Leja Jakstaite is a Career Development Counselor at LCC International University. Many associate her with basketball, others seek her out for much needed career advice. Luckily, Leja has experience in and passion for both.
You were born in Lithuania and then immediately left to the United States. What was your life like there?
I do not remember the beginning, because I was only one year old. From what I have heard from my parents, it was not the easiest start in the US. My parents were foreigners with very little English language skills and they had heavy Lithuanian accents, so it was hard to find a job and a place to live. I am grateful to have grown up in the US and I would not change my experience there for anything else. Our family grew and developed, became more open-minded as we learned by experiencing many different cultures within the US. It was a good life.
Did you ever feel nostalgic about your home country, Lithuania, when you were in the US?
Yes and no. As far as I remember, as a family we came back to Lithuania only once when I was seven years old. As the years passed, we did not return physically to visit Lithuania. Although the rest of our extended family lived in Lithuania, the only way we felt a part of that Lithuanian heritage was from my mom making homemade traditional food, the books our father read to us, and the care packages from my grandmother packed full of Lithuanian goodies. We knew we were Lithuania, but we also wanted to feel and experience life within the country itself.
What made you let go of the future prospects in the United States for Lithuania?
To me, Lithuania always felt like home. After finishing school, I wanted to experience a different life, but it didn’t really occur to me to come back to study or to live here in Lithuania immediately. However, that is exactly what I ended up doing and I felt a connection to this country. Everything that potentially could have happened in the US did not seem like an option anymore. I began to build my life in Lithuania with LCC International University as the starting point.
How did you end up working at LCC International University?
I started as a Contemporary Communications major student at LCC. In my senior year at LCC, I was doing practical training and managing the basketball team. I had a blast working with the team, but as it was a voluntary position, I needed to think of ways to find employment with pay. By then, I fell completely and utterly in love with Lithuania and did not want to leave. I tried to find an excuse to stay and held on to basketball as long as I could. Later, Professor J.D Mininger mentioned that there is an opening at the Study Abroad office and I ended up working there as a recruiter for the US region. It was for me, the best of both worlds. I was able to stay and live my happy life in Lithuania and also go to the US on recruiting trips and occasionally even see my parents there.
What are your responsibilities here at LCC?
I am now a Career Development Counselor and my main responsibility is to help students with their future career. I am here to guide them, show the path of taking the first steps through the job application process. Also, helping with their CV, Cover letter writing, setting career goals and figuring out all the confusing questions about majors and degree fields.
Do you have a favorite thing or place at LCC?
This might sound like a really obvious answer, because everyone says it often here, but the LCC community. If anyone is struggling, or if they need help, there is someone or someplace at LCC that will help and stay with you for the entire process. That is the thing I enjoyed as a student and now as staff. The connections people make, the networking will stick with you for a lifetime and I believe it to be the most valuable feature about this university. Regarding a favorite place, that is definitely in the gym. The gym was the beginning of everything for me here at LCC; my first job, and discovering my passion.
How would you describe yourself to other people? What kind of person are you?
I would say I am a caring person. Sometimes I care too much, where I struggle in certain situations for people and for work. If anyone is in need of help and I am able to assist, I will help them all the way through to the end. I would also say I am a very determined person. If I start something, I always finish it and finish it well.
What are your hobbies outside work?
I wake up around 5am and go for a run most days. I like going on hikes and walks, although I find I actually spend most of my free time playing basketball.
What about when you were younger?
I was very active and always enjoyed being outdoors. My father grew up playing a lot of different sports to help his family survive, because that was one of the ways to earn money or tokens to get food. It stuck with him and he passed this athleticism on to me. I used to swim and also do ballet for a very long time. Eventually, volleyball came into my life and then basketball. Also growing up, every weekend we went hiking in the mountains, camping, fishing.
Do you sometimes feel torn between dedicating time to your work as a Career Development Counselor and your passion for basketball?
Sometimes I do. There is plenty of work to be done with Career Development and there is a lot of work to be done with LCC Moose Basketball. It is hard to find balance, because I love them both. If I can find the right balance, I can make sure that everything is done in a timely and effective manner. I am always trying to manage priorities in the best possible way; from basketball game event planning and organization to project writing, while taking care of students and considering their needs.
As a basketball enthusiast, how do you feel about the first ever women basketball team and upcoming game here at LCC?
I was very excited that coach Marius Tamolis started women’s basketball here at LCC. It is also stressful. The first game is always slightly nerve wracking, no matter if it is a women's or a men’s team. Especially now, during COVID-19 there are certain precautions and regulations to take into consideration. There is so much to prepare before the game, but I am looking forward to this first ever women’s game at LCC.
As an LCC alumna, what advice would you give to current students?
Experience and be part of everything you can. Yes, doing homework, going to class is important and you cannot abandon it, but if you have an hour to take a walk to the beach with your friends - do it. If you have time to volunteer in an event or some place outside LCC - do it. That essay you have to write can wait a little, because that connection you experience being present in that very moment, whatever you are doing - that will last forever.
Blitz question time
Quick questions and short answers!
Text message or call?
Morning or evening?
Coffee or tea?
Flowers or chocolate?
City or nature?
Social media or letters?
Books or movies?
Romantic or realist?
I feel like I am both, but probably more realist