Su gimtadieniu, Lietuva!

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Today every house in Lithuania is decorated with a national flag. The 16th of February is a very special day for every Lithuanian, because it is the date of our independence. This year we marked the 100 year anniversary.

Exactly a 100 years ago, documents were signed by Jonas Basanavicius that from that day Lithuania is free. Not only Lithuanian people from all over the world are congratulating each other with freedom, but out national flag was even seen in New York city Times square and in Germany.

Just like every year, biggest cities of Lithuania have a lot of events dedicated to the day, however, this year we made it special: children were included in all of the events to encourage patriotism. My sister with her classmates gave out flags in the whole city center for everyone, schools were decorated with flags made by students wishing Lithuania happy birthday. There was also a bonfire and the march of soldiers just like every year.

In every news website we can find numerous stories about this significant day and today is the day when parents share stories about past with their children. What I was told by my parents and my grandparents is that I have to be grateful for the independence I have today. Everything we have today was unimaginable a little more than 100 years ago.

People risked their lives to get a publication in Lithuanian, because the Lithuanian press was forbidden and talked in the darkest corners, because our language could not be used.

But today we celebrate. I am proud to be Lithuanian, today more than ever! Su gimtadieniu, Lietuva!

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GAP YEAR OR NINE MONTHS OF VOLUNTEERING IN THE ARMY?

 

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Three years ago a new law came to Lithuania. The government decided that every year 3000 young men between 18 and 25 years old, who are not students, will be selected to spend 9 months in the army. This law did not get much support, because spending a year in the army might seem a very frightening idea to the majority and a person who is chosen cannot leave the army before the 9 moths are over.

However, no one expected that every year those 3000 places will be filled by volunteers, young men, who actually admire this idea. Arnas Klymantas is one of the volunteers this year and shares stories about life in the army.

Arnas joined the battalion in the forest of Sakalinė in Lithuania just after school graduation, because he wanted to test himself to his limits and “become a stronger man”. “The army is a life school. There they taught me so much more than you can think. It changed me as a person, I became physically and emotionally stronger, logical and my way of thinking improved, I have new habits now and even learnt ethics.”

Arnas Klymantas admitted that after graduating from school he did not know what to do next. He wanted to study but could not decide what, he only knew that wasting one year and a gap year would not be a choice for him. When he came up with the idea of joining the army his mother did not approve right away. She was scared, but now that she realises that army is actually a very mature choice she is very proud of Arnas.

The challenges started before actually getting in the army. Arnas had to pass many IQ, physical, health and psychological tests, to ensure that his mental and physical health is perfect. “We got a piece of paper with like a 150 questions and when the results came, I was really relieved that I passed. It was hard and the questions were weird, I was asked questions that I never thought could actually tell my psychological state.”

When we talked about activities that volunteers do in the army Arnas was very excited. “Mostly we are trained, but everyday is different from the other. We never have the same timetable, the only thing that is never changing is that we have to wake up at 5.45 a.m., which I will probably never get used to, get ready in 15 minutes and be outside for the morning exercise. After breakfast at 8.00 a.m. the commander comes to check everything: our boots and clothes have to be clean, beds have to be made and obviously the room we sleep in must be shining as well.”

„Sometimes we have hikes in the forest, which are very challenging, however, they are very interesting. We are put into groups and we imitate attacks, we have to learn discipline, to defende ourselves, spot the „enemies“. Sometimes we have to walk a lot of miles from one military base to another, carrying bags that weight around 66 pounds.”
During the nights they have to set up a camping place: put up tents (that only protect from rain), fence the area with the rope and dig toilets. “During the first month a lot of us got colds all the time, because in the forest the temperature can be just above zero, or even below, and our tents are barely a roof above the head. They don’t protect from wind or cold. But after a while we all got immune.”

Arnas Klymantas also shared the most memorable experience: “Once during the hike we had to pass “Vilko Takas” which is an obstacle course created especially for training soldiers. It was the most difficult thing we ever did. We had to do bewildering variety of activities there and it was freezing cold! Climb walls, run through mud, you can look up in the “youtube”, actually. Most dreadful was when we had to walk in a deep canal for almost one mile. The most of us did not pass this, because we were shivering all the time, the clothes were wet, and muscles refused to move. Water temperature that day was barely above zero. When we got back to the barracks the water in the shower did not comfort as well. By the time it was my turn to get the shower the hot water ran out…”

Even though every day in the army is a new challenge, Arnas says that he does not regret his decision. Even though most of the volunteers after the nine months are over decide to continue their plans, get jobs or apply to universities, Arnas enjoys being in the army and started to think that he might turn it into a career and become a commander by the next autumn.

 

WHY NOT NOW? MICK EKERS STORY

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Students from all countries, races and religions are a common sight on the University of Essex campus. But even here it’s highly unusual to see a man of 76 taking his place with the other freshers at the start of the term. However Mick Ekers is a very unusual man, who has decided that is never too late to pursue a passion.

For over 30 years Mick Ekers was IT and finance consultant in banks but now that he has retired, he decided to enrol into university and indulge into his real passion – politics and history.

When asked how did his family react once he shared the idea of starting the University, Mick Ekers laughed. “They were very supportive and surprised. Now my youngest son is currently a student in the University College London an every evening we compare notes.”

Mr. Ekers begun a course in Modern History and Politics this year at the University of Essex. Ever since he was a high school student his passion was history and choosing to study this field was a decision made nearly half of the century ago when Mr. Ekers was still in school.

He told that many different subjects were taught in school like maths, physics but he did not really enjoy any of these. The only subject he really admired was history and later it was taken out of his timetable “I felt mad when history curriculum was taken away and I knew that someday I will study it again.”  He had to wait more than 40 years before that ‘some day’arrived.

Mick Ekers was always keen on politics and says: “I am not looking for a new job. I would like to write history and politics related articles, but I need to improve my writing techniques.” This is what he hopes to accomplish in the university.

He says that the studies are really interesting, even though it is quite a challenge, because he has to adapt to completely different system than was appropriate in his job.  “In my job I used to get a deadline in 3 hours to make 6 slides about something. Now my deadlines are in 7 weeks to write 2,000 word essays. That is a real challenge.”

Essays are especially hard, he admitted, even though writing is a thing that Mick Ekers really enjoys. He has written a book about American rock star compositor Frank Zappa, which will be published in 2019. “I’ve been writing this book for four years. Never write a book about a dead famous person. It takes a long time to get the approval,” he laughed.

The book, however, was written in non-academic style and Mick Ekers claims that now he has to learn writing techniques that are a world away from his life in it.

Mick Ekers shared an interesting story when asked why did he choose studies in Essex and how he was accepted. He applied to 3 universities and got a really great offer from University College London which he thought to take.

But he had a plan to come to the University of Essex during an Open Door Day. “Once I came to Essex I felt like home. During the day a met a few members of staff and had a fascinating conversation about Russian politics with a lecturer of the department of history Felix Schnell and nearly missed my in interview.”

The interview was fascinating as well and left no doubt that the University of Essex is where Mick Ekers has to go.

The application process comprised mostly of the interview, motivation letter and a reference letter, which was written by Mr Ekers boss, but he still had to provide old school leaving certificate, which was “dusty and really hard to find after so many years.”

Even though, Essex is an hour drive from Leigh-on-sea, where Mr. Ekers lives, that was not an obstacle to such an extraordinary person. He thought that spending his retirement at home is a waste of time and he still wants to improve and learn something new.

After finishing Bachelors degree, Mick Ekers has a plan to do Masters. However he has a lot of non-academic plans as well: Russian literature has always admired him and this inspired Mr Ekers to learn Russian. “I want to read Dostoyevsky in the original language, but it will probably take some time to master it.”

Mick Ekers is an extraordinary person and even though he is more mature than most of the students in Essex, he definitely has as many plans and is just as motivated as the rest of us.