During this experience in Estonia, I have learned much more than what I originally expected. As expected, I have learned tons in regard to the Russian language and culture, but an interaction with some Estonian citizens and a token American have taught me a lot about myself as a person and as a citizen of the United States.
My first interaction was with an Estonian couple from Tallinn that was escorting an American friend across Estonia. Their last destination on their trip was a stop in Narva for the weekend. While sitting in a bar, my friends and I noticed someone was pointing at us from across the room. At first, we thought we were being the loud Americans and that they were either mad at us or making fun of us. To our great surprise, they overheard us speaking English and that they wanted to talk with the Americans who they never expected to meet in Narva, Estonia. After explaining to them that we were students in Narva studying the Russian language, we then began to start asking them some questions. Our first question was directed towards the American man, who we also never expected to meet in Narva, and asked him what he was doing here. He explained to us that he was traveling around the world on a personal project to determine how the world viewed the United States in territories that are portrayed as hostile by our government and U.S. media. Thus far on his trip, he had travel to Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and a few other “non-hostile” countries in between. He then explained in detail that during all his visits that he experienced no hostility, but rather hospitality and that many of them were very excited to meet an American.
Lesson: To many times we associate what is portrayed in U.S. media about hostile government regimes to the citizens of those nations. When in all actuality, they share no characteristics of the bodies that govern them, but rather they are warmhearted human beings that are not so different from ourselves.
Next, we shifted our question asking to the Estonian couple. We were particularly interested in the Estonian-Russian relationship within Estonia so I asked them what they thought about Narva. They explained to us that Narva and the ethnic Russians living in Estonia have been neglected by the Estonian government for years and that it was quite evident when you compare Tallinn to Narva. Their best illustration was that “Narva is Estonia’s Detroit.” However, when asked what they thought about the ethnic Russians living in Estonia, they said they embrace the Russian population. Furthermore, they detailed that there is very little animosity between the ethnic Russian and Estonian and that the Estonian government needs to catch up with the rest of its population.
Lesson: Although the Estonians were unwillingly under Soviet Union control a little over 20 years ago, there is little animosity between Estonians and Russian citizens. It is hard to put to words how peaceful and truly optimistic the citizens of Estonia are. Many Americans (myself included) often times have a Cold War state of mind, but yet a people who were truly oppressed by the Soviets can move on, forgive, and look to the future; maybe it’s time we start doing the same.
Through these interactions, I have learned many life lessons that I will keep with me forever and I look forward to the future lessons that I will learn for the duration of this experience in Estonia!
– Robert Kring