EVS Volunteer João: My first impressions in Vilnius

I landed in Vilnius in the 31st of December 2017, just in time for the New Year’s Eve. It felt like a very literal representation of the expression – new year, new life. For the last few months, I have been living in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. The sun and the beach were a constant in my daily life, which means I’m still trying to get comfortable with below 0 temperatures and snowy sidewalks.

Coming to Lithuania, I did not really know much about it. I chose to come here, not because of the country or the city itself, but because I really liked the premise of the project I applied to.  I sought to work in a LGBTI+ association and get to see experienced activism on action, and that is exactly what I’ve been getting to do. Used to a different context regarding LGBTI+ issues in my home country – Portugal–, I was astounded with the amount of work that goes on at LGL’s office, and the progress they were able to achieve in the past years as the sole NGO exclusively fighting for LGBTI+ rights in Lithuania. The staff was very welcoming. They immediately put me up-to-date on LGL’s projects and counted on me to chime in. Aside from the staff and the work that they do, I was also very pleasantly surprised with the community’s engagement. Local volunteers walk into the office every day to help with whatever is necessary – mentoring, translations or office tasks. Moreover, in the first event of 2018, we had a nice turnout and the community made itself heard, giving us some great suggestions for future events and activities. It was extremely pleasing to see that they’re interested in working with us, so at this point I just want to pick-up on that energy and help bringing those ideas to life in any way that I can.

Regarding life outside the office. Even though I try to keep an open mind to everything, after being told by locals about all the existing prejudice and the seemingly less friendly Lithuanian culture, I was bracing for impact. The impact, however, is yet to come. Yes, there is not much of smiling at strangers or exchanging looks while walking down the street, and maybe my rose-coloured glasses are to blame, but so far I’ve been feeling really at ease in Vilnius. I have had the chance to meet some really nice and interesting people, willing to grab a drink and show me around, or just have a nice conversation and challenge my points of view. The city also appears to have a really artsy underground culture, and I really want to dive into that.

I’m just thrilled to see how the next months will pan out. If they are anything like this first one, I have nothing to worry about. If you want you add to my experience with any suggestions, tips or just a good old chat, I’m very open to it. Feel free to contact me at joao@gay.lt.

ErasmusLGL is carrying out the 10-month project “Disappearing Borders: Empowering LGBT Community and Allies In Lithuania” under the Erasmus+ program EVS (European Voluntary Service).