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From Lithuania, with love

From Lithuania, with love
From Lithuania, with love

by MC Claverie ’20

International connections fostered by Harpeth Hall strengthen over the years and across the ocean by MC Claverie ’20 On a quiet morning in late April, I mounted my cherry red bike and rode through the idyllic streets of Utrecht, the Netherlands, to the train station. Giddiness bubbled inside me as the soft spring breeze blew through my hair.

After over three years, countless “I miss you” text messages, and a lot of planning, I was finally heading back to Lithuania, where I completed my senior year Winterim.

At the moment, I almost couldn’t believe it. Feelings of happiness, nostalgia, and excitement flooded my brain during my train ride from Utrecht to the Amsterdam airport and as I boarded my morning airBaltic flight to Lithuania. A pandemic, the Atlantic Ocean, and the busyness of life had kept us apart for so long, and now— for the first time since January 2020—I would be reuniting with my Lithuanian friends.

Our connection began in February of 2018, during my sophomore year of high school, when Harpeth Hall provided my family and me the opportunity to host two exchange students from Kaunas, Lithuania, for a couple of weeks. Growing up, I loved traveling and meeting people from new places. For my family and I, hosting these two students provided us with the perfect opportunity to show them around Nashville and expand our global perspectives through conversations about life in Lithuania and Eastern Europe.

Throughout their stay with my family, I didn’t fully grasp how much these couple of weeks would change my life for the better. Of course, I had a blast showing them my favorite places around Nashville such as Centennial Park and Broadway, but our connections ran so much deeper than surface-level friendship. The conversations we had about growing up in our respective cities, the cultural differences between Nashville and Kaunas we explored, and the love between us was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

We talked about how both Nashville and Kaunas are big cities but feel like small towns—it’s normal to run into people you know on the

street or at the grocery store. At the time, I was just about to get my driver’s license, and my new friends were amazed that at age 15 I learned how to drive and at age 16 I could drive on my own. In Lithuania, you have to be 18 years old to get your license. We compared music and shared songs—there are even some Lithuanian songs that I still listen to today, which sound a lot like our modern pop songs in America but in the Eastern Baltic language.

When they finally left to return home, I remember promising that we would see each other again. At the time, I didn’t know exactly when or how, but in my heart I knew that we would somehow find our way back together. Eventually, we did.

When it came time to decide what I wanted to do for my senior year Winterim, I immediately thought about Lithuania. Although it had been nearly two years since I had seen my exchange friends, I decided to take a chance and reach out to see if there were any internship opportunities in Kaunas that could work for my Winterim.

Upon reaching out, my exchange friends and their families offered to not only host me for the three-week period, but also found me an internship that aligned with my academic interests in history.

After a few Facetime calls and several emails back and forth, I was all set. As fall turned into winter and Christmas break slowly came to an end, I gathered up my warmest sweaters, snow boots, and big puffy coat in preparation for the freezing temperatures of northeastern Europe and got ready to embark on my journey to Kaunas. Upon arrival in Lithuania, I was greeted with warmth and love. During my three weeks, I fully immersed myself in a new culture by trying local dishes such as Lithuanian brown bread and lazy cake, exploring Lithuanian history by going to various art and history museums enjoying its heritage of modern architecture, and asking my host family questions about life before independence from Russia.

All of this cultural exploration occurred while I was simultaneously working an internship where I conducted historical archival and museum research. This experience confirmed that I wanted to be a history major in college and provided me with research skills that I am now using to write my honors history thesis at Boston College.

Though it may seem cliché, I found myself under the crisp and gray Lithuanian sky. Thrown into a completely new environment as a 17-year-old, I learned how to navigate the cobblestone streets of a new city with a language I did not speak. I reflected on the nature of my work, the relationships I was continuing to foster, and the value of independence. Naturally, there were moments when I was overwhelmed and became homesick, but overall during my three weeks I fully embraced the experience of being in a new place.

I never would have made it to Lithuania without the love of global perspectives and creating international connections fostered by Harpeth Hall. When I first came to Harpeth Hall as a freshman, I had a backpack full of dreams of seeing the world but no plan of how to do it. Through my classes and encouragement from my teachers and classmates, I gained new knowledge on the values of forming relationships with people from around the world and becoming aware of life outside the Nashville bubble.

I can confidently say that I have succeeded in broadening my horizons thanks to the skills I learned at Harpeth Hall. When I left Lithuania to head back to Nashville at the end of January 2020, I had no idea that a pandemic would keep my international friends and me apart for an extended period of time. I distinctly remember refusing to say goodbye. Rather, we decided to say see you soon. I’m not sure that three years can count as soon, but as promised, we saw each other again. I have embraced the global perspective I developed at Harpeth Hall by pursuing more opportunities to travel. I recently spent my junior year spring semester studying abroad in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and traveling around Europe. On each trip, I’ve continued to gain more knowledge and perspectives on the world we live in and how, ultimately, we are all connected. And we will continue to be—because our friendship transcends time and place.