His mother thought it was too close to Russia and that he might be drawn to go back there for good. Alessio has no such plans. Adopted as an infant, the 21-year-old student doesn’t remember his Russian parents. Today he considers not only Palermo, but Vilnius his home and is preparing to spend his first Christmas far from his parents in Vilnius.

Italian Panettone, a type of sweet bread, will most likely be on his holiday table, but Alessio says he likes the raisin-free traditional Christmas cake Pandoro better this time of year. The student agreed to discuss his impressions of Vilnius and to share some Christmas traditions from Italy.

- Why did you decide to come to Vilnius?

- I am a Political Science and International Relations major at the University of Palermo. There was an opportunity to study abroad for a year at Mykolas Romeris University and I jumped at the chance. I wanted to find out more about this part of Europe. I knew about your history and that you were once part of the Soviet Union. I think being in Vilnius is also a good opportunity to learn some Russian. I was born to Russian parents in Vladimir. They put me up for adoption when I was 6 -months old so I don’t remember them at all. I also have a sister and an older brother. All 3 of us were adopted by the same family in Italy.

- Have you visited Russia?

- No, not yet. I have never had the occasion to visit Russia. I am planning to do so, but with the COVID-19 pandemic it is rather difficult now to travel. I plan to do that next year (in 2021) after I graduate and the pandemic subsides.

- How is your Russian?

I am still learning Russian. I have an App on my phone and it helps me to learn this language. Also, I have Ukrainian friends that converse in Russian and I listen to how they speak and pick up a word or two. I really want to learn Russian. If I want to travel around Eastern Europe, then Russian is an important language. Many people, especially older pensioners, speak Russian in Eastern Europe – in Lithuania also.

- Christmas is almost here. How do you celebrate Christmas in Italy?

- We set up a Christmas tree and decorate it with ornaments. In the case of my family, we have some old crystal ball ornaments that have been in the family for years and years. Some of them belonged to my great grandmother. Each family has different types of ornaments that they hang on the tree. Near the Christmas tree, there is a Nativity scene set up. Christmas Day there is a festive meal either at home or in a restaurant. Our family likes to celebrate with a big lunch in a restaurant and there are special holiday meals on the menu.

We eat lasagne, some types of pasta and pig’s trotters. It’s a chance to spend time with your parents. On Christmas Eve, traditionally we exchange presents with our siblings and parents.

- You have adapted well to life abroad in Lithuania?

- Yes, it was difficult at first to be away from home and my parents, but now I have adjusted. I am enjoying my time in Vilnius.

It will be my first Christmas away from Italy. I have many friends now and even during the lock-down, it is better to be in Vilnius – where many of my friends are – compared to Italy, where the coronavirus pandemic is also raging. I don’t think it would be better to go to Italy and be in lock-down there. I consider Vilnius and Lithuania as my second home.

- What differences have you noticed between Vilnius and your native Palermo?

- People are quieter in Vilnius, especially on the bus. Once on a bus in Vilnius, I was sending a voice message to my friend. I suppose it was too loud for an old lady next to me.

In addition, people in relationships here are introverted - I noticed. Couples don’t hug much in public, compared with Italian couples.

Also, some traditions vary. In Sicily, in the south, from where I come – after a 2nd time that you meet a person, you have to kiss the person on the cheek. If it is a boy, you kiss him on both cheeks. But, if it is a girl, you only kiss her one time. Here I noticed that males are ashamed to show affection to other males and do not kiss each other. People from Eastern Europe begin to think that we are somehow strange. That is not the case.

- What have you learned during the last 6 months that you have been in Vilnius?

- I have learned to respect the rules. You must follow the rules in the Student House and elsewhere in Lithuania.

What are the differences between learning methods here in Vilnius and in your native Palermo?

In Italy, we memorize everything and forget it all after the exam. Here knowledge at Mykolas Romeris University is presented in a more practical way, so you remember what you learn. This has been a good experience for me.

- You are an avid collector and have many hobbies?

- Yes, I like to collect lighters, especially Zippo. I have bought one here in Vilnius near the marketplace. Also, I am interested in watches and picked up a very beautiful watch at the Vilnius 'Kalvariju turgus' for a good price.

- Italy is famous for its food. Have you tried local Lithuanian cuisine?

Yes, I tried cepelinai and I loved it. It’s wonderful. The pairing of potatoes with meat is a great idea and potatoes are my favourite food.

Also, I like to exercise my body by running every Sunday, despite winter and the snow. I run about 13-kilometres – from Mykolas Romeris University to the Vilnius TV Tower and back.

- What do you plan to do after you graduate in 2021?

- I have 3 options including Master’s Degree studies in Lithuania or in London.

The other one is to enter a military academy. That may be an attractive option because there are many incentives and perks to being a military man – such as free housing.

The third option is to work in an international field-such as in an Italian Embassy abroad. That is something I would really like to do.