When studying physics in the U.S., Tricia Van Dyk went to China for a year to teach English to Chinese students. During her visit to China she realized that teaching was her calling. Sharing knowledge with students and helping them feel comfortable with what they learn led Tricia to do her Ph.D. in Philosophy in Toronto, Canada. After receiving her Ph.D., Tricia was looking for an opportunity to apply her passion, which came in the form of an invitation from LCC to move to and teach in Klaipėda. The first time Tricia came to Lithuania was in 2016 to teach philosophy classes at LCC and since then she thinks Klaipėda has become the perfect place for her to live with her husband and their children.
Could you please tell us what prompted you to teach at LCC and move to Lithuania?
I grew up mostly in the U.S. I began as a physics major in college and ended up being designated to teach science majors at a big tech University in China. That was interesting because a lot of the students had never met a native English speaker. I think through that experience I learned that I liked teaching students who were not Americans and that I wanted to help them feel comfortable learning. I think that was one of the routes that eventually brought me to LCC. After I completed my Ph.D. in Philosophy in Toronto, our family moved to Southern Illinois, U.S. We heard about LCC from Steve Van Zanen, a professor in the Theology Department here at LCC. Soon we realized it was an open-door invitation for us to come to Lithuania and teach. We moved to Klaipėda in 2016 and have been here since.
What was adaptation like for your family, moving from the U.S. to Lithuania?
It has been different for each of us. For me it has been a dream come true. I love teaching at LCC as Klaipėda is practically my ideal city to live. I like the buses, cobblestones and I love being by the forest. Klaipėda is not too big, but large enough to host some exciting events. I really enjoy the Lithuanian sense of humor. Although I find the language intimidating, I also find it interesting. For my husband, Benjamin Groenewold, it has been a good place to be. He teaches some courses at LCC as well, so he is also involved in various activities. For our daughter, it has been extremely good because she is allowed much more freedom here than in the States. Surprisingly, for our son it has been more of a challenge even though he is the youngest. He is a bit more of a homebody and misses his cousins and grandparents a lot. Our kids have been in a Lithuanian school for two years now, so their Lithuanian is getting pretty good. They are involved in different activities outside of school. There is an LCC group of kids, which is amazing because in that way the children have a community here. LCC is a great match for me personally because I like the small-sized university allowing more flexibility in teaching. Also, I think a huge bonus to this place is that people do not come here solely to advance their careers. They come here because they love to teach.
Were there any cultural aspects that surprised you when you first came to Lithuania?
The biggest surprise is how much people seem not to plan ahead. In the U.S. if we want to get together with family, we must plan at least a year in advance because everybody is busy. Here in Lithuania it is different. There are obviously plans for the upcoming semester, but events and meetings with friends are planned almost at the last minute. I thought it would be hard for me, but I find it quite freeing. Last summer, when we went back to the States to visit our family, I had to plan the whole summer carefully so that people could fit seeing us into their schedules. Based on my interaction with students, I notice other differences such as a strong belief in self-interest or in other details of life such as whether you whistle inside or how warmly you must dress to go outside. Neither my children nor I look like typical Americans. Since it is not obvious that I am a foreigner, sometimes people ask me for directions on the streets in Lithuanian. I think in some ways that helps us feel at home because people assume we are local residents. However, this might be more challenging for the kids because people expect them to have cultural knowledge and know the language.
Are you planning to stay in Lithuania long term?
I cannot predict the future, but I do not see that we would leave LCC unless we were going somewhere else. Moving to another place would be possible if we decided to do something completely different. I do not know what would be good enough to attract us elsewhere. Sometimes our daughter talks about how when she grows up, she will study at LCC. On the other hand, we have a lot of family back in the U.S. and we miss them. I think the biggest consideration is to be sure our children receive the very holistic education I received. I am really committed to liberal arts, so it would be hard to find another college in Europe that would be a good match. Organization and planning ahead of time would be a big question if we were to send our children to college back in the States. Nevertheless, I do hope to be here for a long time because I like the students, the freedom I have and the support of the academic community I have experienced.