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Misha Johanna

Eastern Europe and Russian Studies student

Introduce yourself: who is Misha? Where are you from? How did you choose to study in Lithuania and how you chose this programme specifically?

Hi! I am Misha, a master’s student from Indonesia, a tropical country in Southeast Asia. I first came to Lithuania in the summer of 2018 and stayed here for 3 months to visit my partner (who is a Lithuanian) and his family. During my short stay 2 years ago, I attended the Lithuanian summer course in the Philology Faculty of Vilnius University. The experience was so rewarding that I became interested to come back to VU in 2019 for master’s studies. I finished my bachelor’s studies in 2012, I studied psychology at Sanata Dharma University in my home country, and since then I’ve been looking for an opportunity to further my education. I always aimed to study abroad because I wanted to have international exposure and I naturally love observing and studying people from diverse cultural backgrounds. This probably explains my decision to enroll in the Eastern European & Russian Studies programme. When I first browsed the available studies on the VU website, I immediately lied my eyes on this particular programme and knew that I had to be a part of this. Plus, coming from my region, you don’t normally get to learn about East Europe or Russia as much as you would about West Europe or the US, for instance — so this triggered me even more to be one of, perhaps, few people from Indonesia who have comprehensive knowledge in this field.

How do you find living in Lithuania? How is life here different or similar?

Living in Lithuania is definitely very different from living in Indonesia in so many ways. I’ll try to elaborate more on a few main things. First of all, it’s much more convenient to commute here in Vilnius than in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Bali (where I used to live in my country). There is proper public transportation and you can simply walk everywhere since the streets are very pedestrian-friendly. In Indonesia, most roads are meant for vehicles. People don’t usually walk and it’s very challenging if you don’t have your own car or motorbike. Traffic jams and pollution are unavoidable in city centers. Second, the weather and seasons. We pretty much have hot summers all year long without any changes in sunrise and sunset hours, always 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night from January to December. We don’t really plan things (e.g. holidays, sports activities, etc.) according to seasons since there’s no significant difference from one month to another (except for semester breaks). However, I’ve been enjoying the cold weather in Lithuania (surprise, surprise!) — Indonesians tend to dislike heat (but we love having the sun if that makes sense?). Third, the eating-out culture here, unfortunately, isn’t as strong as ours in Indonesia. It’s very easy for Indonesians, even for students, to just eat out all the time as we have so many affordable options available 24 hours. Therefore, one of the most important things I’ve learned while living here is cooking! I honestly think that I would never have the initiative to learn it if I had never moved here.

What expectations did you have before coming to study at IIRPS VU? What do you like the most in the study process?

The study trip was one of the things I was expecting the most from the programme, so I was very sad when we had to cancel/postpone the trip to Moldova this semester due to the ongoing pandemic. I was very much looking forward to that. I hope we’ll still have the opportunity to go there and to one more destination next semester! As for the study process, what I like the most is the fact that we as the students are always encouraged to be critical and express our opinions/takes on things. It’s interesting for me to see how our views can vary greatly based on where we come from and our personal history. I believe that making ways to connect all that and meet in the middle is the core of international relations.

What topic did you choose for your MA thesis? Did you know right away what you wanted to write about, or did you struggle a little?

The topic I’ve chosen for my MA thesis is about how Muslims in Lithuania identify themselves in society. I would like to research the factors that might have caused how they shape their national, religious, and ethnic identities. This idea came to my mind before starting the first semester when I noticed that there’s an elective course of Islam in Europe on the programme curriculum. I come from a country with the biggest Muslim population in the world (87% from a population of 260+ million officially hold the religion of Islam), so I know how it feels like to be a minority in my own society since I myself was raised in a Catholic family and schools. In Lithuania, these two religions are quite the opposite. Muslims only make up to 0.1% of the whole Lithuanian population whereas Catholicism is the majority religion. This made me wonder about the Muslims’ experience as the outnumbered here. That being said, I didn’t really struggle to decide what I wanted to write, even though, of course, there was a time when I was also considering some other topics. There are still a lot of things that need to be properly conceptualized and designed for this research idea which I am currently working on with my thesis supervisor, Prof. Inga Vinogradnaitė.

We hear that besides studying, you are a Zumba coach – tell us more! Where and how did you start doing Zumba?

I don’t remember when exactly I started doing Zumba, I think it was either in the late 2018 or early 2019 when I was still living in Bali. I just tried it at some local gym and thought it was cool because this Latin-inspired fitness program was designed and made easy for everyone, even without any particular dancing experience or skills. You’ll be moving your body and breaking a sweat but it’s so fun that you don’t even feel like exercising! Dancing itself is kind of a life-long hobby that I’ve had since a very young age. After school and university hours, I could normally be found performing dances at events or singing in a band. I didn’t get to do much of these in recent years because of work and other things (excuses), until I found a Zumba class in Vilnius as well as a certification training program to become a Zumba instructor. Long story short, I got myself certified in November last year and started conducting my own weekly sessions in Ozas.

Do you have any other leisure activities? How are you spending your time during these times of quarantine?

Honestly, my number one leisure activity would be traveling. I also own a travel blog where I write about my trips. So far I’ve been to 33 countries in Asia and Europe, but I guess I’ll have to pause for a while this year before I’ll be able to add more to the list. How I spend my time during quarantine is pretty basic: working (I have a couple of online part-time jobs), trying new recipes, watching movies on Netflix, and studying (a lot!). Oh, sometimes I play online games as well. Lately, I’ve been quite addicted to taking quizzes related to countries and cities around the world. It actually feels entertaining yet educating at the same time.

What advice would you give any students out there deciding how and where to study next?

I think it’s very important that you have a genuine interest in both what and where you’re studying. I don’t believe in choosing a study programme just because it’s trendy or you think it’ll get you a job that pays a lot of money in the future. Of course, it’s great if you could achieve that but it should be treated as a bonus. Be completely honest about what you want to learn and how you can contribute to that particular academic field. Deciding where to study isn’t less important than that. Your university life won’t just be about studying, so make sure that you like the country or city where you’ll live and make the most of your time by engaging in interesting activities!