It’s been almost one month since we arrived here in Tallinn, Estonia. Some days I feel overwhelmed with thoughts of all the good memories I have made so far, and how many are yet to come throughout this semester. It’s kind of crazy, but good crazy. When I tried to think of a topic for the first article to write for the EBSTER magazine (BTW every month there will be a new article on the website, so stay tuned), the word “connection” kept on popping in my mind. Whether if it’s connecting with new friends, with different cultures, with our courses, with the Estonians, or with our own selves, this word is a sort of repeating motive that relates to a lot of what’s going on these days in Tallinn, and in our ERASMUS program. So, in this article I will try to elaborate the meaning of this word to me as an ERASMUS student, and hope that maybe you will also relate!
When in Estonia, be an Estonian – Connecting with the locals.
First of all we are in Estonia, so in my opinion the first culture we should try to make a connection with is the Estonian one. Let us all admit that not many of us had actual knowledge of this country’s existence before coming here (I admit). Maybe you can even relate with this – before I came here, I was frequently asked by friends and family who knew I was going to an exchange student program abroad: “So when is your flight to Yugoslavia/Latvia/Ukraine?”, or any other random Eastern European country they knew little about. “Estonia!” I would plead persistently (with slight hesitation of my pronunciation), and they would reply with the same following questions: “Where or what exactly is Estonia?”.
But even though this country is still a little under the global radar, it is definitely working its way up to leaving its stamp “on the map”. Do you use Skype? Yeah that’s an Estonian invention. It’s one of many innovative products Estonia has contributed to the world lately. And have you heard of ME-3? Well, till recently me neither. Apparently it’s a unique probiotic that was discovered here in 2001, and ever since has been used all over the world, usually added to dairy products. The ME-3 holds great benefits to your body, for the short and long term (google it if you’d like). I’ve learned to know that there are actually plenty of interesting facts about this country. I recommend you go one day to the TV tower (Tallinna Teletorn), where you can learn a lot about Estonia’s fascinating history and its relation to the current Estonian startup industry, plus you’ll get to see an amazing view of Tallinn from 170 m high (7 Euros entry for students).
Having said that, in my opinion the best way to learn about the Estonian culture is not by sightseeing, google searching or information apps (oh, us millennials), rather it’s by making actual conversations with the locals. Although it’s true what they say, the Estonians are a bit preserved; I actually found them to be pretty warm and friendly once approaching them in a friendly way as well. What helps me in doing this is trying to learn the basics of their language. It might not be the most useful language to learn in general (considering the fact that only about one or two million people in the world speak it), but it definitely helps with feeling connected to this place – our home for the next few months, so give it a try.
From my personal experience, polite phrases like “how are you?” (kuidas sul läheb), and “have a beautiful day” (ilusat päeva), bring up a smile on the locals faces immediately, and could also start up a conversation with them. Believe it or not, I was even able to get a humble giggle from a snobbish bartender at the club by trying to say “thank you, good night” (aitäh, head ööd), although maybe I said it wrong. For those of you who don’t have the chores “Estonian for beginners” (like me), that’s OK. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals to teach you their language, they actually seem quite happy to do it. For instance, instead of a silent cab ride, you can ask the driver to teach you a few words (in Russian as well), and write them to your notes on the phone. Here are some of the phrases and words I’ve learned so far (though I know only about half of them by heart).
Euro Trippin’ in Tallinn – Connecting with the students around the world
An amusing fact I learned when sitting at a German friend’s apartment a few days ago, is that the childhood song “The Chicken Dance” everyone in Israel grows up to, is also very common in Germany, Italy and France (probably in other countries as well). When one of the French girls that night started humming it, suddenly everyone joined her in their own language, and we all knew the same (awkward) dance moves. It was great! One important discovery – besides the fact that Italians give two kisses when greeting someone, one of my Israeli friends noticed that they always start with a kiss on the left cheek. This was a critical discovery for us Israelis since we’re used to doing it the other way (kiss the right cheek). Learning this fact prevented us from future awkward greetings that involve an almost kiss on the lips (credit to Omri Burstein).
There are so many different people from different places studying this semester in EBS – from Italy, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Greece, Russia, Turkey and others! We are all very fortunate for getting this once in a lifetime opportunity to make connections with such a variety of new and unfamiliar people, cultures, ideas, life perceptions and more.
After spending some time here and getting to make a few new and good friendships, I’ve decided on an approach towards this new Estonian adventure – I will try to push myself to connect with as many people that aren’t only from my country (Israel), and try to learn as much as I can about the different variety of cultures I am lucky to encounter while I’m here. It’s hard, I admit. When adjusting to a new place it is our natural instinct to seek for what makes us feel mostly at home, and having another 10 or more students around you that know your hometown, or even speak the same language as you do, definitely gives us that warm homie feeling we desire. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing; we’re making new friendships with people who we will actually get a chance to see relatively often after finishing the semester.
But still, I feel it’s important to get out of our comfort zone as much as we can, and this experience is the perfect platform for doing so. I’m sure a lot of you would agree with this approach, but it’s important we remind ourselves once in a while to implement it as well. Hopefully at the end of this semester we will all create more connectivity with our surroundings, and of course as a result of that, be more connected to ourselves! So to finish this article, I would like to quote one of the best authors I know, Dr. Seuss: “Oh, the places you’ll go, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting so… Get on your way!”
Photos: Aviya Attas, Wikipedia
Editor: Kärt Mättikas
Translator: Liisa-Maria Lillepea