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!