This is the first time that I have been across the Atlantic and its been unlike anything I could have imagined. My new place acquires some pretty dope used needles and broken alcohol bottles every night and makes me feel like I’m in soviet Russia, but the roaming drunken parties that are held outside, whether it be day or night, totally make up for it. Hah. But it really has been a sweet experience: had some awesome food, met some great people, and now have a number of stories to go back with; I’ve experienced a culture I had only seen in movies, swam in the Baltic Sea, got kicked out of a hostile for trying to house too many people, tried to swim to Russia, technically invaded via bus, saw and heard the legendary song festival, partied for American independence in a castle, went to Finland in a cruise ship, ate reindeer, killed a guy, explored, and met a bunch of locals and partook in their seemingly national pastime. Okay, one of these isn’t true, but I bet you couldn’t figure out which one it is. Oh yeah, and I learned some Russian too.. totally forgot about that.
Yep, I’ve got it now.
^You see, that could have been an entire blog post, probably could have been included in Six Word Memoirs. But on a serious note, it’s almost the end of the program, and I would be lying if I said everyone was as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as when we first got here. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with getting a little burnout, just asl long as you don’t let it take complete control of you.
On another topic: I’m going to miss this place. Though Narva is not what most people would consider the Mecca of Estonian culture, I’m still going to miss this run-down little city. There is no Hanseatic architecture as in Tallinn, nor any sweeping public squares like Moscow’s Red Square, nor any palaces like those of St. Petersburg. But there are the tree-lined walk ways and a castle that has stood the test of time, seeing the Danes, Livonians, Russians, Swedes, Russians again, Estonians, Soviets, Nazis, Soviets again, and back to an Estonian government. There’s the statue of Lenin at the castle and the T-34 tank on the road to the beach reminding us of the country’s Soviet past.
Then there’s the university. Everyday we would walk our way over and have our classes. We’d have our breaks, during which the water cooler would frequently be empty. We’d have our speaking classes, during which I would stumble over everything I said.
I’m going to miss it.
It’s common knowledge that unicorns are rare. Personally, I’ve never seen one but I’ve met people who have. Those people are strange, but hey, that’s the world we live in. During my time here, I’ve felt just like that, I feel like a unicorn. Not only because of my charm, wit, and good looks (yeah!), but because of my rarity. When us Americans prowl the streets, people turn their heads. When we talk, we talk loudly and over each other – typical American style. In America, that’s normal and people will hardly pay attention to you. However, just talking and walking here will garner attention from everyone on the street – from the mother with her kids, to the drunk man barely hanging on to his favorite bench in the park. When we order something at a restaurant, our accents give us away if not a blatant grammar mistake first. People sitting nearby hear us sloppily ordering yet another batch of garlic bread, and while they may be concerned about our carb intake, they’re more likely interested in exactly who we are. Everyone within hearing distance immediately stops their conversation and falls silent as we converse about various intellectual topics like food poisoning and getting a pump in before going to the beach. They look, listen, and just take in who we are. They’re genuinely interested in these foreign people invading their store, bar, or restaurant. More than once I’ve overheard, “I think those are the Americans everyone is talking about.” And they’re right. We are. In Tartu, an Estonian man told us, “Holy crap! You guys are just like out of the movies! This is so exciting.” We’re famous (or possibly, notorious) just because of where we are from – and that’s very interesting. Many can’t possibly fathom why these people, these Americans, would want to come to their city. When they learn that we can speak Russian too, they’re even more surprised. More than once we’ve been told, “You’re American and you can speak Russian? I can’t believe this!” with palpable excitement in their voices. Nobody expects us to be here, and whether we wanted this attention or not, we’ve made a name for ourselves here. We’re unicorns – Americans in Narva.
As a last blog post I figured I would write about my experience in Tartu since I was able to speak with one of the most interesting people I have met in Estonia. While exploring the city, our tour guide, Karl, showed us the Fraternity house of one the student societies on campus. As a member of a fraternity back home, I was interested in the differences between this part of college culture. Karl described the process of becoming a member and the resposibilites of each person in the society. As in America, students who want to join the society must go through a pledging process. However, this process for Karl’s fraternity took a full year, contrasting greatly with the half a semester I spent with my pledge brothers at my home fraternity. In addition, the pledges (or “foxes” in the case of Estonian fraternities) must learn to make public speaches for their brothers, ballroom dance, and even be prepared to declare a dual if the fraternity’s reputation is threatened. Apparently, many of the traditions of these fraternities come from German culture and practices rather than Greek culture, as in America. Overall, my experience of the city was greatly impacted by the time I was able to learn about college culture in a very European setting. Learning about university brotherhood in this context was probably the most connected I have felt so far with either Estonian or Russian culture.
– Colin Strickland
So my blog post is off topic from most of everyone else’s, however, I will post it anyway. Over the past several weeks (as many of the other members of our group know) I have been glued to my computer during most breaks during the week. Why might you ask? Well ever since I was young, I was addicted to music and maybe it was too many visits to Geneva while I have been here or maybe it finally hit me, but I have finally gotten into actually DJing for other people. So far, I have received support from everyone who has listened to my one mix I made here. So much support, that I plan not only to continue DJing in the fall but I also plan to start producing my own music. Yes, that means original songs and melodies. Luckily for me, I have a SigEp fraternity brother who already produces his own music and a Masonic brother who is a professional DJ. My goal isn’t to be famous or make tons of money with music. If I can make someone’s day or night due to a song I produce then I will be happy. I will be sure to share with all of you any music I do create and I welcome criticism (hopefully not too harsh). For now, here is a link to my first mix and the music of a brother of mine who already produces his own music. I encourage you to listen! Especially to my brother who is far more talented at this point. Thank you all for your support! – Joseph McClain
Arjun’s mix (my brother): https://soundcloud.com/blindshot/lets-go-back
I’ve called Narva the City of Heartbreak on more than one occasion. We know that we’ve suffered sadness, and still will leave a suffering town in our wake, plagued with issues we cannot reconcile. But, uhh, let’s not be negative for this last post!
- I had the privilege of arguing myself out of a fine (from a gym membership).
- I tried 5 varieties of ramen in the first week here, ranging from $1.60 to $0.17 a box. And to my delight, the tastiest was the cheapest, and even more savory when on sale for $0.15.
- I’ve immersed myself well enough for a local taxi driver to hold a grudge against me. Give me another two weeks and I’m sure I could start a war like a real native. (read: colonial imperialist?)
Of course we’ve learned crucial skills, like how to be cheap and courteous in a foreign language when we’re hungry and stressed. I clearly also know how to get my way in Russian, which is honestly, the most important.
People who have not been here, alongside us, may not understand how so much could change in the span of 8 weeks. Maybe, try explaining it as a year’s worth of progress. A lot can change in a year. It’s normal to grow, make decisions you’re not proud of, sever ties, make bonds, and wish you could do it all again or over.
I won’t miss the sadness I’ve seen in this economically and emotionally forsaken city. I’ll take home the hope I have for those I’ve met, to regain happiness anyway they know how. Remember ребята, all the broken hearts in the world still beat.
– Hélène –
History, as they say, is written by the victor. In the case of the Narva History Festival, it is apparently reenacted by the victor as well. A group of Russian history enthusiasts assembled in Narva this weekend, built a period authentic military camp to stay in for the weekend on the grounds of Hermann Castle, and was so kind as to dress up in ridiculously colorful outfits and blow stuff up for our viewing pleasure. Despite the looming threat of exams, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the weekend. This spectacle of Technicolor warfare kicked off Friday night in the castle’s northern yard where a brief introduction to the history of the war and the regiments that participated in the battle, followed by an extremely enthusiastic round of randomly firing muskets and cannons into the air in a semi-organized fashion, not too unlike our own independence day or a Tuesday in the South. Strangely enough, the most interesting thing about this particular event wasn’t the men in tights playing with explosives, but the parents attending. Turns out that babies absolutely do not like gunfire. As in, at all. Who knew, right? Afterwards, Eric and I went on a quest to find Gloria Bastion, where the next day’s simulated battle would be located. It was quite the journey, but we eventually managed to figure out the incredibly simple map plaques located at each of the bastions in the city. I’m fairly certain we managed to visit every single one of the bastions before we finally found the Gloria Bastion. I’d say it was worth it though, as we were actually able to find our way inside the bastion and make our way through the outer corridor where defenders could fire from. It was pretty neat, but unfortunately it didn’t lead anywhere else and the other sections had caved in.
I awoke early Saturday morning to go get some delicious breakfast at the college and then move on the next battle. Battle reenactments here have an almost… Improvisational feel to them. It began when the Swedish forces (Russians pretending to be Swedes, to be precise) moved in to occupy their bastion. Shortly afterwards, the Russian troops lined up in front of the bastion, and wandered around in lines firing at the bastions while the Swedes returned fire from inside the walls. Later in the day, they repeated the process with over at Hermann Castle, to simulate the final storming of the castle and the seizure of the town. Overall, it seemed as if everyone had a general idea of what should happen, but hadn’t really gone over the details too much. For example, there were several times when explosives rigged up over the field in front of the bastion caught the grass on fire and the MC and the group of artillery crews had to rush over to put them out.That being said, it was incredibly entertaining to watch and the reenactors seemed like they were having a blast (no pun intended). If I knew anything about sewing or anything of that sort I might try my hand at it, because who doesn’t want to throw on a recreation of an ancient uniform and pretend to shoot your friends?
Before each segment of the battle, there was a short introduction to what was happening in English, Estonian, and Russian and I’m pretty proud of what I managed to understand when it wasn’t being drowned out by someone randomly firing a cannon. I’d say the leader of the artillery regiment had the clearest Russian I’ve ever heard from someone who wasn’t a teacher. I didn’t understand all of what he said, but I could at least make out the individual words and that he was reppin’ the Karelians in a totally sick fur hat while he dropped some knowledge about cannons and muskets. In other news, I totally have this grocery shopping thing down. I no longer panic when they ask if I have a card or exact change, and can make it through transactions like a functional member of society. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.