Julija Vasilenko

For me, VMU is a way of life.

Julija Vasilenko is not merely multilingual. At the moment, she’s studying her 16th language. Her biggest passion is East Asian language and culture. Having finished her Bachelor’s in English Philology and Master’s in East Asia Region Studies at VMU, Julija continues to explore, learn and develop as a person.

So tell us, how many languages do you really know?
Well, just not too long ago I started learning my 16th language. Lithuanian and Russian are my native languages, I speak English very fluently. I also know French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, New Testament Greek, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Turkish, Indonesian, and now I’ve started to learn Arabic. I hope I named all of them…
When did you become interested in foreign languages?
I started travelling pretty early in life, maybe at age 10. My dad was a rugby coach, so we often travelled to see matches. I’d see how many different teams, people there were…and I really wanted to talk with them all. My first trip was to France, so I automatically started learning the French language. Then, I enrolled in studies at VMU and the ball continued to roll. I started exploring languages and they became my passion.
So did you choose to study English Philology because of this newfound passion?
To be honest, I didn’t even know that I would end up studying English. One morning I was taking a French language exam, so I asked my friend to fill out my French Philology application forms and bring them to the registration desk. Well, the line was too long, so my friend ended up taking the forms to the faster English Philology registration…and that’s how it happened. Then, while studying English, I found many opportunities to branch out and study other languages as well.
Did you participate in any student exchange programs while at VMU?
Yes. The first time I won the contest, I went to Spain, where I met students from all over the world. At the university there, I had the opportunity to study multiple languages, so I chose to learn Italian. Later, I participated in the Comenius exchange program and travelled to Germany. There, I developed my knowledge of the German language and completed an internship at a kindergarten as a ‘language assistant’. I taught children not only German, but also French, because many of them were from Turkish, Russian and Sri Lankan families. The kindergarten was almost international. After that, I finished my Bachelor’s in the United States. Then I came back to Lithuania and enrolled in a Master’s program here at VMU, before completing my second Master’s degree in Taiwan. Now I’m studying in Indonesia.
You’ve learned multiple languages, participated in various exchange programs during your studies. Could you say that the university opened the doors to the broader world for you?
Absolutely. Without VMU, there would have been nothing. Even in applying for various scholarships, they won’t respond to your requests unless you come from a certain university. Also, I found many programs through the FirstClass intranet system here.
It’s easy to see that you are fascinated by Asian culture and languages, not least of all because you have a Master’s degree in East Asia Region Studies. What do you find attractive about this region?
Well, I’ve been to many places in Europe, and I know multiple European languages. I’ve also had the chance to visit America, where I actually lived with many Asians. All of the international students lived together in one dormitory, and my roommates were from Hong Kong, Uzbekistan…I was intrigued by their way of life, unusual talents and perspective on life. Back in Lithuania, I began studying the Japanese language, later I went to Japan for a visit. That was when it all began: I became interested in the Korean and Chinese languages. I was enamoured with the region, so I travelled to Taiwan as soon as I received a scholarship. Later, when I was in Indonesia, I hoped that it would be similar to Taiwan, because I liked it very much. Indeed, there are a very large number of Chinese people in Indonesia, but there are many people from other cultures as well. Everyone’s very different there, so in that sense, if you want to become familiar with East Asian culture, go there.
Wasn’t it difficult to adapt to such a different culture and lifestyle in Indonesia?
Yes, definitely, it was. It’s still a third-world country, and it was my first time spending a longer while in one. There’s not even a normal water supply, so you’ve always got to be careful, even when brushing your teeth. To be honest, we take for granted what we have living here, in Lithuania. The heat in Indonesia is almost unbearable, so it’s really hard. You also need to constantly show respect to everyone by dressing appropriately, covering yourself from head to toe. Otherwise you could be misunderstood, get heckled or even pelted with stones.
What was the most difficult thing for you in Indonesia?
The hardest part was a lack of money. The scholarship was very small, but most locals are used to making ends meet with just that amount. For half a year, I ate plain boiled rice. There simply wasn’t enough money for food, and rice came free in the dormitory. We had to make some dietary changes, but after a while, it was quite fun.
You travel so often – don’t you ever miss your home, family and loved ones?
Well, you know what they say: I was born in a country that no longer exists. OK, to be serious – sure, I travel, but I always come back to Lithuania. The final destination will always be Lithuania, of that I’m sure. It’s just that at this point, I still feel this desire to see and experience things.
You returned to Lithuania not too long ago. Is this a new stage in life for you, or is it merely a pit stop?
I would really like to get a PhD in East Asian studies. I was looking at universities in Korea and Australia that offer some quality programs. For now, I’m still contemplating the situation. How will it all turn out? Not sure yet.
So you still feel the desire to continue your studies?
Well, yes, I don’t plan to stop. There are a lot of things stopping me: my parents are against such a decision, and my fiancé isn’t too happy that I travel so much either.
You know so many languages – is this it, or are you planning to learn any more?
No, this is definitely not the end. In the routine of life, languages support me – they help my memory, encourage me to read and keep learning. If VMU continues to offer as many languages in the future as it does now, then I will definitely continue studying – as long as there is the opportunity to do so.
What is VMU to you?
For me, VMU is a way of life. I’ve been studying here since 1999, and when I took a break for a year, I quickly started missing it. After coming back to Lithuania, I hurried to check the academic schedule, looked into the available language courses, all the lectures, seminars and various interesting events at the university. VMU is my way of life, I couldn’t breathe without it.