It has been a while since my last blog post but the summer passed so fast that it’s hard to realize that October’s here again. To be honest, it was the busiest summer I have had during the last couple of years. Preparations for the NATO Warsaw Summit and lots of traveling across the continent to explore this amazingly huge country didn’t let me even think that it can be any better. In Lithuania we say “happy people don’t count time” and I couldn’t agree with this more.
Ok, but first things first. This time I want to share with you not only my summer adventures but also to talk about my professional experience here in DC since this summer was of a great importance for the Baltic countries in the context of Europe’s changing security environment.
On the way to the NATO Warsaw Summit
First of all, for those who are not familiar with NATO and transatlantic security issues, let me provide you with some general background information, so that you could have a broader picture of why I want to draw your attention to the Warsaw Summit and how it is related to my professional internship in the USA.
NATO Summits are periodic gatherings of NATO member countries’ leaders to evaluate and provide strategic directions for the future of the Alliance. The last NATO Summit was held in Warsaw, Poland this summer and marked a key milestone for the security of the Baltic States. Why? Because for the first time since the end of the cold war, NATO heads of countries decided to enhance NATO’s forward presence on its Eastern flank through the deployment of rotational battalions in the Baltic countries and Poland. In other words, starting next year, NATO will deploy a 1,000-strong multinational allied battalion to each of the Baltic States. Germany will lead a battalion in Lithuania, Canada in Latvia, and the United Kingdom in Estonia.
The Atlantic Council, my host organization in the USA, played an important role in shaping this year’s NATO summit and was one of its official public diplomacy partners. For me as a young professional, it was extremely interesting to work on the preparations for the summit. The Council convened a lot of meetings and hosted a number of high-level officials to prepare for the Warsaw NATO Summit and follow up on its key deliberations as the Alliance transitions to implementing its decisions. Furthermore, I also had a chance to contribute to the NATO Summit Special Series by writing a piece on Lithuania’s priorities for the Summit which can be found here .
Frankly speaking, professional development opportunities here at the Council in terms of getting first-hand experience, expanding one’s network or building expertise are amazing. Working with senior fellows and helping them with their projects is definitely one of the best ways to enhance one’s understanding of American foreign and security policy, which undoubtedly is important to the Baltic States as well.
Embrace your journey
Traveling makes you richer. Definitely yes! It lets you grow and discover yourself. Even more, it changes you and “you are not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
And this summer we have been traveling a lot! By saying a lot I mean that I could hardly remember any weekend spent in DC. Even if there were any, we were still circulating around and going our way – trying to get to know this country and what it has to offer.
Dipping our toes into the Atlantic Ocean
Oh yes! Being on the other side of the Atlantic can be really exciting,especially if it’s the first time you are dipping your toes into the ocean from the other side of the world! Haha! In the middle of June we visited Assateague Island which is located close to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and Ocean City, Maryland. The place is known for its wild ponies and pristine beaches. More than 300 ponies wander the beaches so you can enjoy them while lying on the beach or simply meet them on the parking lot. We met a few of them near the parking area. The island is well known because of its wildlife and can be a perfect weekend destination for those who miss real nature.
As the island is located close to Ocean City, we used the opportunity to stop in the city to look around. And to be honest, this is not a place I would visit twice. The place is really overcrowded and noisy. Maybe it’s just a bad first impression, but if you ever consider going there, think of other places along the East coast.
You might notice that I used the exclamation mark to emphasize the name of this city and not without reason. Annapolis is an amazing town situated on the Chesapeake Bay. This small seaport is the capital of the US State of Maryland which also served as capital to the newly forming American nation. Moreover, it is home to the US Naval Academy and a place where the Treaty of Paris, ending the Revolutionary War, was ratified by Congress. Definitely one of my favorite places around DC!
One of the must-do things when visiting Annapolis is eating crab or at least tasting crab cake. And believe me, crab cake is just awesome! I think the best crab cake I have had so far was in Annapolis. Remember before going!
Niagara Falls and Canada
Visiting Niagara Falls and Canada (basically Toronto and The Thousand Islands) was one of the three biggest trips I took this summer. After almost ten hours of driving, we finally reached this well-known tourist destination. The view was pretty amazing, especially getting closer to the breathtaking flow of water. We took one of the Niagara boat tours which brought us as close as possible to the falls and it was a really unforgettable experience. Highly recommend doing that! However, if you wanna see the whole beauty of the falls, you have to do that from the Canadian side of the river.
With another BAFF PiP Fellow Karoline from Estonia. Great time spent together!
On the way to Toronto we also stopped at the small Canadian town called Niagara-on-the-lake which is located in Southern Ontario or just a half an hour away from Niagara Falls. This city is often described as the prettiest in Ontario and I believe it really is. A well-preserved 19th-century town that has its own charm which brings you back home to Europe.
Niagara on the Lake
Toronto is a nice place. Some people compare it with NYC or sometimes say that Toronto is a Canadian version of NYC but I still haven’t been to NYC (on my list!) so I cannot tell you how it feels in reality. However, Toronto has its own vibe. Somehow I found it very cozy. We also used the opportunity to have lunch at the CN Tower with an amazing overlook of the city. Yay! Another recommendation if you once decide to go there.
Where America comes from
I guess one of the most exciting things about being in the United States is the rare opportunity to discover its rich history by visiting all the places which played an important role in shaping this countriy’s early days. And Williamsburg, VA is one of these historical cities that played an important role in the American Revolution. From 1699 to 1780 the city served as the capital of the Colony of Virginia. Today, with its 18th century houses, Williamsburg serves as a great place to feel the historical vibes of the times when America was just born.
Besides, those who love military history and would like to find themselves transported back to the days of the American Revolution should read the book “1776” written by David Mccullough. I definitely recommend that! Then traveling on the East coast becomes even more exciting and feels like traveling back in time.
Somewhere down in Texas
“Howdy Y’all!” as Texans would say! Visiting Texas was another big adventure this summer. It was more or less a spontaneous decision to go there (that’s what happens when you find cheap plane tickets) but definitely worth going. Texas is so different comparied to the East coast, at least the northern part is. It is quite flat and sometimes you feel like your are in the middle of nowhere. We drove basically 6 hours up north and passed only several small towns on our way. IN addition to that, I happened to see only few cowboys riding horses! Haha! However, one thing Texas is famous for is its canyon which is the second largest in the whole country. I still haven’t been to Arizona but even visiting Palo Duro Canyon National Park was something remarkable. I will be repeating myself again but one thing this country has is its nature. The greatness of America definitely resides in nature.
Fort Worth, TX
Palo Duro National Park, TX
Oh! I forgot to mention – before heading to Texas we stopped in Chicago. I really liked the place. Thanks to our host, we had a chance not only to see the city but also to visit the Lithuania World Center, which is located in Lemont, IL. Established almost 20 years ago, the center promotes and preserves Lithuanian culture. Pretty amazing to find a piece of Lithuania somewhere in the state of Illinois.
Visiting the West Coast: I-LEAD
At the end of August I had the opportunity to take part in I-LEAD (Intern Leadership Enrichment and Development Program) which was held in Seattle, Washington. It is the first ever program funded by the US State Department to enhance leadership skills and build cultural awareness while working on social ventures with young professionals from all over the world. Together with peers from 27 countries I spent a week working on different activities focused on building leadership experience, developing entrepreneurial capacity, and learning about community engagement to make a difference in our home countries. It was an incredible experience to meet, talk and share insights with young professionals coming from different parts of a globe – Peru, Mexico, Kuwait, Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Europe and Asia. The biggest takeaway from my experience of participating in I-LEAD probably is the understanding of how different we are. The fact is that, even though we all live in the same world, the_way we see, understand and communicate is so diverse that it’s hard to describe. I really enjoyed Seattle and our stay at the University of Washington.
Actually, the city kinda reminded me of Nordic countries. Maybe because of the chilly weather and the mountains which can be seen in the distance. And of course – the sunsets, beautiful sunsets on the West coast. After I-LEAD was over I, together with two fellow colleagues from Hungary and Latvia, visited Rugby beach located on the West Coast and National Olympic Park. We reached the beach by the time the sun was about to set on the Pacific Ocean. The view was splendid! I have never seen anything similar in Europe. The next day we headed to National Olympic Park to see the rain forest and do a bit of hiking.
Another thing which was a totally new cultural experience for me this summer is baseball! Needless to say,baseball is the most American sport you could imagine. Well, some Americans might disagree with me, but as one guy from the West coast told me “kids usually learn how to pitch first and then how to speak”!
In any case, I would say that going to a baseball game is absolutely one of the must things to do when you are visiting the States. Basically not because of the game itself but because of the whole show and atmosphere it creates. Americans are crazy about baseball! And Washingtonians are crazy about the Nationals (or Nats as they call them). Maybe even more than Lithuanians are crazy about basketball!
Fall seems to be pretty busy as well. Furthermore, the upcoming US presidential elections make life here in DC even more vibrant and interesting. That’s how life here looks like. I hope you enjoyed reading this. BAFF gives you really an incredible chance and it depends on you how much you are ready to take from your time here. Believe me, you can take a lot. So keep going and never stop moving forward. There is one old phrase which I like: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”Definitely true.