Monday, July 2, 2012

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?

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