drank hot drinks on the Baltic Sea shore, ate national Lithuanian dishes, played games. The only one disadvantage was – the day was too short. Both of my parents would discuss about the countries’ history, culture, politics, health care and education systems differences. Also my host sisters loved Sea museum and Dolphinarium. Morgan was brave enough to touch a dolphin and she was fascinated. Also my host parents really enjoyed a tour in the President palace and the catacombs of the Cathedral where they once again heard about great history of small country Lithuania which is more than one thousand years old.
The time flew so fast. It was very hard to say goodbye. Both moms were hugging and crying, I cried too… But they promised once again to come back for my wedding day sometime or maybe to my eighteenth birthday this Summer. We are waiting for them! Our home is their home.
A Natural Family’s Experience:
The start of March for our family was very important because we were waiting for very special guests – our daughter’s host family came to visit us. Our all family planned our holiday so we could spend more time together. This family has very important place in our life.
For parents it’s very important to know that their child is safe and happy. And when you let your underage child somewhere far away you say that everything will be fine and encourage him but in your heart you’re worried and you understand it’s going to be hard to take care of your child and you’re not sure if everything will be fine.
The FLEX program is amazing. First of all, they start taking care of participants before their departure. Participants are being prepared mentally, introduced to cultural differences and education specifics. All expenses are covered and it’s like winning a big prize in lottery. We wouldn’t afford it by ourselves. So, we had to be brave and let Rugile go. And we weren’t wrong!
During her exchange year in the USA Rugile met so many extraordinary people and experienced unforgettable moments which will stay in her heart forever. But most important thing is family. We didn’t need to worry! Together with Rugile we were happy about her every single day in the USA. From Rugilė’s photos, messages, stories we knew that they take very good care of her and that she lives with happy people in their “happy home”.
There’s no words to describe our feelings and thankfulness which we feel for the family which welcomed our daughter. Before our meeting we were very nervous but when we hugged we felt like we knew them for a long time. Melanie, Erik, Morgan and Madeline are very warm, friendly, positive, sincere people! Time together flew very fast. We had many discussions, laugh and while saying goodbye many tears because it’s very hard to say bye to your close friends and family. A month passed and we miss them so much. We are waiting for next meetings…
We are very thankful for host families and all FLEX and World Link staff! Rugile had a lot of different possibilities and a lot of first times in her life while she was in USA! Now she is more active! She is very busy! She learns in school for academically strong students and she has a lot of homework! But all holidays, she has volunteered in kids camp and other different projects! She has so many ideas! We are very proud of her! – Ingrida and Arvydas Kriksciunai