Lessons Learned

  • Studying abroad is a great experience for any person. While you earn credits and make friends you are learning every day about something new. Maybe it’s something as large as unknowingly enabling a 98 year old woman to drink or something as small as how to buy food. I could tell you some stories about what happened but I know some of it will not be applicable to others who wish to learn a language and study abroad. So here are some small things with little stories that I hope can help other students.

 

  1. Be Indiana Jones- Now I don’t expect that each study abroad student should carry a whip and enter caves on the hunch of a lost golden idol, because you are not Harrison Ford! But when you have time between studying and lessons be adventurous with a group of friends and go off the beaten trail. I would walk with my friends in a certain direction in Tallinn and we found an awesome park that had a bunch of playground and an actual skate park. Try to find monuments you never knew, or look for a type of restaurant you want to eat at. Or just wander and look for something awesome because something awesome will happen (awesomeness comes to those who seek it). And if you happen to get lost, calm down, and then use your language skills. Ask for directions because chances are you will have an awesome experience finding something cool and really getting the most out of your experience. (but keep in mind of rule 4)
  2. Always be engaging- While I don’t endorse talking to every person on the street or talking to random strangers, I do tell you to embrace a chance to talk to someone. If you want to learn the language like I did start small and talk to people about where certain stores are (it helps you with getting your bearings and can provide some useful information). In one instance I asked a man selling souvenirs where I could buy some good cheap food. Although much of the conversation with the man who told me about these places was about their locations, rather than the price, you will be happy to know all the restaurants and if you are good enough where they are located.
  3. Be flexible and open- Things in foreign countries are so different than what you are used to. While this culture shock is natural it too- like my English grammar- will fade. I spent the better part of a half hour watching the cashier and the customers exchange money. I did this because I noticed that there was a tray there at the register where they place money. Some people handed the money to the cashier, but it seemed that more people never touched each other’s hand when making the transaction. If you want to blend in and learn more about the culture just do some small people watching take note of how minuscule actions are done. Although much of this is very small it can help you better adjust to the culture and to the norms that are set within the country. Who knows you could maybe pass for a native.
  4. Be aware of who you are and where you are- Yes this sounds like a pretty simple idea but in many ways it need repeating. You are a tourist in a foreign country and no matter how tough or how brave you are you must always be aware. Keep in mind that if you are a student you may represent your school and by extension your country (for those who have never seen an American before). Remember first impression are everything If you feel something is wrong or it is not safe then trust your gut and walk away. I remember when I decided not to go to a local restaurant in the city I was living in. I noticed that not only was it located in a rather shady part of town but was also not very popular even among some of the locals. I was offered the chance to go to this restaurant with my friends but I declined because I felt it was a bad decision. In the end two of the guys that were in my group got food poisoning. So be aware and keep your head on a swivel.

5. Have fun- Now there are many types of fun and to what degree of fun you engage in is up to you. However if you decide that you wish to dip into more fun than you can handle, then don’t. But if you put yourself in a compromising position have someone you trust to help you and never be a target. This is not to say don’t trust others because once you are far from home and in need of help you may need to turn to the closest source of help. Now I won’t put any kind of story in this kind of lesson because each person has their own story for this but in general be the intelligent and sober student you were once you heard you could go and study abroad(because of rule 4). But also have fun, you never know how a little fun can turn a night into a lesson in modern culture.

Nearing the End

As we embark on the battery of tests coming up this week, I have come to realize one thing. As much fun as I thought this program was going to be, I could not have thought that I would have gotten as close as I did to everyone in the program, and made friends that I know I will try to see as much as humanly possible. From church crawls after extended weekend shenanigans to two different churches, to extended discussions with Beata on the intricacies of Russian grammar, to jumping into every single Estonian body of water imaginable, to excursions and singing good old American songs on super long bus rides through picturesque Estonia with the half of the program. I could not have imagined a better trip with anyone else.

But the last shoutout has to go Narva’s best and brightest, the Rudeboiz. If it wasn’t for these bros, the summer would not have been have as much fun as it was. There are not enough words in the English language (Russian definitely does, but I digress) for me to describe the respect and bro-love I have for these A+ dudes. As we go our separate ways in the next couple of days, keep it real, like we always do and we’ll all go high places.

Without a doubt, one of the best summers of my life. Saying goodbye is going to be hard. Even to Narva, with its post-Soviet depressing charm. This summer will be a hard one to beat.

-Haris Kalajdzic

Everyone likes a story. How about three.

These stories will seem like they are about just trying to have fun, but if you think about it a little more you will see that it’s actually a story about making friends with foreigners, making a good impression about your people on them, and then not giving them any contact information. So think deeper.  

Let us begin with a birthday night that started out normal. After a fantastic game of basketball that took me back to playing street ball with sketchy characters in my hometown, we stopped at a bar. Needed to hydrate. After overhearing our discussions of grammar and Russian literature, we were approached by some Russians. After a few introductions, we got past the awkward “Why are you here” “Russian? What?” and “Why would anyone come to Narva?” questions and then got into the hard hitter. Ukraine. This discussion typically ends up going in two different directions. But this was a Tuesday, so it went in the weird one. The debate went well and it was mostly in Russian. Heated words were exchanged but in the end it all came down to a phrase I have heard many times in Narva.

“I don’t agree with your government, but I love you guys and I don’t want a war!”

We got diplomatic. Later that night we made lasting friendships until we left them that night and never saw them again. Except for Katya. Kiril I promise I wasn’t looking at your girl. Show up to class, we all ace our verbs of motion quiz.

Diplomacy round 2 happened the next Friday. After immersing ourselves in Narva’s park bench culture, a few buddies and I decided to hit up the 24 hour kiosk in the square. We were approached again. I believe it’s our bubbly attitudes or maybe we were speaking English loudly. But we were approached with “You are Americans!” Well obviously, we ooze freedom. We were then approached by around 3 more. Okay, I can handle this, they seems pretty nice. Then around 4 more. Situation is getting strange. Eventually there are 15 of us in total. Situation is getting AWESOME. Push up competitions. All Americans win. Diplomatic talks on Ukraine and who is giving weapons to who. Nobody wins. Words are exchanged, hugs are given, everything is fine again. My favorite phrase is spoken again, just jumbled up. 

“There won’t be a war, we love you guys!”

One man throws a bottle at Russia to prove how serious he is about our friendship. We go to Lux, apparently not the best place to be, all the Russians leave suddenly. Friendship ruined. I trusted you Dmitri. See Katya. All Americans leave. I want to go back. Haris slaps me. Proceed to walk maybe 3 miles back from Lux.

 

Diplomacy round 3. Hang out with some cool people at the dorms. I had a craving to go to the beach at night and camp out. So we go to the beach. Freestyle rapping, swimming, wrestling, gymnastics. Everything was great and it was cold so we came back. We get back and I’m craving a 24 hour diplomatic kiosk burger. We are overheard. It’s another pair of great Russians! We speak in Russian much better than earlier encounters in the Summer. I’m learning Russian! Russian traditions are had of course and we discuss international relations. Much calmer than usual. We have a great conversation and hit it off well. Danger. Very intoxicated Russian appears. Our new friends ask him if he would like to take part with “International Relations” and asks if he is a Russian, German, or something. The man has some choice words and leaves. My other favorite phrase appears.

 

“Germans, Russians, Americans, whoever. They’re all people.” 

Haris doesn’t slap me this night. Go home feeling pretty cool. I might miss Narva some day.

 

 

By Jon Edwards

 

 

Church Crawl

Opposed to the Pub Crawl of the groups sinners we held a Church Crawl this morning. Greg happens to be an Orthodox Christian and was gracious enough to show us his world. With candles in hand we approached the hoard of hooded Babushki who were piously praying. With candles flaring and icons staring down at us we listed to the booming voice of the deacon as he roared in old church Slavonic. The service was quite eventful from confession to communion and one babushka who was about to adopt Greg it was quite an adventure. After that we stopped in for some breakfast before heading of to our next destination, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church). It was a lot more humble than Greg’s Church, yet peaceful none the less. Olga would have been proud of our singing in Russian. Are we the only ones in the group going to heaven? Maybe

 

 

James Kennedy

Coming Home

So this is our last week here in Narva. It is really crazy to think that we have already been here 7 weeks! I have met so many amazing people while staying here. From locals I’ve met in bars, to other kids on this trip from schools such as Virginia Tech, San Diego State, and of course Pitt, these people have truly made an imprint on my life that will not go away with time. I would be remised to not also mention my favorite group of dudes on this trip: Narvia’s Rudeboiz. I would not have been able to keep my sanity on this trip if I did not have these super dudes to go out on adventures with and generally just be rude.

But I digress. As much fun as I have had here, my heart is calling me home. Back to my family, friends, and loved ones. Back to free water in restaurants, water without carbonation, or just the ability to drink water from the tap! Back to American-sized portions and hamburgers and pizza. American Chinese food that doesn’t give me food poisoning. Back to a country where I understand everything being said and can coherently formulate a logical response to a question.

These days here in Narva and all of Estonia have been a rollercoaster of experiences, for all of which I will forever be grateful. But I think it is now time to get off the cliché soapbox that every student who travels abroad rambles on and end this post. For those of you at home reading this, get ready, cuz Greggy’s coming home.

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Clint

Holy Naked Hut

During our excursion to the monastery, we were extremely privileged to experience many new things; beautiful paintings, architecture, and icons, very nice nuns who were patient with my mediocre Russian skills and a slightly irritated one who I just couldn’t seem to overcome the language gap with. With my partner in crime, my roommate Virginia Melton, I was able to partake in one very special experience.

 

After taking a drink from the spring’s communal cup of holy water, we wanted to find a place to put our feet in. We were planning on walking down the stream when a small group of five women went into this small building on the stream. They motioned for us to come, so we charged forward into the unknown.

 

The door was shut behind us and locked. Stairs down to the water were laid out in front of us. The women around us started to take off their clothes. My first thought was, “Darn, I don’t have my bathing-suit,” but I quickly realized that they didn’t have theirs either. Virginia and I looked at each other, shrugged, declared when in Rome, and began to strip.

 

We watched as one woman, who obviously knew what she was doing, went into the freezing water. She crossed herself, bowed, and «Раз, два, три» she dunked herself into the frigid water. It was so interesting. We knew that it was holy water and many people come for baptizing. But, we didn’t realize that we were getting ourselves into that type of cleansing ceremony. Only it was more informal then the average baptizing. It was a fantastic experience to laugh with these women and dunk ourselves, emerging refreshed and cleansed.

 

If you are ever in Estonia, take the opportunity to visit The Kuremäe Convent. It is a beautiful place, rich with culture and spirituality. Even if you are not of the Christian faith, I believe that it was an interesting ceremony to view and partake in, and I recommend trying it out, even if it does not have the spiritual aspect that it did for these women and myself.

 

 

Lindsey Hobbs