Before the various colored revolutions made their way through much of Eastern Europe, the “singing revolution” set the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The tiny Baltic nation of Lithuania bravely threw off the shackles of nearly 50 years of occupation; not by guns or violence, but by gathering in the tens of thousands around their parliamentary building, joining arms and singing their beautiful national hymns that had previously been outlawed.
I was privileged to live in Lithuania ten years into their newfound independence. Their sense of national pride was still palpable at the time. It was there that I learned firsthand, that it is impossible to repress the human soul. While I had no cultural or familial ties to Lithuania, it was hard not to fall in love with a nation and her people, in whom, the reawakening of a culture and society was occurring.
The sense of national identity is not something easily defined for the crucible that we call America. Yet, for a place like Lithuania, the simple beauty of celebrating their heritage, through everyday life, was breathtaking to behold. I will admit that it took me some time in the region to fully grasp the intricate dynamics that were taking place. I don’t pretend to be able to understand it fully. How can I?
Being aware of their struggle for freedom though, I began to see the world through a different lens. My old thoughts of the superiority of the American “way-of-life,” slowly left me and a deep sense of reverence and respect crept in for things that I once viewed as foreign and inferior.
When the orange revolution swept through the Ukraine in the winter of 2004, I was inspired to watch the national awakening of that amazing country. While they have struggled politically to make progress on the orange promises, the nation is alive.
When the parliamentary elections were scheduled for 2007, I knew that I needed to be there. I convinced my father to go with me amidst the general confusion and scorn of our friends and family as to the purpose of the trip.
To be there though, out on the public square with thousands and thousands of Ukrainians, was something that makes me emotional to this day. We talked with them, looked in their eyes and saw the glimmer of hope that comes along with the mantle of a national awakening. It is inspiring and for me borders on the holy.
There is nothing that can substitute for the experience of actually being there, cheering on the similarities in our cultures and celebrating the differences. It is only by seeking out the cultural differences that we grow in appreciation and respect for one’s own.
As the first urban planning student to go abroad for the University of Utah, I will seek out the similarities in Argentina, but more importantly, I will look to harvest the successful differences in their planning approaches. As the saying goes, “Think Global, Act Local” and within this opportunity comes an important first step for the University and our College in becoming a leader in sustainable planning for the future.