Success stories of immigrants in Lithuania. How did they do it?

Written by a journalist Laima Karaliūtė

Making a living in Lithuania is possible. We represent three immigrants: Masroor Ahman Qamar from Pakistan, Juan Carlos from Mexico and Rebaz Rashid from Iraq. All three men say that they enjoy living here in Lithuania, even if it was not easy in the beginning. Their stories and experiences are different, but there are factors that unite all three men: a positive outlook, motivation and perseverance. Interviewees are sharing their advice on how to integrate into lithuanian society. 

A collage by Tomas Terekas

What were main actions you undertook to integrate into a lithuanian society? 

NameMasroor Ahman QamarJuan Carlos Rebaz Rashid
Country of originPakistanMexicoIraq
Lives in Lithuania5 years2 years3 years
Works in LithuaniaNurse at the reception departmentMen’s barberOwner of a restaurant
Monther tongueUrduSpanishCurdish
Foreign languagesEnglish, LithuanianEnglishArabic, Persian, Turkish, English, Lithuanian
Marital statusMarried to a Lithuanian womanMarried to a Lithuanian woman, raises two childrenDivorced

What were main actions you undertook to integrate into a lithuanian society? 

M: I have started learning lithuanian language right away, because i understood that without it I will struggle in many situations- from shopping to finding a job. I intentionally moved to a dormitory to live with lithuanian people. Then, I started a college to get a diploma and start working as a nurse at a general practice. 

“I also made an effort to understand lithuanian culture and get to know the natives”

J: I moved to Lithuania with family. My wife is lithuanian, we have two children. I also made an effort to understand local laws and societal rules. 

R: I started learning lithuanian language, because I have understood that broad possibilities open up when you know the local language. I also made an effort to understand lithuanian culture and get to know the natives. I interacted with all organisations that may help me to find a job and integrate into this society better. 

Which character traits helped you with integration in Lithuania? 

M: curiousity, a wish to learn, motivation to integrate, also friendliness, optimism. Lithuanians often tell me: „whetever happens- you always smile“

J: Goodwill, joy, positivity, respect to all the people, ability to communicate. In my opinion, lithuanians like to complain quite a lot and even a bad weather might ruin their mood. I see things in a positive way and cheer people up.

R: courage, ingenuity, open outlook to a different culture, resistance to stress. 

What were the main difficulties that you encountered while integrating? 

M: it is difficult to learn the language and understand the culture. For example, i still find it strange that, contrary to Pakistan, lithuanian families are usually not very large. It was not easy to get a job as a nurse in the hospital. Four months I had to work voluntarily to prove that I am worth this job.

“The lucky thing was that my wife is lithuanian”

J: In the beginning, the hardest thing for me was to rent a flat. Even in Vilnius, where people are usually more tolerant, I have met landlors that closed doors right in front of me after getting to know that I am not a local. The lucky thing was that my wife is lithuanian, so she rented it for us. Also, I found it hard to get used to the harsh climate as well as food that is not spicy (Laughing). 

R: Renting the flat. Landlords would not even talk to me after I would say that I am a refugee from Iraq. Also, it was not easy to find lithuanian friends. Even though I am friendly, locals have a weird look towards muslim people. „What do you want? Is it the money? Or you want to fool with us?“ – their look says. Lithuanians are cautious people. 

Did you experience intolerance because of your nationality, religion, different looks? How did it show up? How did you react to that? 

M: Yes. Many times. I live in Kėdainiai area – people are even more closed off there, compared to the big city. In the beginning many people were afraid to communicate with me, they said I was dangerous, because I was from Pakistan. I was called a terorist, dirty person, a scamp. I don’t get angry. I understand that people say that because they don‘t know enough. Also, your country have experienced many occupations. Maybe some people look at foreigners unfavorably for this reason. I always try to explain to others that I have no wicked intentions and the fact that I was born in Pakistan or that I am a muslim does not make me a bad person. I always emphasize that I respect lithuanian traditions. That always helps. Now the people from my village look at me friendly, some older women invite me for a coffee too (Laughing). Quite a few people said they were sorry that they have communicated with me harshly in the beginning. 

I always try to explain to others that I have no wicked intentions

R: When I have decided to open up a restaurant in Lithuania, I have found great premises in the centre of the city, yet the owner of the place told me that she would never rent her place to somebody from a muslim country. I have also been called a terrorist, but I do not hold a grudge. I explain that i am Kurdish and that in my home town some people think that arabic natives are terorists too, so they also do not want to rent places to arabic people. 

Does a person need to learn a lithuanian language to integrate well? How did you succeed in learning it? 

M: its a must. Not everyone know English in Lithuania and even if they do know it, sometimes they do not want to speak it. Your language is not the easiest. I had to try hard to crack it. Lithuanian grammar is the hardest. The best help was living with lithuanian speakers. To tell you the truth, I still find it hard to spell it, because my original letters are completely different. 

J: if you live in Vilnius- it is not a must. I have no problems using English. Of course, that does not mean I am not learning Lithuanian. My best teacher is my wife. But frankly, your language is difficult to learn well. Even lithuanians say they do many mistakes (Laughing).  

R: Definitely yes. If you speak the native tongue – your life becomes much easier. I still do not know your language perfectly, but I do try to make an effort. I have studied linguistics in Iraq, so learning languages is not too difficult for me. The more languages you know, the easier is to learn a new one. 

Why is it worth making a living here in Lithuania? What are the advantages of our society? 

M: it is cheaper to live here than in the West of Europe, it is also easier to find a job. Some employers do not ask you for very high competences. The nature in Lithuania is brilliant too. I am still amazed that I can grow straberries and pick apples from a tree in my village (Laughing). In my home country, the agriculture is so poor. While people in your country grow vegetables and eat eat them fresh. It adds a big value. My neighbours often treat me with cold beetroot soup. I love them! And I suggest every immigrant to try it themselves. 

“People in your country grow vegetables and eat eat them fresh. It adds a big value”

J: Lithuania is a safe country and a great place to grow children. It is very clean here, great nature and many lakes. People follow laws and rules. A person can get a good level of education for free. 

R: it is easier to start business here, because lituhanian economy is growing fast, lithuanians are friendly, there are almost no racism. Also, I really like lithuanian women. They are very beautiful (Laughing). I like that Lithuania do not have huge cities. Vilnius is a very cosy city. I feel like home here. 

Do you have lithuanian friends? What is your advice to make friends with lithuanians? 

M: I would say straight away – if you are a muslim, it will not be easy to make friends with lithuanians. You need patience, positive outlook. It is not enough to say „labas“. Lithuanians are quite conservative and closed off. Especially an older generation. A newcomer needs to accept this – he will have to constantly explain why he is here. Also, a person definitely cannot belittle lithuanian traditions and religion. 

J: many of them. If a person wants to have lithuanian friends, he firstly needs to respect local traditions, rules, be communicative, smile a lot and everything will be alrgiht. Although, in the beginning I used to hug people that i have just met, the same like in Mexico, but friends adviced me not to do that, because lithuanians are more restrained than mexicans. 

“Lithuanians are more restrained than mexicans”

What would be your advice for immigrants that complain about Lithuania saying that it is not possible to make a living here and hence their aim is moving to West European countries?

M: I always say to this sort of people that if they do not want to work in Lithuania, they will also not want to work in Norway. Yes, subsidies might be higher there, but subsistence is also much higher. It is not adviceable to think that the grass is greener elsewhere. 

R: this sort of people does not want to work in general. Their aim is to sit on the sofa and live from benefits. You cannot live in dignity with this sort of thinking. 

Did other immigrants helped you when you were settling in? Your natives, for example. Is immigrant person more frienly to another immigrant? Is he more willing to help than a lithuanian? 

M: Depends on a specific person. There are many friendly ones, we even have a community here. We help newcomers. But also, there are negative people that always complain and try to drag you to the bottom of their misery with them. 

R: in my experience, imigrants are not friendly to each other. They especially do not like those who succeed. They gossip, are jealous, insist on helping them, they ask for money without wanting to work. Not all of them are the same though, of course. But many. For example, when I thought of opening s restaurant, many of them called me stupid. I got most of the help from lithuanian people. 

“I got most of the help from lithuanian people”

Three tips for imigrants that want to make a living with dignity in Lithuania. 

M: work a lot, study a lot and be tolerant.

J: make friends with locals, move to a bigger city- Vilnius is the best in my opinion, because there are more opportunities here and people are not that conservative. Also, it is important to find a job that you like.

R: learn lithuanian, understand the local culture, accept local rules, be friendly and make peace with a fact that it may be difficult to find a good well-paid job at the start.