Isaac first came to Lithuania to meet up with some friends. Fast-forward two years, he is living in Vilnius and solving IT issues for SEB customers across Europe. We sat down with Isaac to talk about his switch from hospitality to IT, work culture in Lithuania and Australia, and the long-lasting impression Lithuanian nature can leave on anyone not from around here.
Vilnius is great! It’s rich in culture and history, not too big yet not too small and, more importantly, a very green city!
It was more of an opportunity. Funnily enough, my actual background is in hospitality. For thirteen years, I worked in cafes and restaurants, doing everything from waiting tables to actually co-managing those places. Some six-seven years ago, a friend reached out and said, “Hey, I know you like it there, but maybe you want to try something new.” He got me to apply for a service desk position. I got the job, because it was a very customer-focused role.
I found myself really into it. I like the complexity of the IT industry as well as being able to combine customer understanding with more technical elements. Since I made the switch, I’ve been in various contracted IT support roles, and I’ve been slowly introduced to more and more technical areas over time. While I have done things like ITIL certificates and some online training, for me, it was a case of learning something, repeating it and understanding where it comes from, and then just digging into it from there.
When I started travelling around Europe several years ago, I met some people in London that happened to be Lithuanian. I really enjoyed their company and we became great friends – it was as simple as that.
After my European travels, I started to think that I wanted to live outside of Australia.
The hard lockdown we had during the Covid pandemic in 2020 really made me realise that if I’m going to move elsewhere, it needs to be now. I just didn’t know where at that point.
What I did know was that I wanted to see some friends I had made over the years, from all across Europe, which included Lithuania. It really just went from there. We met up, I extended my time here, I made more friends, and ended up staying. A lot of Australians moving abroad go to the United Kingdom, Ireland or Germany. But I was thinking along the lines of, “I’m going to do something a bit different.”
To be honest, I didn’t really have any impressions or expectations. I wanted to take it at face value. There was a culture shock, naturally, and so many things that I hadn’t seen before and only heard so little of. Things like century-old cathedrals, churches, castles, forts, and, from the modern history aspect, Soviet-era buildings. Lithuanians and Balts don’t particularly enjoy the latter structures, and given the history and the buildings’ bleak design I understand why, yet I found it all quite intriguing and fascinating. Being from so far away in the world, it really makes you think what history was like on this side of the globe.
Also things like the different types of woods, forests and lakes – mind blowing! Lithuania is not a big place, and that’s not a bad thing – it’s actually quite a nice, comforting thing. You can always travel to and explore “the big places”, it doesn’t mean you have to live there. There is possibility and opportunity everywhere, even in places you might not expect.
I was still working remotely when I first came here. But you can only go so far when you’re working for a company so far away. It quickly gets to a point where you want the next challenge.
I had a friend from France who worked for SEB in Vilnius, and we spoke a bit about the company. He said that he quite enjoyed the work, the culture, and everything about it. So I thought, “Well, why not? I’ll apply”. I looked into the positions available and went through the application process. I ended up speaking to the manager and told them about my background. I perhaps wasn’t the most technically qualified person for that particular position, but I explained my approach to work: if you put something in front of me, I’m not going to push it to the side. I’m going to learn it and make something out of it.
My position is IT Engineer 2nd Line Support SME – that’s subject matter expert – in digital meeting solutions. We handle a bit more complex issues raised by users. When cases are escalated from front line support, the 2nd line support team steps in. We manage and work on the cases to the best of our knowledge and with the resources available. We also communicate, assist and work closely with other technical internal teams on more complex, priority-based issues and projects.
I mainly work with cases around the Microsoft Teams platform and some meeting room equipment. I also assist with issues related to Microsoft Exchange Server and the Outlook application. It’s really hard to get into detail, because everything is done on a case-by-case basis – anything can come through, which makes the work all the more intriguing.
It’s really refreshing working on this side of the world. SEB being a Swedish bank, I work with a variety of European clients, so it’s interesting to see different practices, the way that people approach things. The company culture is really friendly and warm, the team and the management are great.
I believe we’ve all worked enough jobs that made us think, “What if? What if I were to leave this workplace because I want to escape something I’m not happy about, something that I can’t fix or don’t agree with?” What’s interesting about my current role within SEB is that I don’t think anywhere along those lines. I really enjoy my position and the company that I’m in. Now, I only think, “What’s next? Where can I go from here with SEB?”
To put it simply – it makes sense. I don’t want to dismiss the companies that I had worked for in Australia – they treated me well and gave me a great experience. But I noticed that there’s still a lingering work culture in Australia that’s a little bit old-school – the whole “head down, work work work, pretty strict, by-the-book” kind of thing. The type of style you’d see in old Hollywood films about corporate life, shown in both employers and employees. It’s perhaps not the most productive atmosphere to be in.
When I came to my current job, during my first couple of days I was thinking, “Head down, don’t say anything, just do your work”. But everyone was very open and friendly. They kept asking, “How are you? Are you doing okay? You’re looking a bit stressed out! Don’t worry about it, take a break or, if needed, ask questions”. The feeling I found here was that we’re here to do work, but we don’t want to kill ourselves over it. We don’t have that mentality or expectations. So it took me a little bit of time to adjust. I really feel like I can breathe a bit when I work. I don’t have to suffocate myself with stress and anxiety or feel pressure from those around me – I now have support from colleagues and management.
Nature is a big one. I still can’t get over the forests, to be honest. Growing up as a kid in Australia, the wildlife and nature was very different. And while I grew up surrounded by the Australian bush, I watched films and shows, read books, and played video games with these incredible pinewood, birch, oak forests with all the wildlife included, like something out of a history book or fairytale. There are only some very small places of this in Australia, and now I’m living amongst the vastness of it.
To add to and embrace the nature aspect, I found that doing things like mushroom picking, foraging for berries, and camping in the woods – without having a big spider or a snake crawling across you – is really refreshingly peaceful.
Now in regards to the city life – Vilnius is great! It’s rich in culture and history, not too big yet not too small and, more importantly, a very green city! You can find many hidden gems all over the town, like unique bars and cafes, shops and markets with some of the freshest and tastiest produce. It gives a very authentic, real and honest feel about life here. Vilnius has everything you could need, but sometimes it’s nice to split your time between the city and visiting other towns or spending time in nature. It allows you to re-charge and makes you appreciate it all again when you come back.
I take a relatively simple approach to my free time. The end of the week, I usually catch up with some friends – we might go to a bar, or maybe to someone’s place to play board games or some music. What I also used to do quite a lot, was to simply pick a direction and start walking, just to see how far I go and where I end up. It’s a good way to discover places.
My dream is to get my motorcycle licence sorted out – I used to ride in Australia – and do the same thing but with a motorbike. Maybe put some camping gear on the back of the bike, pick a direction and go, and whatever happens – happens. That’s the beauty of living on this side of the world – I used to drive an hour and a half to work one way, every day. Here, you drive an hour and a half, you’re almost at the border of a different country, different culture, different language or dialect, different cuisine. Having so many places around and so many changes in geography, too – it’s crazy, I still can’t get over it.
One is the hill in Antakalnis, where you can look out all across Žirmūnai and the northern parts of the city. I like to walk around that area from time to time, with a coffee.
I also like to just take a stroll through the Old Town and Užupis. It’s quite nice, especially early Saturday morning, when you’re the only one on the streets or the only one sitting in the Cathedral square. Just watching the city wake up – it’s kind of peaceful.