So as this is my first journal, I’m not quite so sure how to begin. However, I figured I would follow in the footsteps of others and start with my journey over.
In all of the time I had leading up to my departure, I was doing everything I could not to think about saying goodbye. I still try not to think about how everything at home is going on as usual without me. But anyway, my flights over to Finland, where I had a weeklong language camp before finally getting to Estonia, were fairly easy despite a missed connection in Munich that didn’t do too much harm. I don’t have any ridiculous stories to tell, which I guess is to my benefit.
When I landed in Finland I was picked up by the Finnish and Estonian Rotex and taken on a bus with a bunch of the other exchange student to our camp in Karkku. Now Karkku was definitely a lot of fun. Even through days with 8 hours worth of language lessons, there was a real sense of everyone being in the same boat preparing for the same life-changing experience. It’s quite a lot to think about, really. But I’m very happy with the people I met and the friends I made there. Language camp was a week of exchange student bonding, more or less, and I really enjoyed my time in Finland. My favorite part of it all, however, was the combination of the Sauna and the lake. I definitely have a newfound love for lakes after that week in Finland.
But now we get to the interesting part, finally arriving in Estonia after months and months of preparation from Rotary. From language camp, Raivo, one of the nicest Rotarians I’ve ever met, took all of the exchange students to Estonia to Helsinki. From there we took the ferry over to Tallinn where our host families picked us up. Never have I been so nervous to meet some one, as I was that day. Despite the slightly awkward drive home, as was to be expected, my first night went rather well. I was greeted with cheesecake and coffee, two of my favorite things. I seem to have gotten along with my host brother, Gaspar, better than anyone else in the house, as we stayed up late talking about a bunch of random things for a couple nights. Although, I felt kind of like I was being babysat more than anything when I would go out to the city with him or meet his friends. However, my host sister, Kaarin, went away to a sort of gymnastics camp the morning of my second day and wasn’t home until about 10 days later. But regardless of that, I get along well with her too. I think the hardest thing about my host family is the fact that since my host father is away most of the time in Moscow, working, and I have new siblings of the ages of 18, 14, and 8, on top of the fact that my host mother is running around all of the time picking up the little one and working, this house is very stressful. Being an only child, the loud, busy, anxious behavior is a lot to take in, especially all at once. I’m still not quite used to it, but hopefully it’ll come in time.
A week after my arrival was the 20th anniversary of Estonia’s independence, which was celebrated with a huge concert at the song festival grounds in Tallinn. The line-up was a collection of all of the best Estonian artist and the atmosphere was the happiest I’ve seen Estonians yet.
For the two empty weeks I had leading up to school, I didn’t do that much to be honest. I just kind of hung out with my family and tried to get to know them a little better. The hard part about those two weeks was the fact that I didn’t know anyone besides my family so even if I wanted to go do something, I didn’t really have the option to.
On the bright-ish side, my first day of school was September 1, and my first real day was today. Now I say bright-ish because on one hand, I’m very grateful to finally have met kids my age, but on the other hand, I feel more like a parasite than a classmate. Well that is a bit overdramatic, but also still pretty true. Since I don’t really know any of my classmates that well, not to mention that fact that they don’t speak English unless talking directly to me, socializing is hard. I mean really hard. Even if I go up to someone and try to start a conversation, as soon as someone says something in Estonian, the entire thing switches and I might as well not exist. Okay, I know this sounds really negative but this is just right now, I’m sure I’ll look back on this is a few weeks or even moths and think I’m insane for feeling the way I do at the moment, but when I applied for this exchange I promised to be honest, and that’s all I’m trying to do.
I never really understood why they kept pressing into us the idea that this exchange would be the hardest year of our lives, but now I get it. Being here I get it. It’s not just a language barrier, or a cultural difference. It’s the culmination of everything you have going against you, and everything that could bring you down, and having the courage and strength to not succumb, but to drive through the barriers with full force and not stop until you achieve what you set out to do: immerse yourself so deeply in another culture that it feels like your own. This is what I plan on doing. Right now it seems tough, and like a far-fetched dream. But if I keep working at it and refuse to accept defeat, I know that I can turn this year into the best one of my life.
I've found that no matter where you are in the world, life has this amazing ability to change drastically overnight. I can attest to this in the fact that upon my arrival to Estonia, my life was changed. I didn't know quite how at the time, but I knew it was going to be very very different. Honestly, I don't think I'll fully understand how much has changed in my life until I have to go home and try to live "normally" again….but I've grown to hate that word, normal. Normal is defined as conforming to a standard; typical, usual, or expected. If I was "normal", I would never have gone on exchange and had this experience at all. I can't even imagine why on earth anyone would want to be normal. To me, normal sounds completely and utterly boring.
So a lot has happened since my last post. For a while, life got to be pretty routine and uninteresting. However, things definitely picked up for the better over my winter break from school. I spent a lovely Christmas with my first host family, which was something different for me just because I don't celebrate Christmas at home. It was a very full house with my host mother's sister and her family in town from Italy. But I like the chaos, it never gets boring. For New Years, I went down to Tartu, in the south of Estonia, to visit my exchange student friend, Nora from Mexico. I spent three days down there with her, then after she came back to Tallinn with me for two more days. I love the fact that it's so easy to get around this country :) On the 5th I went to Helsinki with my host brother so I could visit my friends there. I got to see Victoria! :D But I also got to hang out with a ton of other exchange students, which is something that never really happens to much extent in Estonia given that there are only six of us here with Rotary.
I got back from Helsinki on the 7th and immediately change families. I'm actually really glad to be in my new family because my host parents don't really speak much English so I get a chance to finally practice my Estonian at home! I'm also excited because my new house is beautiful and huge and I get my own room. As much as I liked the company of always having my host sister around in my last house because we shared a room, it's nice to have a space of my own again.
I cannot believe I've been in Estonia for almost 5 months. I'm afraid to think about going home, especially since they say that time really starts to fly after the new year. These have been 5 of the most incredible, terrifying, stressful, life changing months of my life and I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.
Thank you so much to Rotary for this opportunity of a lifetime and best of luck to the new Outbounds! You have NO idea what a whirlwind you're in for, but remember to take everything as a learning experience and you'll have an amazing time.