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3 posts categorized "Zivile Marija Vaicekauskaite"

12/31/2016

Living in the Capital of World Politics (III)

Happy New Year, dear blog readers and fellow colleagues from BAFF!

Hope you all are doing well and enjoying your well-deserved winter break. It’s hard to believe we are stepping into 2017 in just in a few hours! So before we raise our glasses to the New Year, I would like to wish you all new adventures to enjoy and new memories to create!

Additionally, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the Thanksgiving holiday and some new places I visited during the last month. Hope you will enjoy reading!

America the beautiful

More than a month ago, millions of Americans celebrated Thanksgiving weekend, which is a very important occasion for families to gather together, to feast and to enjoy being with one another. The history of Thanksgiving brings us back to 17th century when the religious refugees from England invited the local Native Americans to a harvest feast after a particularly successful growing season. It is also worth noting, that more people in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving than they do Christmas because it is a secular holiday in a country which officially separates church and state.

Over time the traditional holiday has begun to look much different than it did back in the day. Today, not all Americans gather at the table to taste delicious turkey or go crazy on Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, which has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Many American families choose to travel and use the holiday weekend to explore their country. So we did, too.   

Frankly speaking, when one Lithuanian journalist asked me to share some thoughts on how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, I realized that maybe I am missing one of the most unique American experiences, since there is very little chance of getting turkey while driving through the desert in Nevada. Nevertheless, I think I experienced Thanksgiving differently, like many other American families, by hitting the road to explore new places this country has to offer.

9 days, 6 national parks, and 4 states

You may think it sounds crazy to drive more than 2000 miles in 9 days, visit 6 national parks, climb the highest mountain peaks and cross 4 states, but it’s absolutely doable and definitely worth doing . We started our journey by visiting Yosemite National Park located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The park is well known for the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, deep valleys, waterfalls, and glaciers. Although it was almost freezing, cold weather didn’t stop us from camping and hiking. And it was so much worth doing that. I guess the pictures below speak for themselves.  

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Yosetime National Park, CA

After spending a day in Yosemite Valley we headed to Sequoia National Park, which is located couple of hours away from Yosemite, in the southern Sierra Nevadas.  Seeing the General Sherman Tree (the biggest in the entire world!) makes you feel really tiny and reminds you of what a small place you occupy in the world. After visiting the park we also climbed t Moro Rock (see the picture below). If you have ever wondered how it feels to stand on the edge of the world – I can guarantee this place is the best to experience it!

 

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Sequoia National Park, CA


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Meeting the General Sherman

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View from Moro Rock, CA

Driving through the desert was the most pleasant part of our journey. Believe it or not, the scenery in Nevada is amazing. Death Valley is well known for its extreme temperatures and a mysterious-looking landscape, bringing us to the land of sand dunes and canyons. Nothing except the beauty of nature. 

 

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Death Valley, NV

After crossing Death Valley, we visited Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon located in Utah. Bryce Canyon welcomed us with snow and really cold weather (wellbelow zero). However, I guess we saw what not every tourist is able to see – amazing formations covered by snow. Actually, the snow even helped to better reveal the beauty of the canyon. Icy trails were challenging sometimes to hike, but the views were worth hiking for.

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Bryce Canyon, UT

Have you ever heard about the place called “Angel’s Landing”? If not, then I would strongly recommend adding this place to your bucket list. Zion’s Angel’s Landing trail is one of the most, if not the most thrilling hikes I have ever had. The narrow rocky overlook takes some effort to reach, but you will be rewarded with views of amazing valleys and mountain peaks all around you. You may wonder why this place is called “Angel’s Landing,”. The place got its name when Frederick Fisher, exploring Zion with friends in 1916, said that “Only an angel could land on it”. Later, the hiking trail was built enabling people to experience what it is to “land on the top of the rock”.


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Top of the Angels Landing, UT

Finally, we ended our road trip by visiting the king of the canyons – the Grand Canyon. I don’t think I need any introduction since this place is very well-known and attracts thousands of tourists each month.

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Grand Canyon, AZ


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Mules


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Burning Arizona

Although I have already said it once, but I will repeat myself again – the greatness of this country definitely lies in nature. I was fortunate to see so may incredible places this year and hope to see many more of them until the end of my time here in the United States. My advice to all newcomers would be – travel as much as you can. Embrace your journey. It will help you understand the customs and unwritten rules of American culture which is amazingly diverse and colorful.   

 

See you all in 2017!

10/15/2016

Living in the Capital of World Politics (II)

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.

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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.

Annapolis!

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. 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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Toronto, Canada

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.

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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.

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Fort Worth, TX

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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.

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Chicago, IL.

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.

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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.

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Seattle, WA

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Post Scriptum

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!

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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.

See you!

06/09/2016

Living in the Capital of World Politics

If the life gives you a chance – take it. If it changes your life – let it.

Stepping across the Atlantic into a totally different culture can be a challenging, but at the same time, very rewarding experience that develops your personality and broadens your horizons. Almost a year ago, I decided to change my life – to build my professional experience, leave my comfort zone and rediscover the world. And here I am - in a country which, since my arrival here, never ceases to surprise me.

Life in Washington DC is pretty busy and, not to mention, very different from what we are used to seeing in Europe. As a major political stage, it attracts many people from all over the world who make the city so international that sometimes it’s even hard to feel the real American life here.

Washington DC is a very vibrant city, offering you limitless personal and professional possibilities so that it’s hard to know where to begin your journey. I guess there is something for everyone in this city, whether you are looking for intellectual pursuits, leisure time activities or multicultural influences. Career-wise, being here is a unique opportunity as it lets you experience the rhythm of US politics and gain first-hand knowledge of it. And the time couldn’t be better. With a changing security environment in Eastern Europe, NATO reinforcing deterrence on its Eastern flank, the United States increasing its military presence in the Baltic countries, and, on the top of that, the upcoming US presidential elections, the time spent here is an invaluable professional experience. Everyone who has ever studied politics or been involved in it would agree that you cannot get understand it without experiencing it yourself.

I am extremely grateful for the chance to be part of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Centre’s team working with the Transatlantic Security Initiative. The initiative provides the forum to shape and influence debates on the transatlantic security challenges facing NATO and its partners. Working at the Council is extremely rewarding. The daily meetings with security experts and top US and foreign government officials give me an extraordinary opportunity to enhance my knowledge and expand the network needed to work with transatlantic security issues. The biggest highlight of my first month here was meeting former Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Phillip Breedlove. For those who are not familiar with security affairs or NATO, Gen. Breedlove served as the top US and NATO military officer responsible for the conduct of all NATO operations. Furthermore, given the current geopolitical situation, being a Lithuanian in a DC think tank gives me an even greater advantage as Lithuania is getting quite a lot of attention because of the security situation in the Baltics.

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Securing NATO's New Frontiers, Conversation with Gen. P. Breedlove, Atlantic Council

“The world is a book and those, who do not travel read only one page.” Saint Augustin

This is one of the things that make the United States so intriguing. Having lived in one city doesn’t mean you have discovered the whole country. You get the feeling of what life is like here only by traveling. Driving across the country is time-consuming but, at the same time, a fascinating experience letting you discover the diversity of American life. And believe me, this country has a lot of things to offer. No matter where you are, try to travel as much as you can, as it one of the things which definitely will change your impression of American culture and the country itself.

Even though it’s only the second month since I am here, I have had a chance to visit the Shenandoah Mountains, travel across Virginia and South Carolina, do some camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and hike to the Mount Mitchell, which is the highest point east of the Mississippi. The greatness of this country definitely resides in nature, which is really jaw dropping here.

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Blue Ridge Parkway, North Caroline

The world is really tiny

And it really is. I guess one of the most incredible experiences of moving to another country is meeting new people. What is even more fascinating is when those whom you are meeting have roots coming from your home country! It happened to me here several times, when a person whom I was talking to already knew Lithuania because his/her great grandfather or grandfather came from Lithuania! It just makes you feel that we all are somehow connected.

As this is my first blog post, I will stop here. But I promise to come back soon with more stories as the best is yet to come!