Teaching in Lithuania may not have been on your to do list from the time you were little, but here you are. You may have decided first to teach, or that you wanted an international experience. Then, one thing led to another, and you wind up living and teaching in a small Baltic country that you previously hadn't heard much about. Before you go jetsetting off into Eastern Europe, there's a few things you should know.
1. Your students probably know more languages than you do.
While Lithuanian is the official national language, many living in Lithuania are immigrants from other countries. Russian is spoken just as often as Lithuanian, if not more in many cases. With so many cultures, it often becomes a necessity to know many languages. You may teach children who speak Lithuanian, Italian, Polish, some Russian, and are now working on their English. So amazing! Its not uncommon at all to be multilingual in Lithuania.
2. Your students will speak better English than their parents.
You will know what language a person speaks pretty quickly based on their generation. The elderly in Lithuania most likely speak only Lithuanian or only Russian. Their children, currently the middle age-generation, will most likely speak a few more languages, such as Ukrainian or Polish, but usually not English. It is just more recently that English has began infiltrating Lithuania, and it is the younger generations (20s and younger) that have taken an interest in becoming fluent. You may be able to speak easier with your students than with their parents; there are of course exceptions to this, but it’s not as common. You may have your students acting as little translators when you communicate with their parents.
3. The parents of your students will take an active interest in their learning.
Depending on your background, this may sound like a normal thing, but it is not this way in every culture. In some cultures children don't even live with their parents, and so their parents aren't as involved with their schooling. In Lithuania, parents are interested in the success of their child and are a wonderful asset to your student's learning. If you don't speak their language, try to find a way that you can communicate with them to let them know how their child is doing or how he or she is progressing. They will be very grateful to receive this feedback from you.
4. Don't be surprised if your students and their parents shower you with gifts.
The parents of your students will be so grateful for your efforts in teaching their child English. They value your time and energy that you spend as a teacher, and also the precious gift of English that you are giving. They understand that knowing English means doors will open doors and provide many opportunities for their child. Parents will want to show you their appreciation and you should gracefully accept! You may receive flowers, bags full of fruit from their garden, trinkets from Lithuania, and most definitely you will receive boxes and boxes of chocolate. Hopefully you like chocolate because you will never be on short supply of that.
5. The students should not sit on the floor.
You need to know and understand cultural differences. In the states it is pretty common for a class to gather in a circle on the floor to read a book. It is not this way in Lithuania, especially if you teach in a building with concrete floors. Lithuania gets very cold in the winter and so many measures are taken to keep from getting sick. One of these things is not sitting on the floor. There is also a cultural belief (especially by the Russians) that if a woman sits on the cold floor she will become barren. You will just not see Lithuanians sitting on the floor so do not make your students do this.
During the winter you will see them come in to class with many layers on and they may even want to keep their coat on inside to stay warm. Also, many parents take an interest in the health of their child by having them eat healthy. You may not want to provide treats or have too many parties in school. These types of things aren't appreciated so much in Lithuania; they should be more of a rarity. Get to know the cultural differences and respect them.
6. Your classroom may be a melting pot of backgrounds.
Lithuania has many immigrants. Not all of your students will be pure Lithuanian. You many have Russian students, Polish, Ukrainian, etc. Get to know who they are and their personal, cultural differences by doing a little research. Some schools are separated however. You may teach at a Russian only school or a Lithuania only school. There is some bad blood between cultures and they sometimes prefer to stick with their own culture. It is helpful to know who it is your teaching nationality wise and to do a little research. Just because you're teaching in Lithuania, it doesn't mean that you will be teaching Lithuanian children.
7. Appearance is everything.
Those in Lithuania truly appreciate a clean, straightened classroom. If you spend the time to make sure that artwork is hung neatly on the wall, chairs are straightened, and floors are swept, then parents will be more open to you as a teacher. Your dress should also reflect a neat, professional attitude. You won't see people walking around in sweats and flip flops like you might in the states. Always dress in the classroom in a professional manner in order to demand respect. Keep the noise level down. Keep order.
8. Your students are as interested in you as you are in them.
As English has become more popular in Lithuania, so has American culture. Students will be so interested in finding out about where you live, what you like to do, what your home is like, what you eat, etc., especially if you are American. Bring photos of your home and your family. If you're able to bring some sort of trinket from your home, they will really love that. Just as you are so interested in learning about another culture, they are interested in finding out about yours.
9. Learning about Lithuanian history will tremendously change your outlook on the culture.
There is so much history to know before you teach in Lithuania. Do some research and find out about Lithuania's role throughout history, through wars and political turnover all the way until independence, and how that affects life there today. You will gain a stronger love of the people once you realize what they have overcome. You will be a better teacher when you understand your students culture and cultivate a love for them.
10. The hardest thing you will do during your teaching experience abroad is say goodbye.
Like any teaching experience, you will have rough days. Depending on their age, you will most likely have students who disobey, get out of hand, and cause you frustration. You may go through times of homesickness, cultural shock, or just think to yourself “if I have to eat one more potato or bowl of beet soup...I'm going to go crazy!” If that happens to you, appreciate it, because the hardest experiences always yield the best rewards. Your kids will fall in love with you and you will find that saying goodbye will be the hardest part. You will be doing an amazing service by teaching and acting as a good role model in your student's lives. You will watch them grow and will become invested in their lives. One of the best things about this day in age though is that you can keep in contact with them. They will most likely want to add you on Skype, Facebook, or get your email. These are wonderful ways of keeping in touch if you are interested in that.