Thursday, August 23, 2012

Täna: Ameerikas. Homme: Kanadas.

I've been home for a little less than two months, but it feels as if I haven't actually been in New Hampshire much at all. Four days after I arrived in the U.S., I left for Martha's Vineyard, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. I spent two weeks there with my parents and a few good friends just swimming, kayaking, and eating all the seafood we could. I've been going to this same spot for eighteen years, so it's a place that I know very well. Being on the island was also a good way to get integrated back into the nicer side of "small town American life" in the sense that I was surrounded by quaint houses and friendly people with Boston accents, rather than Walmart, McDonald's, and big Ford trucks.

There have been things that were easy to adjust to again, but, even in this small span of time, there have been difficulties as well.

By far the most difficult was losing my grandfather, who passed away shortly after I returned. I was able to see and talk with him about my experiences abroad in the short time before I left for Martha's Vineyard, which I am incredibly thankful for. He always had a good understanding of what it's like to live abroad because he himself was a world traveler. He and my grandma have traveled nearly all over the world, to nearly every continent, and to uncountable countries, so it was easy to relate and share stories. One of my favorite stories of his is illustrated by the following picture:

He was in St. Petersburg, Russia, and as you can see, he was dressed properly for the winter. He and my grandma were enjoying some music and the Russian conductor came up and asked my grandfather--the tourist--for a photo. Apparently the conductor thought my grandpa looked a lot like Lenin, and naturally, wanted a photo!

The other difficulties I've had have been generally more superficial... On my first or second night home I was sitting at the dinner table, enjoying local pizza, mindlessly watching the local news on TV. I think I lasted two minutes before I had to just shut the television off--the commercials were simply obnoxious! Even the national news stations seemed dull and superficial, and ultimately unwatchable!

I also feel inclined to say that if you are an exchange student just coming home from abroad to the U.S., never ever go to Walmart. Seriously. I've been there twice already, and both times I was depressed for the rest of the day! Definitely learned my lesson.

On the flip side, it has been really nice to reconnect with old friends and see some familiar scenery--especially the mountains and lakes. I've yet to go hiking or kayaking in New Hampshire since I've been back, unfortunately, but I can still admire from a distance! It has also been nice to be able to eat some of the food I missed last year, like bagels and cream cheese, local pizza and Snapple iced tea. Being able to drive again is also certainly a plus, and it's nice to have that level of freedom.

A sunset over Mount Monadnock, just because.

I was able to bring back some specialties from Estonia and show them to my family and friends, and by far, the most popular things have been Sinep (strong mustard) and Turakas/Potti (a card game)... Potti is great for when you're bored with friends (but sinep is even better!). I also brought home a bottle of kali (a drink made from fermented bread), which seemed to be well-liked. And of course, multiple bars of Kalev chocolate!

The last weekend in July was my district's Rebound Weekend, which gave all the exchange students who lived abroad last year (Rebounds) a chance to reunite and share stories from their years. It was a lot of fun to be able to see some familiar faces again, and to see how they had changed, if at all. Most of all, it was amazing for me to hear all the different languages people learned! Chinese, Swedish, Turkish, Portuguese, German, French, Spanish, Thai... And most importantly Estonian. ;)

So, on Saturday we had a potluck and sleepover just for the Rebounds, and on Sunday we had a more formal meeting where we each got up to talk about our experiences in front of future exchange students, Rotarians, and parents. Here's a picture of the Rebound Exchange Students at the meeting, plus our Outbound Chairman:

Overall it was a great weekend, and I certainly had a lot of fun, but I still couldn't help feeling a bit bittersweet at the end of it. I had been looking forward to this weekend for a long time (in fact, ever since I attended last year's meeting), but I didn't realize until it was over that it symbolized, in my mind, the official end to my exchange year. Although I had been "home" already for nearly a month, I still had this one big event to look forward to, so it almost felt like my exchange wasn't yet finished. Additionally, August 6 was the one year anniversary of the start of my exchange, and on the 9th I gave a presentation about my year in Estonia in front of my sponsoring club.... Things are all wrapped up!

After my presentation, I was presented with a care package that I unfortunately didn't receive during my year... Inside: A lifetime supply of Twinkies! Jackpot!

Now that the Rebound Weekend has passed and it's officially been a year, I can consider my exchange truly complete!


So, now I look toward the future.... Tomorrow I will move to Montreal, Canada, where I will attend McGill University. I'm planning on studying Linguistics, which is essentially the study of languages and how they are learned/created/used. Although I'll also be studying some new languages (next on my list is French, then... who knows?), Linguistics focuses more on the structure of languages in general, which is something I've always been interested in. I'd also like to get back into German, as I definitely feel it has taken a hit after learning a new language for a year. Luckily McGill has a good German program, in addition to a great Linguistics one.

Oh yeah, Canada!

I can't say yet whether I'll be keeping another blog in Montreal, but I assume I will be a lot busier and perhaps there just won't be as much to write about... But we'll see! If possible, I'd like to do another exchange year through McGill. At this point I'm convinced I'd like to go to Germany/Austria/Switzerland, but things may change!

Also, allow me to just promote an awesome Estonian band for a moment... I'm hoping to go see Ewert & The Two Dragons in either Toronto or Cambridge, MA, on October 22 or 24, respectively. So if you're a fan, want to become a fan, or just want to meet Estonian people, go to one of their upcoming US/Canada shows!

Finally... a few recent shots from the garden to finish off this post:

Wish me luck in border crossing!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Üksteist kuud hiljem... Mu "aasta Eestis" ülevaade. (Eestikeelne versioon)

Click here for the English version of this post.
Vajuta siia, inglisekeelne versioon lugeda.

Peaaegu üksteist kuud tagasi ma kaisin lennujaamas Ameerikas, lendasin Euroopasse, ja mu vahetusaasta hakkas. Kui lihtne oli!

No, tegelikult, mu aasta Eestis ei olnud hakanud sellel hetkel... Esimene nädal mu vahetusaastas oli Rotary keelelaagris Soomes... kus mitte keegi rääkis eesti keelt. :( Ma tahtsin eesti keelt õppida, aga kõik oli soome keeles. "Kui imelik keel see on," ma arvasin, "Miks nii raske on? Eesti keel oleks muidugi lihtsam." (...ei olnud...) Aga varsti keelelaagris meil (need kuus vahetusõpilast Eestis) oli eratunnid, niiet me võiksime eesti keelt õppida--ilma soome mõjuta! See oli mõnikord igav, tavaliselt informatiivne, aga alati lõbus.

Nädala pärast me läksime Eestisse--lõpuks meie maale! Me kaisime laevaga Tallinnasse Helsingist. Kuna oli meie esimene kord laevas, toit oli nii hea. Sellel aastal me oleme olnud nii palju korda laevas, et... no, toit on nüüd lihtsalt normaalne.

Ma mäletan oma esimene õhtu Eestis... Ma sõitsin Tartusse autoga, väga pikka reisi pärast, ja uniselt vaatasin aknast ühe uskumatut päikeseloojangut. Hetkel ma arvasin, et oli parim loojang maailmas.
Nüüd ma tean, et iga päikeseloojang Eestis on maailma parim.

Niisiis, ma olin Tartus, mu linnas. Augustis ilm oli nii hea... soe ja päikseline... ja mu uus linn oli nii ilus suvel. Palju turist jalutasid kesklinnas--mina olin ka turist sellel ajas, aga nüüd... ei tunne nii.

Varsti kool algas. Tegelikult kool algas minu sünnipäevas, esimene september! Õnneks mu klassikaaslased oli sõbralikud, laulsid mulle, ja soovisid mind "Palju õnne sünnipäevaks!"

Mu kool, Miina Härma Gümnaasium.

Miina Härma ja... Miina Härma.

Hiljem ma kaisin perekonnaga traditsiooniline eesti restoranis. Muidugi sõin traditsiooniline eesti söök... või proovisin süüa... nii palju toitu oli! Lihsalt vaadake pilti!

Esimene viga: kahvli ja nuga kasutamine.

Hea päev ja parem söök!

Edasi... Septembris tuli sügis, ja külmem ilm. Mul oli võimalus purilennukiga lennata, ja muidugi tegin! (Lugege veel sellest siin.)

Eesti taevas on ilus!

Hiljem septembris me (Rotary vahetusõpilased Eestis) tegime Eesti tuur. Käisime Tallinnas, Tartus, Rakveres ja veel... Eesti tuur oli väga hea elamus, eriti koos kuus vahetusõpilast. (Lugege veel sellest siin.)

Suht norm Robin Hood.

Varsti tulid oktoober, november, detsember, jaanuar, veebruar... ja ikka külmem ilm. Aga kõik oli korras--mul oli need eesti talveriided... paksud sokid, paksud kindad, paksud kingad, ja veel paksud asjad edasi.

Ja siis oli kevad Eestis tulnud. Lehed kasvasid puid peal, ja roheline oli tagasi maailmas tulnud. Mõned lilled oli ka aias kasvanud, ja siis tulid teised värvid Eestisse.

Lõpuks, suvi tuli jälle. Mu lemmikaastaaeg. Tihti ma istusin sõpradega pargis või emajõe kõrval, lihtsalt head ilma nautimine. Kool on lõpetanud, ja ma tegin Rotary'ga see suur EUROTOUR. Me reisisime Euroopa umber (palun vaadake siitsiit, ja siit rohkem info meie Eurotouri eest).

Pärast Eurotouri, lihtsalt puhkamine Tartus, kuni tänaseni. Allpool on natuke pildid Tartust veel...

Aga nüüd, mul ei ole aeg veel Eestis. Homme, teisipäeval, ma lähen viimast korda Tallinnasse, lennujaama, ja siis koju Ameerikasse.

Ma ei saa täpselt kirjeldada kõigest, et ma tegin, et ma vaatasin, et ma õppisin, et ma kogesin, et ma tundsin... sest nii palju on sellel aastal juhtus. Aga mu blogi kaudu, ma niikuinii proovisin näita mu aastat teile. Ja ma tahaksin teid tänada, keda on mu blogi sellel aastal lugenud. Mõnikord oli natuke raske kirjutama, aga ma proovisin midagi tavaliselt teha... isegi kui ma lihtsalt panin pilti või mõned lauseid lehel!

Ma tahaksin ka natuke veel inimest tänada...
Esiteks, aitäh Rotary International, sest ilma vahetusprogrammita, ma ei oleks vahetusõpilane.

Teiseks, aitäh eesti sõpradele, klassikaaslastele, ja vahetusõpilastele, sest teie on mu aasta unustamatu tehtud!

Kolmandaks, aitäh oma eesti perekondadale, sest te olete olnud nii vastuvõtlikud ja kasulikud! Te olete mu aasta väga lihtne tehtud.

Neljandaks, ma tänan Keene/Elm City Rotary Klubi, sponsoreerimine eest. Ilma nendeta, ma ka ei oleks vahetusõpilane. Aitäh!

Ja lõpuks, ma tänan Tartu Hansa Rotary Klubi. Ilma nendeta, ma ei oleks vahetusõpilane, mul ei oleks kuskil sellel aastal elada, ja kõige tähtsam, ma ei oleks Eestis. Suur, suur tänu!

Ma usun, et ma olen muutunud pärast sellest aastast. Võib-olla mitte väljastpoolt, kuid sees. Ja ma ei tea täpselt, kuidas ma olen muutunud, lihtsalt et olen. Loodan, et millal ma olen tagasi Ameerikas, ma tõesti mõistan.

See vahetusaasta oli uskumatu elamus. On aasta, et ma ei saa kordata tulevikkus--on päris kordumatut! Ja ei ole võimalik ette kujutama, enne vahetusaasta, kui elu tõesti on teises riigis. Sellepärast, ma palun teid, et, kui saate, te teete vahetusaastat üks kord elus! Üks Rotary nõuandja Ameerikas ütles mulle, et, kui iga inimene maailmas teeb lihtsalt ühe vahetusaastat, ei oleks sõjad maailmas. Ma arvan et tal oli õigus.

Enne minu vahetusaasta, ma ei teadnud midagi Eestist. Tegelikult, ma ei teadnud palju maailmast. Pärast mu aasta Tartus, ma ei tunne nagu turist, mitte nagu Ameeriklane, aga ka mitte nagu Eestlane, kuid nagu mingi... vahetusõpilane, et enam ei tea kus ta kodumaa on, aga võib küll elada kõikjal!

Kokkuvõttes, ma loodan, et teile meeldis mu blogi, ning meeldivad mu jutud ja pildid. Mulle meeldis blogi kirjutamine.
Ei tea, kui ma tulevikkus ikka kirjutan sellel blogis, sest mu "üksteist kuud Eestis" on vist lõpetanud.

Siiski, järgmisel aastal ma elan Montrealis, Kanadas, ja õpin ülikoolis....
Võib-olla seal on võimalus uue blogi kirjutada?

Eleven Months Later... My Year in Review (English Version)

Vajuta siia, eestikeelne versioon lugeda.
Click here to read the Estonian version of this post.

About eleven months ago, I was driving to the airport, flying to Europe, and just starting my exchange. Oh, how the time flies!

Technically, unlike many of my fellow exchange students, my year in Estonia didn't begin the moment I stepped off the plane. I spent the first week of my exchange in Finland, at the Rotary language camp... where no one spoke Estonian!
I wanted to learn my host language, but unfortunately, everything around me was in this strange language that I had never really seen before, and that I had no use for.
"What a weird language," I thought to myself, "and why does it seem so difficult? Naturally, Estonian will be much easier than this." (Surprise! ...It wasn't.) Luckily, at the language camp we (the six exchange students going to Estonia) had private Estonian lessons, where we could learn our unique language in secrecy. The lessons were sometimes boring, usually informative, but always a lot of fun.

One week later, we made our way to Estonia-- finally our host country! We took the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, and since it was our first time on the ferry, the food was delicious.
Now, after having been on this ferry so many times throughout my year, I realize that the food is, well... just ferry food.

I remember my first night in Estonia clearly. I was driving with my host mom to Tartu, and after traveling all the way from Finland, I was rather tired. Nonetheless, I stared aimlessly out the window at the beautiful sunset appearing before my eyes. At that moment, I believed it was the greatest sunset in the world. Now, I know that every Estonian sunset is the world's best.

So finally, I was in Tartu, my host city. In August the weather was so nice... warm and sunny... and my new city was beautiful in the summertime. A lot of tourists roamed the streets. I was a tourist too in those days, but now, I'm certainly not.

Soon school started. Actually, it started on my birthday, but luckily, my classmates sang and wished me "Happy birthday!" without reservation.

Miina Härma Gymnasium, my school.

Miina Härma and... Miina Härma.

Later that day, I went with my host family to a traditional Estonian restaurant, where, of course, I ate traditional Estonian food. Or, I at least tried to... There was just so much of it! Look for yourself!
My first mistake: Actually trying to use a fork and knife.

A good day with even better food.

After a busy August of settling in, autumn finally came in late September, and along with it came colder weather. I had the opportunity to fly in a glider, so naturally I took it! (Read more about gliding here.)

Later in September we (the exchange students in Estonia) had a small Estonia Tour before going to our District Conference in Finland. We went to Tallinn, Tartu, Rakvere, and so on... It was a great experience, made even better by the company of my fellow six exchange students. (Read more about the Estonia Tour here.)

Just your average Robin Hood.

Soon came October, November, December, January, February... and colder weather still! But it was alright, because I was prepared with my Estonian winter clothing. I had the woolen gloves, the heavy boots, the thick hat, and more to protect me from the freezing temperatures.

And then came spring. Leaves grew on the trees again, bringing greenery back to the world. Flowers grew in the garden, bringing the other colors back to Estonia too.

Then finally, summer returned. My favorite time of the year. I often sat outside with friends in parks or by the river, the Emajõgi, simply enjoying the nice weather.
School ended, and soon EUROTOUR began. Nearly one hundred exchange students went all around Europe on the trip (which you can read more about here, here, and here).

After Eurotour, it was time to just relax in Tartu, until today. Thankfully, the weather cleared up and the  sun was just shining enough to go and take a few last photos of the city...

And now, I don't have much time left in Estonia. Tomorrow, on Tuesday, I will go for the last time to Tallinn, to the airport, and finally, to my home in New Hampshire.

I simply cannot describe everything that I've done, that I've seen, that I've learned, that I've experienced, and that I've felt this year... because so much has happened. But through my blog, I have tried to show my year to you. And I would like to thank those of you who have been reading my blog this year for doing so. Sometimes it was hard to write, but nonetheless, I tried to put something up when I could... Even if it was just a picture or a few sentences!

I would also like to take the time to thank a few more people:

Firstly, thank you to Rotary International, because without it, I would not be an exchange student.

Secondly, thank you to all the friends I've made this year... Be you a classmate, another exchange student, or simply someone I met along the way, you have made this year truly unforgettable!

Thirdly, thank you to the three welcoming and incredibly helpful host families I have had this year. You have made this year much easier than it could have been.

Fourthly, I would like to thank the Keene/Elm City Rotary Club and my home district, District 7870, for sponsoring me this year. Without your sponsorship, this year could not have happened for me, and I am incredibly grateful.

And finally, I would like to thank the Tartu Hansa Rotary Club for hosting me. Without you, I would not be an exchange student, I would not have had anywhere to live during my year, and, most importantly, I would not have come to Estonia. Thank you!

I believe that I am changed after this year. Perhaps not on the outside, but instead, on the inside. And I don't know what exactly has changed, simply that something is different. Maybe, when I'm once again back in the United States, I will realize what has changed.

This exchange year was an amazing experience. It is a year that I can never come close to repeating in the future. And it is not possible to imagine, before your exchange year, how life really is in a foreign land. I encourage and challenge you to live a year abroad at least once in your life! Back in the US, a Rotary counselor of mine once told me that, if every person on the planet did an exchange year, there would be no war. I think he was correct.

Before my exchange year, I did not know anything about Estonia. Actually, now that I think about it, I didn't know much about the world either. But after my year in Tartu, I don't feel like a tourist, I don't feel American, and I don't feel Estonian. Instead, I feel more like... an exchange student, who doesn't know anymore where his homeland is, but is more than capable of living anywhere.

In conclusion, I hope that you have enjoyed my blog, my stories, and my pictures this year. I have certainly enjoyed showing them to you.
I'm not sure whether I will keep writing on this blog in the future because, well, I suppose my "eleven months in Eesti" are over.

However, next year I will be living and attending university in Montreal, Canada...
Perhaps there is the potential for the writing of a new blog?