ciee - council on international educational exchange
BAFF

Participant Bloggers

What can your story be in the United States?

02/18/2014

Something you can really experience only in the US

 

Dear All,

I have not made a BAFF BLOG for a few months. Hard to say why, as plenty of fascinating things happened. I went on the BAFF enrichment trip in Los Angeles and I cannot imagine better location. However, I am not going to talk about the enrichment trip much. It was an amazing experience, perfectly organized and most significantly we had the chance to meet other colleagues and exchange our experiences.  Summarizing, everyone is extremely happy and grateful about the opportunity but time is flying too fast.

DSC_0003

In this BLOG post I will talk about the experiences which are waiting for you in the US. I am sure you are familiar with Halloween and perhaps not so much with the Thanksgiving Day. Nevertheless, both can only be truly experienced in the US. Finally in the end I will tell you about my sports experiences visiting NBA games and watching players which I grew up admiring, as well as with an American religion which is not as big in Europe – NFL (American football).  

Let’s begin with Halloween. This is a holiday all kids are in love with. Nevertheless, grown-ups can have as much fun.

Pumpkin carving

Preparation for Halloween in our house started earl. The first step was pumpkin carving - I have never done anything similar before and therefore it was so much fun. I was provided with all required instruments (even the pumpkin) all I needed to do is to employ my creativity and hands. To be honest I am not the most artistic person and maybe that was the reason the the  girl’s pumpkins looked way better than mine. However, it was a great fun to spend an evening playing with pumpkins.  

DSC_0551

DSC_0581

Forget about Madam Tussauds Museum, Welcome to Halloween parade!!!

Halloween is a very colorful holiday. Fun awaits you on the streets of the city. Besides the Halloween bike ride in downtown Washington, people go out to have fun all dressed up, some of them coming dressed up already to work. It’s ok in the morning to ride the metro with Batman & Robin, Hulk or even Barack Obama. Halloween is proof that people’s imagination is limitless. On the streets of Washington you could meet Queen Elizabeth or Prince William and Kate Middleton (with the baby), Alan from Hangover, Mike Tyson or Mohamed Ali. Not to mention, masses of robots, mummies, zombies and vampires. 

Thanksgiving, lovely time which reminds of Christmas

If Halloween getting bigger in our region, Thanksgiving remains a holiday which you might be less familiar with.  Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. Thanksgiving has its historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, and has long been celebrated in a secular manner as well. An unusual annual Day of Thanksgiving began in 1606 following the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and developed into Guy Fawkes Day. (For the last part, thank you - Wikipedia).

While Wikipedia helped me explain the significance of Thanksgiving, I will also try to illustrate what I’ve seen and experienced. First of all, it reminded me a lot of Christmas. Whole families gather together at one of the relatives place. Tons of food, with the main dish of stuffed turkey served with a cranberry sauce. Family members gather together by the table and pray before eating. Dinner is usually followed by sharing the latest news and watching American football. This is truly a lovely tradition and I strongly recommend you to experience it during your stay in the US.

By the way this thanksgiving was special because it falls on the same day as Chanukah. The next time the two will coincide would be when Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah eve in the year 2070. This will repeat in 2165.

DSC_0052

DSC_0033

NBA Games

I am Lithuanian and it’s no doubt that I love basketball. One of the things on my “to do list” was, of course, to see a NBA game. I did it! And not just once. The first game I went to was Wizards against Timberwolves , a great game with a lot talented athletes. I also visited the Wizards against Clippers game to see the Chris Paul and Blake Griffin duo, in which Chris Paul pulled out an amazing performance scoring over 30 points and shutting  down any Wizards chances. I did not miss the opportunity to watch our big man Jonas Valanciunas, when he visited Verizon Center. Valanciunas was not playing very well, but the Raptors took an easy win. During the week I stayed in NYC I  had to visit the newest arena in the NBA, Barclay’s center, home of the Brooklyn Nets,. It was wonderful to watch Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams and other players you grow up admiring. Finally, the last game which I could not miss is of course was Miami Heat at DC. This was the most spectacular game I ever watched, not only because LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and other played, but also because Wizards played their best game of the season with the Wizards scoring 42 points in the first quarter. The arena was full, of course, a lot fans supported James and Miami, however, I supported the underdog Washington Wizards, who played an amazing game that night, taking the W. NBA games are really fun especially when great teams are playing, tickets prices are higher, but it’s worth every penny.

1459186_10200170326140065_350252393_n

1961640_10153808416760371_296585545_n

1903261_10153808416820371_1687004194_n

1797404_10200558770130922_2067713266_n

1526877_10200472048842944_949620297_n

 

Superbowl

I happened to accidentally be in the center of action during the Super Bowl XLVIII event as I lived in New York City for the week during which NYC hosted the Super Bowl.  This is another day for Americans to go crazy about their favorite sports. Tickets to watch the Super Bowl in the stadium cost from $2000 USD up to $22, 000 USD and the stadium is always packed. Fans gather to the hosting city from all over the United States. In this years NFL finals the Denver Broncos played against the Seattle Seahawks. You might already know, but there was no intrigue in this game at all, the Seahawks crushed Denver becoming NFL champions XLVIII. I don’t know much about American football and cannot comment much about the reasons why this happened. All I heard at the bar where I was watching the game was the Broncos are a “one-man team” and that Manning did not deliver that night. Once they found out I don’t know much about football was extremely, the Americans at the bar where extremely helpful explaining every rule of the game. Even so, my knowledge of American football is very limited, I know that one of the greatest NFL players is Johnny Unitas who was of Lithuanian descent and that was surprising for my American fellows. The evening was great - I did not care much about who won, all I cared about was the fun and I got maximum amount of it.

Unitas HOH banner

Super-bowl-xlviii

 

Sincerly Yours,

Virginijus Sinkevičius

02/16/2014

Washington DC, how is it?

Is it as good as you imagined it? No, actually it’s not...it’s better! It has been three weeks already since I’m here and  I can truly admit – I have enjoyed every second!  I am really grateful to my family and friends back in Latvia who showed me so much love  and support which  really allowed me to come here in  high spirits and with a strong sense of gratitude. And of course , BAFF which made it all happen.

IMG_0073

 

I have to say that I am very lucky to live in a nice neighborhood with this terrific landlord,  Jerry , who is an extremely helpful, funny  and life-loving guy who really makes this place feel like home.   Up to now there hasn’t been a day when I have’t laughed to tears – that actually contributes a lot to my experience here.  For example, if a make a grammar mistake Jerry would always call me „Tarzan” and correct me. However sometimes I would try to argue my way out of the  situation by referring to some exceptions when my sentence would make sense and then Jerry would tell me „oh, now it is Tarzan the philosopher speaking” etc. Frankly, for me it is a lot of fun to come back home after work. In total we are 5 people at home and we often have dinner together, which I find really nice. We do our own small parties like – movie nights, board game evenings with Mexican food (when we were snowed in) but today it is all about the NBA All-star game.

Work

I work at the American Bar Association which really lives up to its motto „defending liberty,  pursuing justice”. It has top lawyers who are committed to making a difference and it is just a great honor to be working with these people. I received a warm welcome from my colleagues  - they took me out for lunch, showed me around and made me part of the team. I caught myself staring out the window thinking: „ Wow, here I am. I dreamed about this sooooo long. Now I’m here and and it feels exactly as it should feel like - great ”.  I want to make sure that I leave a good impression about Latvians and I learn as much as possible (there is a lot to learn), so probably I will get busier in the next few weeks. My working hours fly by very fast and I think it is because they manage to squeeze  in some fun activities during the day just to have some stress relief – every day at 2pm for around 15min  we do some exercises together(planking, wall standing, stretching etc.), we end meetings with some fun activities like „Flamingo challenge” and now we are planning a research office party. These people love  their jobs and they all have a good reason to do so.

Social life

The thing I really love about DC is that there is ALWAYS something going on. Actually most of the events are free – especially seminars, lectures, concerts, museums etc.  Also the Latvian Embassy here is very active, full of friendly people and they organize events  almost every week – it a great place to meet Latvians and other interesting people.

I am the most excited about experiencing some of the things that I used to see only in movies – like last week I went to a Gospel church and that was incredible – exactly like in the movies with all that dancing, singing and shouting „yeah,brother”. Needless to say people there  quickly realized that I was a new guy in town so they gave me a name tag, sang a song for me and people just came and shook my hand. That was quite an experience. These moments somehow really inspire me.

Lessons to keep in mind 

Some practical tips

1.       Don’t spend a gazillion dollars right away to buy something. Check craigslist and coupons first. Ask for advice!

2.      Want to visit some places but you brutally violated the tip Nr.1 and you're out of money ? – check out this website for lot of free things to do in DC

 http://dc.about.com/od/artsandentertainment/tp/25-Free-Things-To-Do-In-Washington-DC.02.htm It’s not all inclusive  but definitely a good list to start with.

3.      Don’t sign any contracts. Even if you do – there are never too many questions. Be really sure about terms & conditions (lawyers advice :D) If something looks too good to be true – it is.

4.      If you go somewhere, take your business card with you. DC is about meeting new people and networking.

5.      „What’s up?” is not a question that  requires an answer. It’s another way of saying „Hi” .

Universal lessons

You get more out of what you focus on. Along the way you will meet different kinds of people and find yourself in different kinds of situations, but you should not dwell upon negative ones too much. Somehow it is much easier to spot new opportunities or get to know awesome people when you truly appreciate the things you already have.  Therefore, some people will love DC some won’t – you choose.

Don’t have too many rules about life!  According to A. Robbins, a rule is an unconscious belief about how things are supposed to be. You have the choice to have lots of rules and a lot of stress or fewer rules and a lot of joy. If you find yourself getting upset about something, take a look at your rules. If my rule  for a great time in Washington were „Washington must have no winter and people must treat me like I’m this super fancy Latvian lawyer ”  I would not live on  easy street. And this is not about lowering your standards, it is the opposite – you consciously choose to work for things you can change and enjoy the things you can’t. Anyway, as a good friend of mine once told me „It’s all about the process, baby” – enjoy the ride.

Of course to get things you want in life - you have to work for them. This is huge for me because only now do I realize that nothing will really change unless I do. I’m the one who has to go out  and take life by the ‘cojones’. There is no later and there is no tomorrow. Don’t overanalyse! You want it –  go get it!  If there something you  really want, you should probably get busy.

The last one. The quality of your life is directly connected to relationships with people around you. You can have all the achievements and possessions in the world, but if you have nobody to care about, then it is like a drop in the ocean. We are humans – we need each other! I’m really lucky to have people I love back home and some wonderful people around me here and that makes all the difference. Invest time in good relationships – that will bring the most satisfaction.

 

Washington DC,  how is it? It is exactly  what you make of it. 

 

 

With love,

Mārtiņš

 

 

 

02/11/2014

From a Writing Slate to the Node Chair

It reminds me of a writing slate my grandfather used to practice writing. The Verb whiteboard supplied with a table dock is small enough for personal use and large enough to share and work with a team. It is just one of the items which help in creating active learning environment that I have seen and tried out myself when visiting Steelcase at their global headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The people I met and the day I spent there have provided me with insights on exemplary corporate culture and contemporary learning environments.

  IMG_2730

 An insight into one of the learning spaces at the Steelcase University

Blurring the boundaries between the academic and corporate world is something that I have become interested in. Representing a generation that was trained in a traditional classroom, I find it fascinating to observe how new learning environments are being designed through joint projects, university case-studies and communication between university staff, faculty, students, designers and researchers. On the one hand, Steelcase employs a team of researchers and designers who work with potential clients and explore their needs in contemporary office and learning space furniture and furnishings while Steelcase University provides formal and informal learning spaces, nine high-tech classrooms, various breakout and touchdown spaces, a Discovery Learning Center, a Distance Learning Center, practice installation labs, a café and a special area for staff. Having tried out a number of chairs, desks, and tables, I assume students and faculty would both enjoy the Node chair designated for easy transitions from one teaching mode to the next with a tripod base for backpacks.

  IMG_2729

 Dr. Scott-Webber demonstrating the Node chair

 Universities, on the other hand, benefit from maximizing the synergies with the corporate world in accommodating the needs of more engaging pedagogy and active learning. I met Lennie Scott-Webber, PhD, Director of Education Environments Globally at Steelcase who shared their experience on collaboration with universities. I got hold of a journal on "Active Learning Spaces" and a copy of the latest "360 degrees The New I.Q.Amplify Your Innovation Quotient"; both publications can be downloaded from the Steelcase website. This visit has been an eye-opener on how much could be achieved through trying a variety of furniture setups to create ideal classroom configuration. At the same time, being at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan I can experience how engaging students in action-based learning is achieved through taking a fresh approach to their classrooms, implementing a strategy that includes engagement, collaboration and flexibility.

  IMG_2726

 Enjoying the working environment at the Steelcase University

http://360.steelcase.com/case-studies/university-of-michigan/

 

http://www.steelcase.com/en/products/category/educational/documents/ses_active_learning_spaces_interactive.final.pdf

http://360.steelcase.com/issues/rethinking-higher-education-spaces/

01/16/2014

A2 = U-M3

Let me involve you in deciphering the above equation:

 Ann Arbor = A2 and

University of Michigan, Michigan Stadium and Michigan Wolverines = U-M3

 that characterize the lifestyle here that has become my home for 11 months. As a university town or college town as Americans call them, it is a great place to study, work and live, and according to America’s 20 most economically vibrant college towns, Ann Arbor is ranked second in The Atlantic by Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist and best known for his concept of creative class. In line with his theory of creative class, and indeed, the University of Michigan, a public university with 43, 426 student enrollment, offering 247 bachelor’s, 87 master's, and 34 graduate-level certificate and 108 PhD programs is a melting pot with people generating ideas and creating new opportunities in arts, business, education, engineering, information technologies, medicine and sports. Thus it is perfectly in line with mens sana in corpore sano or a healthy mind in a healthy body, and the university sports facilities across the town with the Michigan Stadium and Michigan Wolverines have become strong trademarks for A2.     

  Big House

The main entrance to the Michigan Stadium

 On a Saturday afternoon sitting in the Michigan Stadium among 109,901 spectators and watching the football game along with others, I cheer the Michigan Wolverines team “Let’s go blue”. Before the game I went to the M-Den to buy a cap in blue and maize colors and letter “M”, and a raincoat with “M”. I point to the colors, because they are important when it comes to states, universities and sports. The town changes completely during the game weekend on ‘Game Day’ that happens every other Saturday during the season with hundreds of cars coming into town and tailgating – an American tradition interesting to see and experience with having a social event near an open tailgate of a car with food and beverages typically on a parking lot nearby the Big House as the stadium is called here. The Michigan spirit is felt all over the town, and it is a great event for families to come and combine the game with visiting those who study at the University of Michigan, and the annual university homecoming is also linked to the football Saturday. On October 5, 2013 it was the 113th homecoming game in Ann Arbor, and it was the 33rd time U-M hosted Minnesota on homecoming, the most of any opponent.

  IMG_2842

Whether it is sunshine, rain or snow, the Big House is full.

 The University of Michigan and the Michigan Stadium go together as they symbolize the pride, tradition and excellence of the University of Michigan, and I feel I have already become part of the U-M crowd.

 

01/03/2014

Merry Christmas and happy New York!

Dear all, hope you enjoyed the end of the 2013 and happily welcomed the New Year. Wish you all great success, never ending energy and new discoveries every day!

As for me – past two weeks have been really contrasting and I am glad that this festive season has finally ended. I really want to go back to normal life :) When I got to know I have to come to the US before Christmas and New Year, I was happy and worried at the same time. On the one hand, I really wanted to see how people celebrate here, what traditions, events etc. they have and also to enjoy New Year’s Eve in a completely different country. But, on the other hand, I knew for sure that this time of the year for being alone in an unknown environmnet will be a tough experience.

Almost ”home alone” Christmas

As there were so many Christmas days, I tried to fill them with different events and planned out a tight schedule to avoid having free time for sad thoughts. I did a lot of walk in Washington downtown – just seeing buildings, people, environment, traffic, squirells (so many! and everywhere), christmas decorations and more. It was such a great feeling just being alone and walking wherever I want, drinking coffee whenever I want, being like an observer of life in Washington and trying to absorb everything.

IMG_1009 IMG_1023IMG_1058

One day I went to nearly located cinema in Silver Spring to watch latvian movie ”Mother, I love You”, that was shown here within some European film festival. As I hadn’t seen it in Latvia, it seemed a great opportunity to do it now. But this probably wasn’t the best choice how to avoid homesickness in a Christmas time :) And it was so strange to see streets of Riga and our old, blue trams and city centre in the movie. Those, who have seen the movie, know that also our national anniversary celebration (18th of November), fireworks and all these patriotic scenes are shown there. So, I really had a feeling of going to the airport after watching the movie :)

IMG_1069Silver Spring theatre

During Christmas holidays I went to see Washington National Cathedral and annual Festival of Lights at the Washington Mormon Temple that was georgeous! Breath taking, huge temple and everything – even the smallest tree branch - illuminated with christmas lights and beautiful concert afterwards. Subtle taste of Christmas!

IMG_1118Festival of lights @Mormon temple

IMG_1103

And also ”Zoolights” in Washington Zoo were great! You can just walk for hours there and enjoy all the lights, animals, flow of people and fresh air.

IMG_1292 IMG_1290

What I didn’t like about Christmas events was faces of people when I answered their questions about my Christmas plans. In all places where you buy tickets, when someone asked how many tickets do I need, I answered – one. And then there were those ”seriously?” style faces and I saw compassion and people said they are sorry and so on. Like you can’t go somewhere alone during Christmas! At the beginning it felt strange, but later – I kind of enjoyed these situations and told people ironically that it is possible to enjoy everything also without others! :) This was also one of the greatest discoveries about myself during the Christmas season. I learned to be alone, ignore what others think and how it looks. I just enjoyed my own company, events and had time to think and become more stronger and independent (at least – I hope so).

But I wasn’t alone for long, cause Juberts’ family invited me to have a Christmas dinner with them and that was a really lovely evening – with roasted ducks, songs, bible reading in latvian, presents and more. And not to mention my dear friends and family that kept me updated about their latvian Christmas all the time – sent me photos of their Christmas trees, dinners, gatherings and also audio files with my sister playing saxophone and grandfather playing accordion. Of course, I wanted to be with them, but at the same time all these small things warmed my heart and I knew that in my mind I was with them.

IMG_1175some random deers in my way to christmas eve dinner IMG_1198and dogs under the christmas tree IMG_1227Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus!

New York, New York

And this is another story - New Year in New York :)

Last year I was jealous of my mother and her so called ”mind /wishes map” that she made the year before – it’s the piece of paper where you glue or draw all the wishes you want to come true for the next year – the more specifically, the better. Last year it turned out almost everything she wished for came true and I couldn’t believe it! I never believed these things (it’s just silly, isn’t it?). But I didn’t want to waste my wishes, so, decided to secretely make my own map for the year 2013. And, believe it or not, almost everything came true also for me. A year ago I didn’t know about BAFF and that I will be going to US, but one of the photos I used in my map was the picture of Empire State building. Now being in America for a while I understood that this wish is closer than ever (approximately 350 km) and I need to fulfill it till the end of 2013.  So, a plan for the New Year was ready – 5 hours in a bus and I was in the New York City.

  IMG_1332

I spent there three days and it is pretty difficult to describe everything or summarize words in one impression about New York. It’s huge, it’s awesome, it’s full of everything, it’s busy, lonely, dynamic, wealthy, poor..

Martins, my colleague from BAFF area who studies in New York University, welcomed me in his city and showed me around. We had a really intensive sightseeing speed during those days and we managed to see a lot, basically Manhattan, of course. And a bit of New Jersey, where he lives and even a smaller bit of Brooklyn, where we celebrated New Year’s Eve.

IMG_1335 IMG_1340Times  Square exactly one day before NYE IMG_1346

During first hours in New York I wanted to take photos of everything – every building and every crowd of people. But soon I understood – it’s useless and it’s not like you are passing by some specific must see place and never will come back. New York itself is one big must see sightseeing place and skyscrapers never end, they are everywhere and each of them – like a piece of art. Buildings were the most magnificent for me in NYC – you can just walk streets and enjoy them, count floors, imagine how they were built, admire them.. it really is breathtaking. 

IMG_1368Central park - Manhattan view

IMG_1379
an ordinary day @ Grand Central Terminal IMG_1383Chrysler Building

And I finally got the proof that those desktop pictures google.com offers us really exist. When the day darkened, we took a ferry to the near Staten Island and the view from the ferry was unbelievable. It’s like you look and see for real, but still can’t believe that in front of you highlights all Manhattan, skyscrapers, Empire State building and everything else that You are used to see at the beginning or ending of movies.

IMG_1395 IMG_1398awesomeness from the ferry

IMG_1411awesome me on the ferry :)

IMG_1415Wall Street stock exchange IMG_1401life is all about breath taking moments, this one is called "the Statue of Liberty"

IMG_1432and Brooklyn Bridge

IMG_1435and drinking cocktails in a restaurant with such a view is something you can't describe in a normal sentence, so, I will skip that

Some first impressions about New York:

- pedestrians rule the world there (as there are an enormous amount of people and also cars, it’s pretty difficult to choose your own walking speed. You are dependent on others – one hundred people in front and one hundred behind :) But car drivers are kind of scared of pedestrians, because they are unpredictable. They don’t wait for allowed signal to cross the street, they just go and everyone else is waiting. At least in the center. Of course, with my police background it was a bit difficult to follow these rules, but I get used to that pretty soon :))

IMG_1545

- police is everywhere (whether in cars, on streets or specially built places – police can be seen everywhere and this a good strategy, how they show that everything’s under control all the time and police is accessible almost on every corner. Whatsmore, police in New York functions also as a ”good friend”, whom I can ask questions about right directions and what to do in different situations. So called, community policing.)

IMG_1339 IMG_1536

IMG_1527
cheap metro!
(comparing with Washington, I had a feeling I have a special discount for metro in NYC. If in New York one metro ride costs +/- 2,5 dollars, in DC there is a special formula for every ride (depends on length, number of stops, time of the day) but normally from Rockville to DC it costs approximately 4 – 6 dollars!)

IMG_1518metro performances

like seen in movies??!? (Sometimes when you go to places you have seen in movies, there are many things that actually turns out not to be true. But at least after these three days, I got the impression that in New York everything is like seen in the movies – starting with skyscrapers and finishing with people. Also the contrasts are really powerful - You can see glamorous restaurants and high-heeled business women, but just around the corner there are lots of homeless people and trash on the streets (movies, movies..). There are so called Manhattan elite that lives in freshly built buildings with a view to Central park or river and there are more dangerous areas where you feel insecure if you don’t carry a gun with you. Contrasts. Contrasts.)

IMG_1475

IMG_1412

IMG_1491playing fun in Chinatown (sooo reminded of Vermanes park in Latvia) IMG_1497Chinatown 2

people care less about others (now, when I have a point of reference (friendly Rockville and Washington), I can say that in New York people are too busy with themselves. They all are rushing somewhere with their own thoughts and life paths, they just converge with crowd and are impersonal. And that is what I lacked most – smiles and more personal attitude. Everyone is just a small, small, invisible point in a huge ocean of people and it’s easy to lost yourself there.)

IMG_1544IMG_1462officially highest building in the States - the new World Trade Center (opening on 2014)

IMG_1484

I spent in New York only three days and therefore, logically, can’t analyze in depth what I liked or disliked. Three days for New York is like running into supermarket and buying the first three things You see without going to the other end of the supermarket. But at least I got a short insight in the city and also improved my geographical sense of this continent.

New York was great, of course. But just as I know this, I also know that dream cities don’t exist and I couldn’t live there for a longer period of my life someday. It’s great to go there, feel the heartbeats of city, enjoy the craziness and dynamics, but it’s so good to come back to my political, perfectly ordered Washington, and after that - back to Latvia :) 

And continuing the tradition of one philosophical thought of the blog.. ;D

in the end, life is about contrasts, that change all the time and you should be flexible enough to capture everything and turn every situation in a life enjoying moment. So many emotions, people, situations – one time you’re falling deeper and deeper in depression, the next moment you feel like the king of the world.

For me the past two weeks were exactly like that - lonely wine drinking in an empty apartment with no Christmas tree, sitting alone in a metro and getting bored counting how many stops are left till the destination. Then again – standing in the middle of the Manhattan, losing breath of everything – people, skyscrapers, dynamics, walking on the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the night.. life is breath taking no matter whether you drink wine alone or catch moments with millions of people in the NYC streets. It's probably called the art of living. Still need to learn a lot.

IMG_1559and this is my last "check" of 2013's to do list, starting a new one now and encouraging You to do the same

Have a wonderful year, friends! How wonderful? It depends only on You! :)

more photos - http://www.flickr.com/photos/112167179@N03/sets/

 

 

12/27/2013

Surviving first sprint in the U.S. or ”life begins at the end of Your comfort zone”

A sentimental introduction

Last few months in Latvia I spent time telling people story about the amazing BAFF opportunity I’ve got – to go to America for a professional internship, work in my field of interest and experience everything american culture has to offer. I didn’t know the exact dates or organisation I will be interning in. That was just fun to talk to people and try to imagine what the life across the ocean could be.

Only one week before actual flying to States I finally realized that it is really happening and this is not some virtual theme anymore, so I had to get ready for this life changing experience.

I also realized that it won’t be so easy as telling those stories before. That I will be the person that will have to get in that airplane, pack all my life in one or two bags, leave people I love, leave my job (that I also loved so much!), leave my home country landscapes, winter mornings and summer evening.. everything.

But at the same time I knew that this journey will toughen me as a personality and will make me learn things I wouldn’t have learned in my comfort zone where everything was known and predictable. So, my dear friend Una sent me a very encouraging article that said: ”Moving around the world teaches you many things. It isn’t for everyone. It takes a special type of person to be able to do that..” http://thoughtcatalog.com/rachel-rae/2013/11/10-things-about-living-abroad-no-turning-back/#TzOqZILIsr4SY1Zb.01

So, I started to perceive this as one of the exams life has passed me and was ready to start a reality show with myself in a key role.

Goodbye, Riga & hello, America!

Paari okeenama

 Let the game begin

 

IMG_0621Getting nervous in Denmark

After spending million hours in airports and planes (ok, just 2 hours in Copenhagen airport and some 9 – 10 while crossing the ocean), I finally arrived at my destination – Washington, Dulles airport. As I wasn’t trying to get drugs or fresh pork across the border, all the stuff with imigration officers, questons – answers and baggage checkings actually went really well and I was oficially allowed to take the first steps on an American ground.

I was also lucky that my internship supervisor Karl managed to pick me at the airport, otherwise I don’t know whether I will be writing my first blog right now. Cause Dulles airport is so huge that you actually need a map to navigate yourself there. But this story ended happily and after short trip we were finally at Rockville – my official internship place and the town approximately 30 mins from Washington, DC. We went straight to the office. But not to start working, but to meet my future colleagues from American Latvian Association. And there very many of them, because they were preparing for next days board meeting still that late in the evening. So, in my first evening in America, I got to know some 6 – 8 latvians, isn’t that great? 

Among them was also my surname – sister (Juberte!) that offered me to stay at her family house while I am a homeless person. (about the surnames – it’s another story, still working on our family tree research).

IMG_0648my christmas residence for the first week

IMG_0734
having dinner with lovely Juberts family - the best home you can wish for a fresh start in a new country

 

IMG_0637studying american money @ another wi-fi cafe (they saved me many times during the first week, when I lost myself, others or direction)

First weekend – social events and getting to know even more latvians!

First days in America were tough. Everything happened at the same time – new people, new environment, new money items, new events, weather etc. From time to time just wanted to press ”stop” button and take a deep breath. But wasn’t time for that.

As the first was the weekend of a board meeting of American Latvian Association (ALA), they invited me to join a couple events. On Saturday I attended dual citizenship seminar in Latvian embassy. After that - joined a ”social event” (they call it like that, but everyone knows what it actually means J) with wine and latvian food, chat with different people – both american latvians and guests. So much positive emotions, contacts and great time spent there!

And my first american Sunday turned out to be a real latvian one! Again :) Together with colleagues of ALA we went to latvian church (that’s located in the same building where my office!), enjoyed ministraton and I had the first opportunity to think philosophical thoughts about meaning of life and why everything happens as it happens.. After that we went to annual latvian Christmas market, where different latvian organisations and individuals sold homemade things, food, old latvian books and other historic things. Atmosphere – very friendly and nice. We also had a traditional latvian dinner with stewed cabbages and so called ”rasols”. It was actually funny that during the first few days here I tasted more latvian food that normally during a year in Latvia.

Few days later I had the oportunity to attend the Christmas tree lighting event in Latvian embassy in Washington. It was one more great evening with american – latvian society, embassadors and other officials. Latvian band called ”Xylem trio” performed a beautiful Christmas concert. After that - hot wine, gingerbreads and enjoyment of festive atmosphere.

IMG_0767

My first official something - @ dual citizenship seminar

IMG_0760

IMG_0762

IMG_0752home, sweet home - getting ready for christmas tree lighting @ Latvian Embassy

IMGL3257
and enjoying a wonderful christmas concert

IMG_0777
latvian christmas market @Rockville

IMG_0781

IMG_0771and guess who bought the handmade latvian clock? Yes. And it is awesome. And heavy.

Solving issues of Maslov’s pyramid

As you remember from school years when studying about Maslov’s hierarchy of needs – you can start thinking of normal life, work and psychological things when you have a place to live, food to eat etc.  So, I set myself one week deadline to establish the basic level of the pyramid. And I was succesful. Without going into details – I found a nice room in a centre of Rockville (beautifully named - Monroe street) and moved in exactly after one week. The location is great – I can cross a street and take a metro if want to go to DC or take a bus to go to the office in Rockville. And what’s even more great – I can use a gym that’s located some 20 metres from my apartment. And, of course, I went there at the earliest opportunity. Don’t know whether people enjoy sport here, but I dindn’t complain about being the only person in a gym. So, I am now officialy starting to grow muscles for my first American summer :) Miami, wait for me! 

IMG_0893 IMG_0743 IMG_0835
this latvian flag has experienced a lot, last time lived in Malta for almost  five months, now - finding it's place in America

Zaaleand my private gym :)

IMG_0640friends, this is friendly Rockville

IMG_0635 IMG_0830
car wasn't supposed to be there, but otherwise - christmas in Rockville

IMG_0639and for my dear ex colleauges - we have our own sheriff :)

Vaavereand squirells everywhere

 PEOPLE

In a supermarket:

Happy american: ”Wow, I like your boots, where did you get them?”

Lita (sharply) after a pause: ”In Latvia.”

Happy american not so happy anymore – ”???” and just walked away

Everyone I met during my first days here was so kind, nice and helpful. I even got suspicios at some points thinking whether these people aren’t acting.. but they were not. And this is something we (in Latvia & other countries) have to learn – to become more open, helpful, stop calculate what is the benefit of doing something, but just be nice. That doesn’t sound very difficult, right?

And this is not the story only about latvians in America, but about the most part of the people - they simply are positive and seem interested to help if somebody is in trouble. Though at the beginning I also looked strange to everyone that was doing it. Especially in shops and other public places when people (not only the ones who work there) asked questions like ”How are You?”, ”How is Your day?” etc. And also expressed different compliments, like ”How I love Your nails!”, ”You have beautiful earrings!”, ”This jacket will make You look like a model. Really!”

That felt weird at the beginning. And I wasn’t answering (like in Latvia you ususally think that someone has gone mad). But after few days started to feel like an angry bird in a ”happy American society” :)  So, started to chat with people, answer that my day was great, told stories about Latvia, my internship and how blonde I am in a new environment. And that was fun, cause I got to now new people, things and also useful tips how to survive here.

So, a tip for the future – if You are in America, don’t send people to Latvia for boots, it’s just a nice way how to start a conversation :)

First internship week – a powerful beginning with Clinton, McCain and handshake with a real congressman

Since my first internship day (started officially on the 9th of Dec) some time has passed, but now, trying to summarize the first two weeks, I have to stay that it has been a splendid start!

For a brief introduction – I am interning at JBANC (Joint Baltic American National Committee) – it is a non-profit organization that represents the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian communities here in America and promotes Baltic-American agenda in Washington. Or, more simply, – JBANC does a PR job for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to make sure America gets our issues and doesn’t forget them, as well as cooperates with different organisations and state authorities to help both sides when working with Baltic themes. My responibilities while being at JBANC will be quite diverse, but mostly – focused on media and public outreach and organisational things that also includes attending political events, conferences and keeping up with global issues. Sounds really exciting, right? Or as Kevin Spacy says: ”Welcome to Washington!” (and this again is another story – cause everyhting that happens in congress and other serious buildings is so greatly played in the ”House of Cards” that sometimes it becomes difficult to separate serial from the real life :))

But continuing about my internship – no doubt, it would be quite political one, but till now I have been more a communications person that has studied and worked in PR and communications field, only knowing the basics about politics in Lavia, not to mention the United States. Therefore, while flying across the ocean, I wanted to become smarter, of course, and read some printed Wikipedia materials about the U.S. politics. I learned some basic stuff, like – what is the diference between senate and congress and how many politicians work in Washington. Nothing in depth, as you can understand :) Therefore this will be quite a challenege, but I have a feeling that I am on the right track.

IMG_0913This is my actual office - not the church, but inside the same building

One of the first events I had to attend in relation to my internship, was ”Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize” award ceremony that took place in one of the most fascinating DC buildings – in Cannon House Office Building right across the Capitol. This year’s prize recipient was also impressive – Hillary Clinton. She was awarded as being a leader on internet freedom and women’s rights. And there I was – two days after landing in the U.S. and for the first time being in Washington, drenched in rain (cause I had nothing at that time, even an umbrella) – I was in a room full with politicians, national media, human rights experts and more and more. Listened to amazing, perfectly written speeches and got the real inspiration and confidence that this is gonna be the time of my life. And I have to enjoy every single moment of it. Because - how often do You really have an opportunity to tap on the Clinton’s shoulder? (no, I didn’t do that, that was only my second day, couldn’t take the risk to be kicked out of the country so soon).

IMG_0660Must have in this blog - the Capitol. No matter how many times you've seen it in movies, this is a complete different story when you see it yourself for the first time

IMG_0675the Hillary event

IMG_0709

After few days also John McCain decided to meet me :) He organized a public event expressing his opinion on situation on Ukraine and America's role in it. Scenario - quite similar. Media, politicians, foreign policy experts, embassadors. And me - trying to grasp every moment and word there.

IMG_0957

IMG_0939
IMG_0950

IMG_0955some selfie stuff that's becoming more and more popular

IMG_0953and downtown Washington's landscape

One more event we attended that week was 9th Anniversary celebration of Adriatic Institute in Capitol Hill Club, where champions of liberty were honored. Among them also Edwin Meese III, who served long-time during president Ronald Reagan years. It was a great honor just to be in the same building with this adorable historical personality and listen to him and others that have achieved so much and have done a really hard work to leave something lasting not only for America, but the whole world. These and other events during my first internship days were really powerful and it was pretty difficult to recover from that ”first moment shock” and understand that this is really happening – it is a real life, real environment and real personalities I have to enjoy for the next coming months. 

IMG_0866Edwin Meese III speaking. After the event had the possibility to meet him personally and start collecting "handshakes of great personalities"

My first time in the United States Congress

But the first weeks weren’t only about drinking wine with awesome people. We had to do also some work :)  One day together with my internship supervisor or JBANC managing director we went to ”the Hill” (here it stands for the United States Congress or buildings where members of congress are working). We were dropping off JBANC letters and asking congress people to cosponsor the Black Ribbon Day resolution (or in simple words – asking for support in promoting the 23rd of August as the ”Black Ribbon Day” when recognizing the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes).

Karl gave me a cool ”Congress book” with names and contacts and we started our tour. We were visiting some 30-40 congress people offices, telling about the Black Ribbon Day idea and asking to participate. It was fun just to walk with Karl through the long hallways and enjoy conversations. It was more like a show for me – to experience for the first time how people seen in movies actually work – how offices are furnished, how staff are dressed, how straight flags are standing in front of the each and every office, how smiling are cleaning ladies etc. At the end of the day I felt like after a marathon, both – physically and emotionally. Then I understood why Karl suggested to wear a comfortable shoes before :) So many impressions! And I also got to talk to staff member in some offices trying to pretend that this is not my first week in States and the first time in Congress.

IMG_0848the magic book - congress at my fingertips :)

IMG_0847

IMG_0845

IMG_0850

IMG_0852summary of the day - few business cards

What surprised me the most in all this adventure was the fact that congress people are so available! I had imagined that there would be like 100 security controls before actually getiing in. And that you really need a super-super reason why you are approaching congress buildings at all. But nothing like that. Theoretically – if you are a homeless person, it’s the best place in the centre where to warm yourself a bit. You just need to go through one security control (be sure not to take any liquids, bombs etc. with you) and that’s all. You’re in and can go anywhere – just to explore the magnificent building or knock some congressmen door, if you want. Of course, there most probably exist that super safety control somewhere around we can’t imagine, but the first impression is really cool – you have a problem, go and solve it there, if necessary.

IMG_0854after well done job

IMG_0931and some other meetings with officials, each and every one of them - like a whole politics course in the university

 

 

Statedept (1)with the State dept.

Statedept (7)with the three Baltic embassies

Statedept (5)
Statedept (8)
serious me

DSCN1160political me

OK, that’s it.

I’ve been trying to finish this first blog for quite a time. Every day there are new experiences, conclusions, emotions, but it is impossible to include everything in the blog. Therefore I am stopping here for this time.

P.S. just few concluding thoughts / impressions after first weeks in America:

- everything’s BIG! (starting with distances and finishing with eveyday stuff you buy in a shop. In Latvia you should have at least 4 children family to buy packages like this);

 - wihtout a car it’s quite impossible to live here (if you don’t live in the centre close to public transportation). So, almost everyone has a car and they spend long hours in traffic while getting home-work / work-home;

- people don’t walk, everything seems far for them and if some stranger (like me) walks just some 2 or 3 kilometers to get somewhere they usually don’t think person is normal (and also car drivers show their attention signaling or expressing different comments, especially if you are outside the city centre);

- not possible to find traditional Latvian style supermarkets in a walking distance in the city centre (so, again – need a car, if you want to buy something normal to eat, like fresh vegetables etc.);

- if you finally find those supermarkets, can’t buy normal alcohol there (it’s not that I am alcoholic, but it feels safer if a bottlle of whiskey is available in a walking distance. But not in America, here you need to find a special tobacco / alcohol store),

 

IMG_0876
this one was the first alcohol I bought here - splendid, right?

& cheers!

P.P.S. summarizing everything in one "philosophical thought of the first blog", I am sure that everything happens for a reason - people we meet and opportunities we have are not just accidents. We have to be open enough and brave enough to take the risks and not to choose the easiest way, because "life begins at the end of your comfor zone" and this is so true!

Take care, enjoy life and don't be afraid to challenge yourselves - it's the only way how to find out what you are capable of.

And I am sooo sorry about the length of this blog, I've always had this "graphoman problem" :(

Do I have more photos? But, of course, just check here :) http://www.flickr.com/photos/112167179@N03/sets/

Welcome to Washington, friends! See you in the next blog!

Welcome

12/02/2013

Long time no see...

It’s been a long and busy time for last few months. A lot have happened during this time - new works and great projects, great trips, family visits, amazing get together with BAFF peeps and much more.

So in this blog I will try to get you up to date with everything that you missed during this quite period on my blog. 

By the way it’s now have been seven months here in United States of America - enjoying every moment here!

So first things first.. previously we left off somewhere around June...

As in CA - the weather has always been good - especially living in LA/Santa Monica - ocean, beach, street vendors, attractions, sports, and surfing... Summer is the best time here!

One of my new hobbies here in California - mastering Surfing the waves!

C1

C3

C9

C8

The best way how to start your Day!

 

During the sumer on 4th of July week I had visitors from San Francisco - Lelde and Maarit. Together we relaxed and enjoyed time off on National Holiday - The Independence Day and my name-day - So that was fun.

But that is not the best part - after that when it was time to go back to SF - spontaneous idea - to go with them and see city of San Francisco! So I joined them for the first visit to San Fran!

2

11

SanFran_001

SanFran_007

3

SanFran_011

SanFran_013

SanFran_018

SanFran_019

SanFran_022

SanFran_003

SF11122005

2

7

SF is amazing city! Everyone can find something for themselves - downtown finance district, Hight street hippie neighborhood, vintage and hipster places, innovation fulfilled air of Palo Alto, nature and parks, history and architecture - WOW. Love this city!

1

Sometime in August I went to see some BAFF people in San Diego. Even thou it’s very close to LA - it’s nothing like it - the live is more relaxed and city itself is smaller and more nature based! A lot of parks and nature.

There I was hosted by Dace, and I met Tija in her hosting family owned district in old town SD.

SanDiego004

SanDiego007

SanDiego010

SanDiego014

SanDiego015

SanDiego021

SanDiego024

21

Overall a nice weekend trip, if not for my bad experience with Toll Roads - that ended with traffic fine - $120 - for not using the toll roads the right way and missing tollbooths. 

In september my sister Indra and her boy Janis visited me for two weeks. It was great travel time. We rented a car and drove around 2133,9 miles in 10 days - Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon! 

  Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 12.45.01 PM

Pacific Coast Highway up to SF was a great ride, despite the fact that the weather was against us - it was foggy and cloudy - not much of a sight, but it was amazing any way! We got to see PCH in diverse conditions.

BIG SUR 001

BIG SUR 002

BIG SUR 004

BIG SUR 003

BIG SUR 006

BIG SUR 008

On our way back we took Freeway number 5 - the most straight road I have ever driven on - it was linearly straight like for 400 miles. Just set the cruise control on 75 mph and keep the wheels straight like forever.

One day home and we are off to Las Vegas, NV. On friday evening, around 5pm, we spent like 3h on traffic jams just to get out of LA, and then after 2 more hours - Vegas here we are!

Vegas001

Vegas002

Vegas003

Vegas004

20130914_232913

The Grand Canyon - It’s Just WOW! Just sit down and enjoy the natures great power to make something this amazing! Standing next to it and looking down on ant size helicopters touring inside the canyon - it’s hard to grasp the size of it. 

Totally worth paying $40 to see this one of worlds greatest wonders. 

GCanyon003

GCanyon006

20130914_115556

GCanyon007

GCanyon008

GCanyon009

GCanyon010

GCanyon013

GCanyon014

GCanyon015
 So that brings us in October - The Enrichment trip here in LA. There is a lot to write... so I will make this one next!

 So this was a fast recap of few months here... Stay tuned, as the next episode will be up shortly...  

To be continued...

 

It's December in California. 

09/12/2013

Summarizing Summer

Time is flying fast, honestly, too fast. It’s already been two months since I arrived in the United States and I only ten months left. After my first post here I received many questions about the program. I am happy to reply to all of you guys and will do so. Only one thing, do not ask me if it’s worth applying. I can confirm you once and for all that this is the best experience you can get, a unique chance not only to live and experience the American way of life for 12 months, but also work in a great environment, learning and utilizing your skills. After every event your connections list will expand faster than lightning. It is only up to you how much you will take from this experience - BAFF provides you with all the basics you need, help and assistance anytime.

Picture 010

It’s already September outside, however, here in DC you cannot feel that, temperature remains 23 – 27 degrees. Therefore, it’s time to summarize this summer. I was driving from New York City to Washington DC (3-4 hours drive) when I realized that this is the greatest summer in my life. Thanks to Baltic American Freedom Foundation Fund.

BAFF BBQ

Let’s begin with BAFF students get together. My amazing landlord Jerry (he is worth being mentioned in every blog) invited all members of the BAFF family to his house. I just asked if we can host a small party and he replied – I will take care of it, just let me know the count! Jerry really knows how to cook, especially on the grill which was covered with different types of meat; guests could try African chicken, American burgers or pork steaks. It was a great evening meeting with other BAFF participants from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Everyone looked happy and we made a deal to set up a similar party soon.

556371_10153101500105612_140707605_n

4 States in 5 days

9551367928_9ba0bdf013_c

My girlfriend finally arrived to the United States and we decided to take a small holiday. August is very quite in DC, especially for think thanks so I did not have any problems asking for a week off. We decided to rent a car and visit the East coast beaches. In five days we travelled around four states. We visited Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA, Outer Banks, NC, Rehoboth Beach, DE and Ocean city, MD. It was a really interesting experience as every beach was different - from a quiet and similar setting to the Baltic Sea Front full dunes in the Outer Banks to overcrowded, full of bars, loud music and different kind of people in Ocean city. Weather was not that great for sunbathing, but I did not miss the opportunity to swim in the ocean. Restaurants offered a variety of great food and I consider the mini-holiday as a great success.

9551373814_692d13cceb_c

9548598689_f07e380202_z

 

Tian – Tian

9669737265_e3aa05fe6a_z

I always admired Giant Panda’s they are really cute animals, watching them live is even more fun. If you are by chance in a city which zoo has this cute animal – go and visit him. Washington DC National Zoo has the honor to host two Panda’s. Female Panda Mei Xiang just gave a birth to a baby panda cub whom remains isolated from visitor’s noise. However, male Panda Tian –Tian is available for us to admire. I will be honest; it is not easy to spot him. Panda’s do not like heat. DC weather is way too hot for them. Tian –Tian is usually out just for a short period of time and only if there is a treat for him. It took me four visits to finally see him, I had to get up at 6:50am and be at the ZOO at 7-20am to see that adorable creature. He is really funny. You will quickly forget the time you had to get up.

9669710157_2f4802bd0f_z
9672917828_7b2e9b1602_z

Baltic Summit 2013

9682278328_3ae61674f9_z

The biggest highlight of this summer was my visit to the White House. That summer day was special, not only for me, but all three Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė together with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Latvian President Andris Bērziņš visited Washington D.C. and met with the President of United States, Barack Obama. It was the first such visit during Obama's term with the last visit such being 5 years ago. The presidents discussed many issues significant to Baltic States. I had a chance to be present at the White House. With the assistance from Lithuanian embassy, I received accreditation to the Baltic Summit. It was wonderful, as I was just across the table to see the three Baltic States Presidents, President of the United States, Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden.

9682263052_c6bd801d3a_c


9678992039_134d68344c_z

I wrote a bunch of articles about this visit. I had a chance to talk with Lithuanian and U.S Presidential Advisors, and Ambassador of Lithuania to the United States Žygimatnas Pavilionis. Feel free to check the articles:

9682247616_786b8ea52f_c

http://lithuaniatribune.com/48895/baltic-presidents-go-to-the-us-to-deepen-transatlantic-co-operation-201348895/

http://lithuaniatribune.com/48911/zickus-lithuania-expects-to-intensify-transatlantic-ties-with-the-us-and-to-highlight-its-energy-insecurity-201348911/

http://lithuaniatribune.com/49132/historic-baltic-summit-started-at-naval-observatory-washington-dc-201349132/

http://lithuaniatribune.com/49143/president-grybauskaite-meets-with-u-s-president-barack-obama-201349143/

http://lithuaniatribune.com/49240/grybauskaite-us-baltic-goals-achieved-still-plenty-of-challenges-to-tackle-together-201349240/

http://lithuaniatribune.com/49588/lithuania-us-relations-from-applicants-to-equal-partners-201349588/

It was unique opportunity to take part in such a historic event for my motherland. Also, as fascinating to see what is going on behind the scenes and experience the journalist role.

My summer ended with the last great news for me – I passed my Master’s thesis and soon will receive a Masters Diploma from Maastricht University. Career wise, I can’t imagine a better summer than this. I am looking forward to a great autumn and promise to keep you posted. Just in case you still have doubts if it’s worth applying for this program.

9548671741_3b582f96c5_c

I am taking a lot of pictures at the places I am going. For this blog I created a flickr account to share pictures with you all, feel free to check them:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/100505162@N08/sets/

Please, also follow me on twitter, where I will try to keep you up to date about the events I participate in @Vsinkevicius

If you have any questions about the program feel free to contact me via Facebook or email virginijus.sinkevicius@balticamericanfreedomfoundation.org

Sincerely Yours,

Virginijus Sinkevičius

09/03/2013

Continuing stereotypes in Vegas and LA

 

If you live in San Diego - the city where you can take the train to go to Los Angeles, the bus to go to Las Vegas and the trolley to go to Mexico - it is exactly what you have to do.

Stereotype #6 - The 'Hollywood' sign can be seen from any place in LA - NO.

Beverly Hilz, the Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Sign, etc. I had seen these places in many movies, TV shows, magazines, etc, therefore I was really excited about going there. And when I got there, I realized that I have already seen these places in all those movies, TV shows and magazines, as it all looks exactly the same.

2013-05-11 11.56.14

The Walk of Fame probably is more special to Americans, as we, Latvians, have never really been the idolizing culture. Of course, trying to spot the celebrities' names that I've heard of before, can be pretty entertaining, but for me the fun part was looking at street performers, dressed up as Madonna, Jack Sparrow and Dark Vader, ready to take pictures with every tourist that is willing to pay for such an opportunity. And for my surprise - the Walk of Fame is not as big as I had imagined. 

2013-05-11 13.21.34

One of the places that we usually don't see in Hollywood movies is the Griffith Observatory Los Angeles. And it's a pity that it's not more popular, as this was my favorite place in LA. If you're planning to go there - do it at sunset, as you can see there the most beautiful sunset in LA (and yes - the 'Hollywood' sign as well). The Griffith Observatory is located on the top of the hill - not only giving you an amazing view of LA, but also giving you the opportunity to find out more about the universe and the space (although it didn't give an answer to the question whether the Grand Canyon can be seen from space).

2013-05-11 19.41.48

Stereotype #7 - Grand Canyon can be seen from space - YES.

Till I came here I had the feeling that it would actually be easier to go to space and look at the Grand Canyon instead of actually being there and seeing it my own eyes. But finally my dream came true and I was there. And there is only one thing to say - it is amazing.

2013-05-26 15.33.52I went to the Grand Canyon Skywalk where you can actually step over the grand hole called the Grand Canyon. And the feeling is really indescribable. You can't actually drive your car to the canyon, but you have to leave it at the Sykwalk checkpoint. Then you take the bus that drives about 5 minutes and takes you to the canyon. And then you're there.

2013-05-26 15.31.23And it is magical. Plus the fact that you can go as close to the canyon as you want. There is nothing that separates you and the canyon. Just one step separates you from the free fall into the canyon. If you are one of those crazy people who actually sits on the edge of the canyon - go for it. My fear of heights allows me to stand couple of feet (0.5m) from the edge, but for me - that's it. And it is still amazing.

2013-05-26 18.34.07

Stereotype #8 - What happens in Vegas - stays in Vegas - YES and NO.

After being in Vegas for one or two days, you will feel extremely tired and all you will want to do - is sleep. And don't even start smiling - it's not because of partying or gambling all  night - it's because of all the walking. And this is not even a joke. The way I imagined Las Vegas was that everything is right there. But actually The Strip is this long street (~4.2 miles / 6.8 kilometers), and if it's your 1st time there, you will want to see everything. Starting with the Sahara Casino and ending with the Stratosphere. And you should.

2013-05-25 19.38.13

For those who have seen movies taking place in Las Vegas - don't expect it to be exactly like that. I was surprised myself that there weren't only completely drunk, naked and weird people all over the Strip. Of course, there were some individuals  representing these groups, but the most populated group - the one and only - the tourists. With their big cameras, fanny-packs, 'I heart LV' t-shirts and baby strollers. And the latest on the list was the biggest surprise for me - as I had never imagined Vegas to be the place to bring your child for a family vacation. As it turns out - many families choose Las Vegas for their summer vacation spot.

946832_410827009040516_698012362_n

But if you go there for the 'right' reasons - spending all your savings on playing games of chance for money and getting intoxicated with alcoholic liquor to the point of impairment of physical and mental faculties - do these recreational activities together as in the casinos, the gamblers are offered free alcoholic beverages. And if you like to enjoy the occasional smoke - do it anywhere you like, as Las Vegas is one of those places where you can smoke anywhere - even while sitting by a black jack table and enjoying your drink.

2013-05-27 01.36.22

So this is the review of my first travels in the States. More will follow, as the summer has just started in San Diego. And for me - this month will be full of new experiences. More on that - in my next post.

Take care!

2013-05-25 20.17.03

08/05/2013

Heart Skipped a Beat

In moments like this I like to close my eyes to feel souls of my beloved floating around me. Even if they are not here my memories are strong enough to make everything look kind of real - touches, smiles, looks, little talks. You know, souls dancing together like in Matisse paiting. Embrassing. Encouraging. Loving. Moments like this...
 
....Is that incredibly nice day in mid June. There's a little breeze but it's still warm enough to wear a little bright summer dress. Me and my two best friends sitting on a grass surrounded by hundreds of smiling people, smell of weed coming from bohemian hipster companies, enormously high sky, sun setting in the woods, feelings, all sorts of beautiful feelings, god, ain't it just so so good? And then they come to the stage - my favorite band - and everybody stands up and I'm sure hundreds of hearts skipped the beat with the very first guitar tune... Music can heal, can't it?
 
 
IMG_4557

IMG_4600
Ieva, Mantas and me - waiting for the XX in Merriwheather Post Pavilion.
IMG_4626
One of these bright moments was also running to hug my mom and dad when they got of the bus coming from the DC airport. And then having them around for the whole 10 days: evenings together, showing around, telling stories, laughing at dad's incapability to fight jetlag, eating without forks in Ethiopian restaurant, riding city bikes at night to see monuments, teaching how to buy a metro ticket, going on a road trip together, gambling in Atlantic City, taking pictures next to the Love sculpture in Philly, trying out my Palaroid camera, getting lost in Times Square... I guess only those two little sweet teardrops running on my moms round cheaks while standing next to the MetOpera building can measure the feeling - just because you are really there -  right in the middle of your dream turning to reality. It actually takes some damn good guts to face it. To live your dream at it's full.  
 
 
Blogui
After a show in the Kennedy Center with Georgetown in a background.

Blogui2
No forks? Feels Etiopian.
IMG_2496
Dad feeling American in Philly.
IMG_2501
IMG_2547
Atlantic City boardwalk.
IMG_2548
Blogui4
Manhattan at it's best.
Blogui 5
Oh yes, and that morning, that Sunday morning in April when I was told to wake up too early. "it's your birthday gift, remember?" - I was told. "But my birthday was two days ago" -  I mumbled keeping my eyes closed. "No no, you have to wake up, I promised to make your dreams come true". Damn it!... Only a grumpy moron could refuse offer like that! As I consider myself totally opposite  it took only a few more mumbles for me to get up. We're gonna sleep when we're old, right? My first dream was a cup of coffee - which was certainly easy to come true - for the other one we had to drive a couple of hours down south. There were four of them  - people I love - making a surprise for me and giving me only mysterious smiles when I tried to find out where the hell we were going to.
And that hell... hmm, if hell was like that we all would be sinful bastards. Beautiful, georgeous, breathtaking Shenandoah Mountains with endless horizon and me feeling happy, free, loved.
One interesting fact - we also met a fit, beardy and really friendly hicker who apperantly had been hicking since August starting from Maine where the Mountains begin. Google maps say it's about 538 miles from Portland to DC only. Imagine walking this distance up and down the hill? Imagine the path which might be rocky, uncomfartable, steep and dangerous? Imagine you're all alone with yourself for seven months? I can't. The only thing I can imagine is Baz Luhrmann calming voice: "....the race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself".
 
 
IMG_3014
Kidnapped!
IMG_3115
The Family.

IMG_3120
Shenandoah.

IMG_3174
IMG_3015
I'm still having lots of precious moments and they seem to double in summertime. Everybody at my office knows that so - be prepared for big jealousy - I have every second Friday off! How fancy is that to run away from humid as my granpas sauna DC jungle and begin your weekend a bit earlier getting sexy tan in the beach? or to jump spontaneously on the bus to New York? or to have a girls night out with your best friend who flew to America from Zurich? or jump in the pool a block away from your new house?
Yes - a new house. Again. Have you already laughted enough and can read further? I know I should join some sort of "people who like to move out every few months" club and BAFF should probably give me a 'best movers' award but well I've finally found home where I feel safe - and after all I've been through past month (let's not get into details:)) it's finally peaceful and fun! 
Most of my summertime evenings are now spent on the porch in the backyard while having a glass of wine, nice chat, reading poetry or just enjoying a big summer storm. When I skype with my sister I make her wonder if she really hears birds singing around. My friends never skip the invitation to my house whether it's a traditional Lithuanian cold borch tasting, pizza evening, pre-party or afterparty. Everybody loves this place. We lough and cry, we get stupid and open our hearts, we teach my roommate some gentle Lithuanian cursing, we share music, thoughts and jokes. And it's wonderful. Some good times I deserve to have.
 
 
IMG_4772

Image - Jun 21, 2013 15.11.30

Image - Jun 21, 2013 16.45.34
Ocean City.
603577_10151703330375337_414978885_n
Meeting best friend in New York is just crazy. Really.

Blogui
Camping weekend 
IMG_3247
Going for tubing on a school bus!

Photographer Mantas Kubilinskas-9
Enjoying talks on the porch.

IMG_4986
Lithuanian cold borsch tasting.

IMG_2859
 
 
By the way, there was also this kinda life changing moment recently. I was sitting next to the canal in Georgetown crying after a horrible day when this stanger came by asking if I was fine. "I'm ok" - I replied wheaping so after a while he came back and gave me a double chocolate cupcake...
 
Somehow life here in the States made me believe more in myself. Be more optimistic or just take things as they are. It also made me realize that life is so so so full of heart-skipping-the-beat moments. Your job is to grab them, feel them, embrace them, experience them, and then let them go but never ever forget.
So if you are miserable, if things go wrong, if life gives you lemons, a punch in the face or shows you a middle finger - just look around you and don't worry. Because - believe it or not - there's always gonna be somebody with a cupcake. For you.
 
 
 
IMG_3378
Georgetown canal where a cupcake story happened..