Estonians, Russians and Americans: Are they really all that different?

Every single time we leave Narva to go to other parts of Estonia, there is an immediate difference once we leave the surrounding area. The architecture moves away from the “Commiecondos” (the ugly block-like buildings that dominate Narva’s landscape to something pseudo-Scandinavian that dominate Tallinn and Tartu’s skylines. People tend to smile much more and are generally more pleasant if you talk to them randomly in the street. Russians, initially, are much, much, much more likely to react negatively to you being American (still a very small percentage, and of that percentage, the vast majority of them are drunk). Estonians are generally happy to see an American, though if politics comes up, a fair amount of Russia-bashing will commence along with some legitimate concern regarding whether America really has Estonia’s back.

                On the other hand, you have experiences like Jon, Chuck, and I had on Friday night. After some pleasant strolling along the river with a Russian friend, who we have known since the beginning of the trip, we were feeling a little bit hungry. Therefore, we decided to go a mediocre 24-hour burger place. There we met some random Russians who proceeded to ask what in the world we were doing in Narva, why were we studying Russian, etc. Then the lovely topic of politics came up. Both the Russian group and our group of friends definitely did not want to fight. The conclusion that we reached: <<Войны не будет!>> или как скажем по-английский: “There will be no war!” According to our new Russian friends, the American government is terrible, but people like Jon, Chuck, and myself are chill bros. Likewise, a random Estonian man at the beach at Lake Peipsi went on a five-minute rant on how American people and culture are great, but the government is abandoning Estonia in a potential war with Russia. This Estonian man also said that we were chill bros. Come to think of it, every single Russian person we’ve interacted with for more than 5 hot seconds, has been nothing but friendly. Isn’t that what study abroad is all about: realizing that everyone around the world is just a regular old person and that governmental actions are not representative of the population as a whole?

We have less than two weeks left in Narva. More adventures are sure to come.

-Haris Kalajdzic

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