Gangs of Narva – From an Expert

I don’t know why the graffiti here gives me such a giggle, but it definitely does! The few english sayings lazily scrawled on the side of a select few buildings, are the absolute best. I’ve discovered that the graffiti on the buildings gives each one its own personality. From the moment we pulled up to our общежитий and saw “I don’t give a (f-word)” beautifully written on the corner of the front wall I think we all knew what was coming. I’ve seen “fruittime” and “november”, “Иисуса” and my personal favorite “VIP cat home”. You can view that one on the back side of Dom 10 next to our dorm. 

Then, there are the major Narva gangs. You can find the Robot Monkey Gang territory marked by, well, a robot monkey. They are quite the artistic gang I have to admit and you are sure to find these monkeys almost every where you go. Next, we have PACS. This is more of a simplistic gang who marks their territory with just those four letters. Sometimes they mix it up and add a little circle thing above the A to make “PÅCS”. Their territory spreads out far, an their marking was even spotted at the Graffiti Fortress in Tallinn. Some minor gangs include, ABX whose territory is mainly concentrated near the college (they even trademark their graffiti) and the Bumblebees who are marked with a giant bee. Whatever street you are on, you are sure to come across one of these markings. 

I’ve asked a few local Narvians about the gangs/graffiti, but with no luck. If anyone has any leads as to the real meaning of these pictures please let me know. 

Also, be sure to check out the astronaut in the alleyway behind Old Trafford. That was done by the graffiti artist Banksy – true story, read it in Моя Нарва.

– Chandler Alston


Time in Narva

We are about to start our sixth week in Narva and it’s really hard to wrap my mind around. Each day seems to go by faster and I feel like I’m running out of time. The days seem to blur together as I go about my daily routine, and as “boring” as Narva is compared to life on an American College Campus, I am constantly learning new things and questioning just as many. I believe having my mind so engaged all the time is the primary reason why the hours seem to pass so quickly. For example, today I woke up around 11, made breakfast, and then headed to the college to study for a few hours since the heat made it almost impossible to focus in the dorms. After studying for a couple of hours (that felt like 30 minutes), I had lunch at the college then headed back to the dorms around 4pm. I took a nap and overslept, waking up at 6pm. I woke up and went on a 30 minute run followed by a short work out. By the time I showered and changed, it was already 8pm! And after cooking burgers in the kitchen for dinner with a few of my classmates, I sit down to write this blog post and it’s 10pm! I don’t know where the time went, but I guess it’s because I am constantly doing something (or sleeping). And during the school week, time goes by even faster. On a good note, I was able to run into my little friends Katya and Roma that I mentioned in my previous blog post. We ran into them on our way home from the store and they were playing with a hanging carpet, and having the time of their lives. They were so excited to show us all of the money they had (probably less than 1 euro), so when Austin gave them some spare change, they were overjoyed. I’m definitely going to miss these adorable kids.

katya and roma

–Erika Koenig

Americans vs Anton

      Our group was challenged by Anton and his pals to a game of soccer this past week. Being a group of Americans, only a couple of us have played the sport competitively before and we were up against people who played it all the time growing up. The pitch we played on was kind of small, the grass was too long, and the nets were holier than the nuns at the monastery we visited but it didn’t make the game any less fun. We had a great turnout and everyone played really hard. We also got to practice listening to Russian and picked up a few new words to use out on the street. I really enjoyed the game and hopefully we can have a rematch before we leave because I know we can definitely beat them.

–Austin Graf

Женский Род: The Female Perspective in Estonia

Amidst the scorching Estonian sun on Sunday, the females in the group graciously donned long skirts, sweaters and scarves out of respect at the monastery. This is the tradition for women in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Women are expected to cover their heads, shoulders, and knees for worship. It is both a symbol of religious freedom, and reverence for themselves and their faith.

I was recently emailing a friend who is studying Arabic in Jordan, through a similar program that brought us to Estonia. She shared with me the struggles she faces being a non-Muslim, American woman there in Jordan. Most women there are Muslim and therefor wear the hijab, so without the scarf, she instantly stands out and is victim to catcalls and sexual remarks. It is also Sharia law for Muslim women to not be out past 11, so if my friend ever wishes to stay out past that time, it is assumed by many men that she is a prostitute. And she also told me that the only other women who go to the club are Russian prostitutes. “So how is there?”, she asked.

Being a woman in Estonia, an American woman in Estonia has been quite mundane compared to the experience of my friend in Jordan. I am able to walk to class on my own, run on my own, and be independent without questioning my safety. Although I do get some questioning glances occasionally, I think I received more catcalls while running in San Diego last summer than I do here. When we wore our extra clothing on Sunday as the males all toured in their normal summer attire I didn’t feel as if I was being repressed or that it was unfair. I felt a sense of respect for being a woman.

Although Estonia has been influenced by many different nationalities and countries that have conquered this land, I believe their relatively short independence since the fall of the Soviet Union has led to a greater amount of equality between men and women. Although I have witnessed the same gender specific career fields such as predominantly female teachers and nurses, it is apparent that women work just as much, if not more than men here in Narva. In America, child-care plays a huge role in deciding if a mother/father should return to work or stay home. Day cares do not exist here; rather the grandparents play a huge role in raising their grandchildren. This allows parents to return to work and not worry about the safety and well being of their children. This custom grants a greater amount of power to women, and allows them to maintain focus on career and family.

Although I have witnessed that women maintain a great sense of power and respect in their roles in Estonia, I have also seen how many of them fail to monopolize on that power. It is common to see the women of Narva wearing tight-fitting clothing and other outfits that would surely not be approved by the nuns at the convent. I have also learned that although some women do work out and play sports, the major motivator is that they will find a man who does the same. As I have traveled to different parts of the world, it is evident that traditions cannot be smothered by new ways of thinking. I see great value in some traditional gender roles, but I hope that women all over will begin to question those traditions and begin new ones for future generations.

-Caroline Rech


Coming from a small Caribbean island, travelling to Estonia is definitely a dream come true. This is the first time I’ve been in a country other than the United States, and the farthest I’ve ever been from home, too. But this is home now, or at least for the next couple of weeks. I am very grateful for having the opportunity of meeting new and great people, experiencing first-hand a foreign culture, and being so warmly received. Now, let’s talk little bit about Narva.

Narva has a population of about 66 thousand people, from which almost 90% accounts for the majority – Russians. This is perfect since this is the main reason of our visit: to study, practice, and keep falling in love with the Russian language, but by doing it many things can happen. For example, not because a word appears in the dictionary means that, if you use it, people will understand you, as it has happened to me before. The best way to get around is to ask which is the most common way of asking for something, and after messing it up once, you won’t forget it… EVER! Being afraid of using your Russian, irregardless of your level, will prevent you from enjoying the language, and its perks, to the fullest. I am definitely very pleased with all the opportunities I’ve experienced so far, and when I leave, a part of me will stay here in Narva, a place called home.

– Alvaro Laham


Week 5

I have to admit, these past two weeks have been much more enjoyable than the previous one. It was much easier to deal with everything when we didn’t have excursions or extra lectures every day of the week. The excursion this weekend, however, was certainly a good time. Though the mining equipment was incredibly loud, it was cool to walk through the area, and certainly a nice reprieve from the temperatures outside. The convent was also quite interesting, especially the inside of the actual church. The amount of gold inside of it was very impressive. Unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the day was going to the beach. The water was much warmer than the lake and the weather was overall much nicer, and it was much easier to have fun than at the lake.


Roman Hatala

Beaches, and Monasteries, and Mines! Oh my!

When I first found out about the excursion we were going to do this weekend, I honestly wasn’t too thrilled about it, especially since everyone is so excited about going to Helsinki, Finland next weekend.  Once we started yesterday’s activities, though, I realized how many opportunities it had in store.

We started out our day by going to a view point at a lake.  We only spend half an hour there, but it was enough time for everyone to have a good time and get some scenic pictures!  Our second stop was an old mine in Estonia, which was really neat!  When we arrived, we put on our helmets and mining jackets and descended into the 8 degree (celcius) temperature mine for a guided tour.  We explored some of the tunnels, rode on a mine cart, and got back on the bus and went to the beach for a while.  To end the day, we went to a monastery, drank some “holy water,” and ate some really good bread with meat cooked inside.  Overall, this weekend was fantastic.  It’s really neat what all you can learn about, even when being away from the classroom setting.

On an unrelated note, when Tyler and I were exercising this week, a group of young children came up to us and started conversing with us.  We had a pretty basic conversation with them, which was pretty neat.  After our conversation, they kids wanted to join us on our card deck workout.  They ended up working out some and hung around for the next ~45 minutes pulling out random cards, telling us what to do for a workout.  Even though this was a small thing, it’s been a personal highlight of this trip.

– Keegan Newton