„Klausk ir pažink“ su asist. dr. Adam Mastandrea
Adam Mastandrea charismatic English professor from the United States of America: „Keep on going and do not let little things get you.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and why did you decide to teach at Vilnius University?
I am from Montana, United States of America. I grew up and lived most of my life there: I went to kindergarten, through 12 grade and I got my bachelor’s and master’s degree. I also worked in Montana for a while too.
A reason why I came to Lithuania is I applied for the English language fellow program through the US department of state and I got selected. The interesting thing is that with that programme you don‘t get to choose where you go. They are just using you to a place.
Actually a first place they singed me to go was Vladivostok, Russia, but I said no thank you. I have a daughter in high school so, I turned that down initially.
Next year I also applied for this program and again – got selected. This time they said Vilnius, Lithuania. Actually first they said Kaunas and I was supposed to go to Kaunas and just before a month coming here they said we are changing it to Vilnius and I got pretty excited about that.
So, I came here and I started teaching at Vytautas Magnus University education institute. The first semester I was teaching over there and then second semester I was teaching at Vilnius University since they‘ve heard that I am around and asked me to start teaching in Faculty of Philology.
And then the pandemic hit. Quarantine hit. US embassy told me to go back to the United States, my fellowship was officially put on hold and they evacuated about 200 of fellows from all around the world and pretty much everybody went home but I didn‘t want to go home, my daughter wanted to stay here too. So we just stayed here, and I was already kind of teaching at Vilnius University. But last year when I was teaching the US embassy was paying me through the fellowship, Vilnius university was pretty much getting me as a volunteer, but I guess they liked me therefore this year they said that they would sponsor my visa and would actually hire me as a full-time professor so that‘s why I‘m here today.
Did you have a cultural shock or had to face some challenges when you started to live in Lithuania?
It wasn‘t super difficult since I‘ve lived abroad in different places before. I don‘t think that cultural Lithuania is really different than the United States. My mom is from Poland so I‘ve been to Poland couple times. Actually the last time I was in Poland was in the mid 90s. Either way I was kind of used to Eastern European style.
Some stuff that was a little bit different coming from America where people are friendly and customer service interactions are a little bit different. People here are a little bit more standoffish and a little bit ruder than in America. For example, when you do in a store or a restaurant person here not pay attention to you, are more doing their own thing and lets you do your own thing while in America everybody tries to help you or talk to you. I guess it is nice, but that was a little different.
Also in America people talk to each other on the streets and talking to strangers is normal while here people are a bit quieter and you cannot just start up conversations with people that easily. But in general culturally it is very similar. Where are a lot of good things about Lithuania too, and pretty much everybody speaks English here, which is really nice and I was surprised that young people and people my age and below are able to speak English that well.
As I have heard you had a chance to teach not only in Lithuania but also in other counties. Which of them left the biggest impression and can you name a few differences of teaching in Lithuania and in other countries?
When I was younger, I lived in Japan and taught were for a couple of years. I would say that Japan and the United States or Japan and Europe that‘s a pretty big cultural shock. A lot of things are very different and interesting and fun at the same time, but all in all, even the food is very different and the way of communicating is very different. Also, a lot of people there didn‘t speak English, so that was hard. But where was this huge demand to learn this language, everybody wanted English it was a very valuable thing, therefore being an English teacher were was pretty nice and teachers were highly respected in Japanese culture. In general, it was kind of a tough place to live since you have to work all the time and super hard and it‘s kind of expected that you don‘t have much personal life and people there drink a lot it‘s actually like work hard play hard atmosphere. It was little intense there for me, but it was interesting.
I also lived in Hawaii. It‘s not a different country since it‘s part of America. But It‘s an island technically used to be the kingdom of Hawaii so it is kind of a different country and the students I worked with where were usually East Asian students – Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese. Being in Japan gave me the first exposure working and teaching English to Asian students and pretty much through 10 years of my teaching career I worked with Asian students and it was a little bit harder since there is a stereotype that they are quieter and more reserved, so you have to be entertaining but at the same time you have to pull the talking out of people and get people to become comfortable and get them to trust you before they start to communicate. It was a little bit different, but being in Japan started that career for me working with Asian students and it was an interesting chapter in my life.
Which 3 countries you would recommend to visit for all students?
I would definitely suggest visiting America. Maybe not right now during pandemic, but in the future for sure.
Speaking about America I wouldn‘t suggest visiting the giant city. I know everybody is like New York, LA, Chicago, but I‘ve actually never spent a lot of time in New York, LA or Chicago I think that's more interesting parts of America are natural beauty parts – the national parks, forests, deserts and the cool thing like that.
I am a northwest person being from Montana, so I really like Seattle, Portland and those areas in Washington, Oregon and northern California, which are not usually places where Lithuanians go to because it‘s also the furthest places from Lithuania obviously, but those are very nice places to explore and it‘s a little bit different culture, a little bit more laid back and hippy style I guess more grungy.
Moreover, with no doubt I would recommend visiting Hawaii. Hawaii is an awesome place. I‘ve lived there for nine years and I highly recommend it. Some of my family still lives there, my dad lives there on a big island of Hawaii which is the island with the big volcano, so I definitely recommend going there to catch volcanos, playing in the ocean. It‘s pretty much paradise there so I always miss it. Every time where is pretty much the same temperature, the wind is lightly blowing through the palm trees the ocean is nice and warm. The food is American and Asian food together so it‘s a great place to live. Internationally probably my favorite place I‘ve ever been was Bali. I‘ve spent like a week there just kind of hanging around. The home and the food were incredible and culture was so different. For me it was super weird and interesting, I‘ve felt like I almost was on a different planet. I‘d like to go back someday.
How and why have you decided to become an English teacher?
I just fell into it. I was travelling when I was younger and there was always jobs for teaching English, so I did that for a couple of years, then I came back and got my Master’s degree in applied linguistics. So I was licensed to be an English teacher and learn more about during my Master’s degree: learned about actual techniques, theories of language teaching. I started teaching at the university level, teaching more like academic English and getting little bit more into the details of teaching all languages: philology, morphology, syntax, semantics, kind of understanding language and then also learning how to teach, what materials to use, theories of psychology – that was what I was most interested in. After Master’s, I moved to Hawaii and started working on my PhD in language teaching as well. And then I was interested how to become the best language teacher and how to work with them. It kind of transitioned from being an English teacher to educational psychology side and that’s what my PhD was about. It’s what I enjoy doing – working with students, who are learning English.
In your opinion, how lectures should be organized to attract students attention?
I can‘t give away my top secret techniques. But for me, it is really important to make connection with students, to make students to feel comfortable because in learning language, you have to feel comfortable, you have to be ready to practice. If you think of language like some kind of theoretical system or just as grammar then it is boring, it is not alive, it is not interesting. Also, people usually, like in every subject, have sort of trauma in speaking, or they have their teacher who told that they work good enough in English and not everybody is coming to the classroom with the same perspective. I want people to break barriers and get people engage and be interested in what we doing. I am not really a textbook guy, I like to be creative and my students to be creative, evaluate them on how well we did not necessary on how we accomplish the big projects.
How do you always stay so positive and optimistic in your job?
That's a really good question because I feel like in my daily life I am not that positive. I really enjoy teaching. For me, it is not like difficult job because best part of the day is when I get to work with other people, be in a classroom because it is where I can feel comfortable – working students and hear other people ideas. It energizes me and makes me happy, positive. And you know they say that the best kind of work is when you don't feel that you are doing anything.
What is the best advice you have ever heard and what is your advice for students?
My advice for my students in particular. I feel like I am not the most intelligent person but I am good at persevering, keep on going and not letting little things get me down or get in my way. It is not always important to be the number one but it is important do things in your way, do what makes you happy. My model is to keep it up and do not give up. Perseverance is very important part of success.
Thank you Adam Mastandrea for your answers!