Back in 2003 John Milliken and his wife Rachel took a trip to Eastern Europe for the first time and immediately felt the desire to one day come back to this part of the world and work with students. In 2011 Milliken family came to LCC for the first time with their two children. What was initially just a place to visit turned out to be a place where they felt comfortable to live, work, and raise their children.
My wife, Rachel, and I both grew up in Michigan, U.S.. Fairly early on in our marriage we happened to take a trip to Eastern Europe and had a strong impulse to return to this part of the world and work with students. When we felt like it was time to start looking for a job after I was finally done with all of my years of schooling, we thought of LCC. I applied and was approved to work here in 2010, and the first time that we came to Lithuania was for the 2011-2012 academic year.
I work in the Theology department, and I teach Worldview and Christian Faith, and Apologetics.
The first time we came to Lithuania was seven years ago, so it has been interesting to see how much Lithuania and Klaipėda changed. I remember during our first visit there were a lot of things that were very hard to find, but now everything is much more available. Something else that we noticed this time around is a much better customer service in stores. Now, most shop assistants smile or even exchange a few words with me when I am grocery shopping.
There is a level of reservation that Lithuanians seem to possess, which is different to the U.S. What I mean by that is the sort of openness that people in the States typically have with strangers and ease of conversation. So when I walk down the street in the smaller cities of the U.S. it is pretty normal if you look at someone you don’t know and you greet each other. That is not a typical situation here. Recently I saw a t-shirt here in Lithuania that said, if you see someone in the street that smiles at you, you can bet that they are either drunk, crazy, or American. I think that kind of captures the cultural difference in a way. There are a lot of things that are connected to the conventions about how one builds relationships and what those mean. It takes time for one to learn to navigate this whole set of differences.
Because this is the third time that we have been here, adaptation happens in stages. This time it felt really easy because we were already acquainted with the city and knew what to expect. For the kids it has always been easier because children are more flexible. I think naturally, the first stay in Lithuania was the hardest for me and my wife Rachel. Especially for her, since she homeschools both of our children, while I have a very different schedule and work environment at the university. Nevertheless, currently we feel settled in and kids are doing well.
I have been studying Lithuanian and working on it for a little over a year now. As for my children, I have set them up with an app that helps them learn the language. Next semester we might start language tutoring with them because they have actually done really well in terms of vocabulary and they know more than a thousand words by now. I talk with them at home in Lithuanian whenever I can and use the little things that we have learned.
The only thing that comes to mind would be our social life. Where we lived before, we had a community that was extensive and deep, so it was hard to walk away from that, and it takes a long time to build something similar from scratch. This is not so much a challenge of Lithuanian culture; the kind of community we had back at home was quite unique even by the U.S. standards.
One of the reasons why we like being Klaipėda is that we are excited to be here and to have the opportunity to be involved with and invest in young people who come from all kinds of different places. That is connected to one of the reasons why we are excited for our kids to be here, which is for them to grow up with a broader worldview than they would otherwise have living in a small town in the U.S.. We hope it will have a long-lasting impact on them.
There are two answers to this question. The first one is that my future is often unpredictable because my wife and I both try to be sensitive to God’s leading us to where we are, what we are doing, and He does not tell us things very far ahead of time. If you would have asked me a couple of years ago, we probably would have not predicted that we will be living in Klaipėda now. I do not make long-term plans for that reason. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if we were here for a number of years into the future.