So today marks the end of my first week in Estonia. It feels strange to think I’ve been here only seven days, as nearly every minute of my time here has been packed with activity! I’ve started my Erasmus Intensive Language course here at the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences (or, in Estonian, Sisekaitseakadeemia). The Estonian language is every bit as challenging as it was made out to be (including 14 noun cases! Yikes!), but I have managed to learn some simple vocabulary, grammar, and phrases. These include:
– Tere hommikust! (Good morning!)
– Head ööd! (Good night!)
– Kas sul on poiss? (Do you have a boyfriend?)
…(That last phrase is especially good to keep in mind when chatting with Estonia’s famously attractive women)
The group of students taking the EILC here are very interesting and loads of fun to be around. Our course includes exchange students from Germany, Finland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and even Tanzania. I’m actually the only native English speaker in the group, which is something I wasn’t expecting. Our course includes a cultural portion as well, which has been organized by two of the most enthusiastic and friendly Estonians I’ll probably ever meet: Kaisa and Triin. While the definition of a ‘cultural’ activity sometimes gets stretched a bit (trying different Estonian liquors and beers is cultural, right?), so far all of the events and trips have been a blast.
Two trips were packed into the last two days. Thursday afternoon was spent at Matta Farm, a picturesque stretch of Estonian countryside about an hour east of Tallinn. We stayed there for the night in a cabin next to the farmhouse, and spent our time mostly in saunas, hot tubs, and Twister competitions. We also had a chance to try some authentic Estonian cuisine (hey, it was actually pretty good!), which consists largely of chicken, fresh vegetables, and different varieties of bread and milk.
Friday night was spent in the town of Kasmu, which was hosting the Viru Folk Festival this weekend. We buckled down and spent the night in a tent on Triin’s backyard (Kasmu is her hometown), which gave us easy access to the many concerts, street performers, and food stands packed into Kasmu’s narrow streets. One of my favorite performances was given by the Estonian rock band Zetod, who rounded out the usual bass/guitar/drum setup with a fiddle and an accordion. Triin has lent me some of their CDs, so I’ll have to spend some time going through them before I can recommend specific songs. We also had time to hike on the beach and around the forest surrounding the town, which were both beautiful in a very Nordic, desolate way. The landscape also reminded me quite a bit of what I had seen around northern Michigan and Canada, and I believe the climate in Estonia is similar to those regions as well.
As for the city of Tallinn, it is absolutely fascinating. It’s a strange, heady mix of medieval ‘old Europe’, Soviet Union-era decay (many of the buildings from the 1970s and 80s now stand abandoned), and booming high-tech development (reflected in the skyscrapers that dot the city skyline). The city is beautiful and has a unique cultural edge to it, standing at the meeting point between Scandinavia, Russia, and the Baltic and Balkan states to the south. Estonia is a fiercely independent, patriotic nation, with a population that is (very rightly) proud of the country’s success in overcoming its troubled past. Relations with Russia remain a flashpoint here, and there’s still a bit of social tension between the Russians and Estonians that live here (especially near the Russian border), but it’s something that’s improving.
There is plenty more to say, but I’m already quite far over the recommended limit of 500 words for this blog post, so I’ll stop here for now. Expect to hear more soon!
All the best,
P.S. For those of you wondering about the title of this post, Saku is the name of an Estonian beer. I highly recommend it.