I’ve now finished my first week of classes at Tallinn University. While the week has been filled with shapeshifting schedules, linguistic challenges, and general confusion, it has been fun getting to grips with the different educational setup here. I do appreciate the flexibility I have in regards to what I’m allowed to take, but I do wish there was a bit more structure and that things were more effectively organized. My ETCS credit panic has been mostly abated; after talking to a variety of professors and writing out a flurry of emails, I’ve been able to find enough courses to fill 30 credits for this semester, though it will still be another week before my schedule can be entirely finalized. My classes vary in quality, but I think most of them will be quite enjoyable and will get me engaged in a new perspective. I’m particularly enjoying the courses on Estonian Social Policy and Russian Culture, which are taught by enthusiastic, unique, and intelligent professors.
Besides classes, my social life this week has seen a relatively tame mix of dinner parties, pub visits, coffee breaks, and immigration form completion. The immigration forms, in particular, have made amusing and frustrating company. The amount of paperwork required for me to stay here is tedious and intimidating, though I’m hoping to have my Estonian ID/residency permit application submitted by the end of this week. The upside is that I will have short-term (5 years, I think) residency in Estonia and my ID card should be valid and recognized elsewhere in the EU. On a more satisfying level, I can make people believe that I’m Estonian or half-Estonian by showing them my ID while I’m travelling, which is much cooler than just being American.
One highlight/surprise of this past week was the astonishing number of apples that my Estonian tutor brought me from her backyard. After asking me if I wanted some apples (to which I, of course, replied yes) she came to my dorm with several bags holding nearly 100 apples in total. As I was not up to the Herculean feat of consuming dozens of apples alone, I had no choice but to set them near the dorm kitchen, where I hoped that people would use them. Fellow students reacted with varying amounts of shock, joy, and confusion at the sudden appearance of the apples, and I think I alienated a few of them by compulsively offering apples whenever anyone walked into the room. Between all of us, we were able to eat our way through about half of the apples before they started to rot and had to be binned. They were delicious, although I’ll ask my tutor (as awesome as she is) to be a bit more reasonable with her food-related gifts in the future.
One very interesting thing I’ve learned (and something that sheds some light on Estonia’s integration problems with Russian-speakers) is that Estonian national identity is defined linguistically. Birthplace, residency, citizenship, family history, etc. is less important; socially, you are Estonian if the Estonian language is your native language. Even if I were to learn fluent Estonian, gain citizenship here, and integrate as much as possible within the country, I would always be considered foreign because my mother tongue is English. Naturally, this poses a problem for native Russian-speakers, who live mostly within separate communities from native Estonians. This integration problem is even something that Estonia has faced some EU criticism for, although the nation’s linguistic identity is so tightly bound with its national identity that it’s hard to predict how this issue will progress.
Also, I did promise some poetry, so here’s a stanza from something I’ve been working on, although it’s not terribly topical:
a porcelain rail under grey ocean that guides me
to the most desolate, sickened morning sun
when the amber clays of the soil take their toll
and the stolen, pale foil of the night’s edge is returned to its rightful owner
and the mountains, wooded and weighed with the molasses of another day
flex their fractures and rise in the towering light
It’s partly influenced by the landscape here and partly imaginary (Estonia has no mountains) but it’s something I’m trying to work into a wider piece, where I can reflect on the natural and cultural distinctions that make Estonia so unique.
P.S. Tutors are Estonian students at Tallinn University who are paired with international students to give them advice and help them with settling into the country. The terminology is different here than in Edinburgh, where a tutor is an academic figure related to teaching and grading.
P.P.S. Still no pictures. Yet again, I have failed. I promise I’ll start bringing my camera around with me more.
P.P.P.S. It’s nearly 2 in the morning here. This sacrifice is all for you. Please excuse any typos.