Klaipėda Lyceum graduate and a student in the Master’s Degree in Oxford University – Justas Kazlauskas – says that “The biggest contrast between Klaipėda Lyceum and his current place of matriculation are the academic environment and the view on National examination.”

Justas Kazlauskas, currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Oxford University on dancing for another English University and why it isn’t worth asking the locals of Oxford about the whereabouts of the University. 

What is the connection between the famous Steven Hawking, Oscar Wilde, and the 42nd President of the United States of America – Bill Clinton? Well, all of these people graduated from the globally renowned Oxford University. One of the oldest Universities in England has had many famous people matriculate there, and you may also find amongst the names of those who have matriculated there some Lithuanian last names as well, including that of a Klaipėda city local – Justas Kazlauskas.

This young Klaipėda local, who is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Oxford has been living in England for the past 5 years, and can tell many stories about this legendary place of education – what one can expect when studying in Oxford University, how one can avoid seeming like a tourist to others, and how the politics of this prestige University forced Justas to compete for another prestige school in ballroom dance competitions.

Justas shared these tips and other things during our chat.

How did your story of matriculating in Oxford? Why did you decide to pursue further knowledge in this renowned University?

I became interested in this school while I was still in school, when myself and my other Klaipėda Lyceum classmates travelled to Oxford during open days. We were the first in the school to organise such a trip. The town of Oxford atmosphere and conversations with students who were studying there at the time both left a great impression. We brought back memories of the city’s architecture and spaces that we had only seen prior in Harry Potter movies – our levels of motivation were high. I remember running to the bookstore to buy a Mathematics textbook in English. I opened it only once after this, btu I remember we had all come back from the trip inspired to read Žemaitė and Donelaitis, just so we could study in such a great school.

What are you currently studying and why did you choose this area of study?

I chose to study Russia and Eastern Europe for my Master’s Degree. These are very broad areas of study – they include studies of the politics of the region, International relations, the economy and even popular culture and history. The main goal is to learn to solve complex problems, critically analyse processes which might be too broad to fit into a specific category of politics, economy or sociology.

This department is not large so the students and professors are actively involved.

I had also received an invitation from Oxford’s International Relations and the Institute of Political Sciences with an offer to study European politics. However, our region of the world and its goings-on were dearer to my heart.

What are you currently focused on in your studies?

I am currently researching the influence of small countries – the ways in which Lithuania is currently striving to conserve its political subjectivity in the formation of European policies. I am currently speaking with people who have been instrumental in the formation of our foreign policies. I am trying to evaluate how effective Lithuania’s gestures and diplomatic attempts regarding Russia, Belarus and China have been.  I am also looking into how successfully security measures were implemented in the NATO and EU routines.

When one wants to study in such prestige institutions of education one has to not only have high grades and have high national exam scores – they also have to participate in a special interview? What were your impressions of these various moments of your application process?

Applying to MA studies was quite different. A lot of attention is given to academic achievements. I had to not only provide my examination results, but also an academic CV and some examples of my essays. The admission’s committee expects my cover letter to not simply be a letter discussing extracurricular activities or stories that begin with “since I was little” – they want a specific presentation of a possible research project. This is where the majority of the students sit at an empty page for a little while. Still, these admission stages did not pose many obstacles.

I was firm on my choice of studying the influence of small countries and the topics of safety in the Baltic states. I was also confident in which department research cluster I wanted to be a part of and who was going to be the professor I would ask to be the overseer of my thesis. This type of certainty definitely helped convince the admissions committee.

You graduated from Klaipėda Lyceum here in Klaipėda. How much influence did the studies here have on your current choice of studies?

The biggest contrast – the academic environment as well as the view on national exams. When everyone in the class is trying to get the best results one can easily find motivation to keep up and to not fall behind. My decision of the field of studies was less influenced by my school. While I was matriculating in Klaipėda Lyceum we did not have the opportunity to choose the study of political science and economics, and that is why my choice of studies was more so influenced by my extracurricular activities and debate club. In the debate club I attended I learned that I could not distinguish the political left from the right, and so I would run to a cafe after school to read newspapers and learn about the current goings on, and, although, public speaking did not come easy to me the adrenaline rush of being onstage kept me coming back.

The town of Oxford is known for its exceptional and unique sights and architecture. Which places around the town do you enjoy visiting the most and what would you recommend others come and see?

I would recommend getting lost in the narrow streets. Oxford is not a large town so you really do not need a map. Most of the places one visits will be more impressive when you find them on your own. I recommend visiting Gloucester Green street produce market as well as a swim in a dory for those who want an authentic student experience. However, you mustn’t, no matter what, ask for directions to the Oxford University – it’s a dead giveaway for being a tourist.

I have heard that Oxford is one of the most expensive cities to live in in England. Can you confirm this fact and mention the ways in which this becomes evident?

Indeed, Oxford is the second (or third, based on which statistics you are looking into) most expensive city to live in in the UK. It is more expensive than London. It is most evident when looking into rent and service prices. Other Lithuanians and I joke about the fact that we spend time in Lithuania very excitingly by going to the dentist’s office or a hairdresser. I can only fund my studies because of the Kitas 100 stipend I receive from the Lithuanian Education ministry. I have also been working while studying since the 12th grade taking off the financial burden off my parents.

What are the biggest academic challenges that you are currently facing?

Currently it would have to be the process of writing my Master’s thesis and preparation for my final exams. I am not planning on seeing the sun for the upcoming month (he laughs). I have been matriculating in the UK since my graduation from Klaipėdos Licėjus. I have really gotten used to the local system of education. It relies mostly on individual learning. Our University department has very few lectures and we mostly attend seminars where we participate in discussions with our professors in small groups of students. This means a lot of preparation – one has to read at least several books and several academic papers in a week.

What is a regular day of studying at Oxford like?

A while back we had had protests during which the students demanded that our lecture start no earlier than 9 a.m. so I do not have to get up very early for my classes. I drink some coffee, devote several hours to work and I get on my bike. Oxford is a bike town. Road and traffic conditions are created here for people on bikes and pedestrians. Many places here are at a walkable distance, and both professors and students bike. The lectures, depending on the trimester, take place 2-3 times a week. It wouldn’t seem like much, however, as it was aforementioned, preparation for each lecture takes a lot of hours of work. I work in between lectures, read and take care of various organisational tasks.

Oxford University is famous for its various academic clubs and groups. What academic or social activities have you had the pleasure of participating in?

I spend a lot of my time participating in the Oxford strategic research group. We also organise weekly seminars with guest speakers in the All Souls college’s old library. This school year I am the community’s vice president so I am trying to draw attention towards the war in Ukraine, topics of the region’s safety and Lithuania’s actions providing aid into the activities.

I invite speakers from Chatham House, Royal United Services Institute, Atlantic Council and other safety research centres. My friends laugh that I have also invited almost the entirety of The Economist editorship. I have also invited several lecturers to visit from Lithuania.

A big part of your life includes dance. Can you tell us more about this activity of yours? Do you have enough time for this hobby while you are studying in Oxford?

When I was accepted into Oxford I came back to ballroom dancing. I started attending ballroom dancing when I was 7 years-old in Žingsnis, but I lost my interest along the way. My girlfriend is also a dancer and so we decided to dance together.

UK Universities have their own separate ballroom dancing league where alumni and current students compete. The National takes place in the famous Winter Gardens Blackpool event centre.  This year we managed to achieve great results and we came in the top 6 UK student couples. We have enough time and the University is supportive of sports activities. My college also provides a practice space free-of-charge.

I overheard a story that you and your dance partner represent a different English institution of higher education. What caused such a decision?

Oxford has its own ballroom dancing club. However, we were disappointed to find the prices there too high and the finances kept a bit unfairly last year. When we compared our club with other clubs of other Universities there was a huge disparity in the prices. Thus, we started training with my first dance teacher from Klaipėda and independent dance teacher in Oxford, and spent all the money we saved on private lessons. We were not the first ones in such a situation so we followed the path laid out before us and decided to dance for Cambridge University.

What are some of the biggest cultural differences that you deal with in England and what could our Lithuanian institutions of higher education learn from Oxford?

I have never studies in Lithuania so I cannot be completely objective or give advice. I have heard stories from my acquaintances saying that students here have more in-person lectures and assignments. We, on the other hand have to be determined to learn independently.

All the assignments and exams are taken at the end of the year, and questions for the seminars are prepared by us and not the professor. Because nobody is seeking out those students who have learned nothing, we are free to discuss and confess if we do not understand something.

Those who are used to the outside pressure of learning might find this system of education dangerous when it comes to their habits.

It seems you could slip right by – going into seminars unprepared – all the way to the finals. There’s always something going on in the city. One can choose from numerous different events every evening – various talks, discussions attended by famous specialists of their field, writers, movie stars. Every college has its own bar with very affordable alcohol prices. It is easy to simply become detached, get lost in your free time so it does take quite an amount of self-discipline and this system of education is definitely not for everyone.

What could you suggest to students who dream/are planning of studying at Oxford in the future? What knowledge would they need to be improving right now so they could prepare better for the application and matriculation process there?

Unfortunately, because of Brexit, road to Oxford has recently become more difficult financially. If you have never had the opportunity to live in the UK or to get a pre-settled status – the University is going to apply higher prices for studying there and will ask for about 30 thousand pounds per year. Without this legal status the country will also not provide loans under good conditions. I would not give up, but those determined to study in Oxford should start looking into financing opportunities, apply for various stipends and financial aid. The process will require a lot of effort, however it will also be a great opportunity to clarify what your goals are and will convince you and others to believe in your motivation and abilities.

What are your future plans? Do you plan to align your future with England, another foreign country or are you going to come back to Lithuania?

I am coming back home to Lithuania, after 5 years of study, this year in July. I see Lithuania as an exceptionally strong, ambitious and dynamic country. We have a lot of room to create and all of the benefits of a small country. The question of the ways in which I will realise my potential here are still to be seen, however my studies abroad have sparked a desire to initiate a change in our region. I hope to contribute meaningfully to our country’s complex problems of safety in Lithuania.

Thank You for the talk.