Final Thoughts

When I signed up for this program, I didn’t really know what I got myself into. Sure, I understood I would be entering an intensive Russian language program, but what would it actually be like? I guess I should start by comparing my expectations of Narva with the reality of Narva. I’m sure everyone here can agree that it is not the most beautiful city, but there are a few enchanting qualities about the city. I am no fan of running, but being that I have a fitness test the first week back at school, I have found myself running at least a few times a week. I firmly believe running is the best way to explore unknown parts of any city, and Narva is no exception. One of the most redeeming qualities of this city is the presence of its medieval castle located along the river dividing Estonia from Russia, which happens to be a beautiful place to run. Before my arrival, I had no idea of its existence, but it is actually one of the coolest things I have seen in Europe.

In terms of the academics, I can’t imagine there are many better places to study Russian (besides, of course, in Russian). The combination of our amazing teachers and our ability to practice speaking while simply walking around the city both contributed to what I believe has been an extremely successful summer. I have had mixed emotions about heading back to the States. I have spent the past 8 months (except for 10 days in June) studying in Europe, and while it has been an amazing experience, I am ready to be back. Project GO has exceeded my expectations and hopefully, I will be able to partake again next summer. Also, I want to take a moment of appreciation for all the people in the Narva program. Going into the program I was nervous about whether I would get along with the mixed group from all over the country, but it turns out I have gotten along with everyone (as far as I know). Without all the people in this program, Narva may just have been miserable.

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Comfort Zones

As classes end and exams are taken I have taken time to reflect on the time spent here in Estonia. Here we have all made friends and memories that we will remember for years to come. Yet, while the time we have spent here has had it’s ups and downs I can look back and be thankful for the time spent here. Certain things come with spending extended periods of time in other countries for example I’m sure every student who attended this program is now more culturally and globally aware. Many of us had not even heard of Estonia much less Narva. However, now we realize the role that this country plays and its importance to NATO.
Nevertheless, if you are anything like me you have missed home and everything that goes with it; family, friends, food, just your regular way of life. Some would call what I miss my “Southern Comfort Zone” which encompasses many aspects that I have grown up and lived with that I have never experienced in any other part of the world. So yes, while, for the most part, I have enjoyed my time here and am grateful for the people I have met, however, I cannot help but be excited and relieved to be heading home knowing that I am going back a more experienced and more cultured person. Hopefully, the lessons I have learned here will serve as teaching points in the future that I can share with others. Most importantly I hope that what I have learned here makes me a better leader than I would have been before I left my southern comfort zone to spend the summer in Narva, Estonia. After all it is only by leaving our comfort zones to experience new cultures, places, and people that we can become more understanding of the world around us.

Oh, the People You’ll Meet!

As my time in Narva draws to an end, I realized how much I do not want to leave. How I do not feel that my time here is completely over. I find myself reflecting on the things I have done, the places I have gone, and the things I have learned over the past seven weeks. But I think most of all, I will miss the friends, acquaintances, and even the people I have only had one real conversation with that I have meet on this program.
In all honestly, I expected there to be some normal social issues that occur whenever you get a group of people together. In my experience, there is often a few people who just try to make things difficult for the group or even people who openly antagonize others for what seems like no real reason. Here, however, in this particular group of “Project Go-ers” I really have not seen any of that. I truly think that every person on this trip has had a good motive for being here, that they all genuinely try to enjoy the program and be kind and respectful to each other. Someone on the outside might try to say that basic things like regard for others and respect should be expected in any group full of military aspiring youth, but if you have actually been in this kind of environment you know that is not always the case. I have been pleasantly surprised by the people on this trip. While there are definitely people and friends I tend to hang out with more and gravitate to in terms of common interests, there is nobody on this trip I dislike or do not respect. I feel like I could sit at anyone’s lunch table and leave in a good mood. Basically what I’m saying is that there is nobody on this trip I wish wasn’t here and nobody that wishes I was gone either (at least not that I know of and if they do I hope for the sake of this post the keep it to themselves for another week).
By Stephenie Reid

Running Out

So it been seven weeks since we came to Narva and I thought I’d comment on some of the things I’m running out of at this point, so next year everyone know to bring enough.

Flashcards: Are surprisingly hard to replenish in Narva.  I came with a few but between presentations and vocabulary, I have run out.  We found a decent replacement in a school supply store at the larger of the shopping malls, but they were square, did not have lines and were made of very thin paper.  So if you are the type of person that appreciates a good flashcard, come prepared.

Toothpaste: So I haven’t exactly run out of this but I’m definitely running low.  Its at the point were I really do not want to buy a new tube because I won’t use it all before we go home and I do not want to take it back with me.  So it’s a problem.

Patience:  Eight weeks is a long time to spend with people you have never meet before.  And I will be honest, I am missing my alone time.  It can be hard to spend long days with people when you are stressed out.  Jokes that were funny in Week Two are no longer funny (I am NOT from Canada!!!) And by this point, I think we are all pretty stressed, with an entire week of exams before us.   Quiet time is not entirely elusive however. I have found that for as much as we are supposed to be studying, the study room goes unused by most.

Time: Yup, gonna put this cliche in here, but honestly very true.  I’ve already run out of time with the kids from Matveka.  I had to say Good-bye to some of the cutest, funniest, most adorable kids I have every meet yesterday and it sucked.  One of the girls was in tears when we left and others were very close.  (I only narrowly made it out without breaking down myself).  In only one week, we will be back in the US, in our normal lives, and our time in Narva will be over.

My Unexpected Adventure

In my last post, I mentioned how one month in Narva had felt like forever, and that the following, and final month would again feel like forever.  After two months, I can say without a doubt that things have been flying by.  I still spend nearly every waking moment with the same group of guys, and I still study Russian for hours each day.  But now, I have made a few more bonds. I can also now say that I have felt an enormous improvement in the clarity and fluidity of my Russian.

Obviously, my name is Christian, and oddly enough the name of the guy who has become my workout partner and friend is also named Christian.  We share very few things he and I, but the things we do seem to be rather important.  While we share the same name, this is not one of the important things we share.  We share a love for physical fitness, enjoying the company of friends and a competitive spirit.  I hope to see more of my new friend Christian Bills later in life in the Air Force.

Traveling, learning and an unbelievable amount more has occurred in the past two months.  Unforgettable nights have been had during my time here in Narva, but most of the best nights have occurred during our weekend excursions.  Jumping from an old dead tree into a swamp, battling boats on a lake in the woods with the only prize being a bottle of vodka, and dancing with a beautiful veterinarian from Barcelona are among a few.  These are some of the things that I do not think I will ever forget.

Some of the things that have happened here in Estonia I expected, like studying hard and being tired much of the time.  There have also been an innumerable number of things that I would have never expected.  These things include the amazing people I have met and the experiences of a lifetime I have been so lucky to have at such a young age.  I am so glad that I took this journey across the world, and pleasantly surprised by many of the things that have happened along the way.

An Excursion to Tartu

This past weekend our class had the privilege of traveling to the city of Tartu, where the main University of Tartu campus is located. Overall, I found it to be similar to Narva in many ways. First off, although the population of Tartu is substantially bigger than Narva’s, it is in the same range – they are 40,000 apart, but both cities are less than 100,000. The city also had the “town-size” feel that Narva has, where as Tallinn felt like a truly big city. Both cities had rivers that you could walk along (Narva’s looked much nicer and was definitely more accessible for fishing, although the Tartu river had boats and jet skis on it). Tartu still had plenty of historical places to explore as well, just like Narva does. There was the old Tartu University museum, Town Hall, and plenty of other interesting sites, especially in Old Town. The A Le Coq brewery was a cool place to visit, as we not only learned about how they craft beer now, but also the history about the practice in general.

One of the main differences between Narva and Tartu was the architecture. The buildings, at least in my opinion, looked much more modern and less rundown than many of the Narva buildings. There was more variety, meaning there weren’t just apartment buildings and government housing everywhere you looked. Graffiti was rare, and it seemed to be a very clean city overall. It also didn’t have a bird infestation like Narva does, so that was nice. One of my favorite parts of the city happened to be a park between the river and one of the main roads. It contained several statues and even a children’s playground. At one point, we talked with a group of locals that were roughly the same age as us. We told them we studied in Narva, and they were all like “why the heck would you study in Narva?!”. Then we explained it was for Russian, and then they asked why we weren’t in Russia and so on. Anyways, the point was that in their opinion Tartu was a much better city to study in than Narva.

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Another difference was the people themselves. Overall, the average age of people that I saw was much younger. This can probably be attributed to the college being there, but I also thought the culture was more suited to people of that age. I definitely noticed more people up and around during the late hours, and the nightlife was definitely more of a thing there than in Narva. There were more clubs and bars, and they were of much higher quality than the ones in Narva, at least in my opinion. They might not have been the level of Tallinn, but they surely made for a good time. I really enjoyed an outdoor restaurant/bar that we found on the riverfront. It had a very sociable and friendly feel, and they even had beanbags and beach chairs to chill on. I think there are benefits to being a student in either city, but in my opinion, Tartu seemed like it catered much more the the college-aged individual than Narva.

The Times we had.

IMG_5286I looked at the calendar today and I had to do a double then a triple take. I honestly could not believe my eyes, six weeks flew by like I would of never imagined. I feel like just yesterday we were in our first week and next week we will be leaving this place that we’ve all learned to call home. As I look back I reminisce on all of the great experiences I’ve had during my time in this program, and I’m so thankful for every one.

When I arrived to Narva, I was quite skeptical of how much I would be able to enjoy my summer in a place like this. There’s not much to do in this town but there are many amazing places only a bus ride away. Taking weekend trips to places such as Tallinn, Tartu, Helsinki, and Lahemaa was my favorite part of this entire program. Every weekend of this trip has it’s own personal spot in my heart. From the first weekend when I fell in love with the city of Tallinn to this past weekend when I finally was able to buy my “basic college kid souvenir” a University of Tartu sweater that I get to take home as a constant reminder of “that one time I studied in another country”.

However, the weekends weren’t the only thing I’ll never forget about this place. Every day of the week I was challenged (in class and out). Everything from taking exams to ordering food at a restaurant were in their own way hurdles I had to overcome. I’m not quite sure when I realized that my Russian was improving but I can say with confidence that it definitely has improved! Before this program I would of avoiding talking to real people in Russian like it was the plague, now I’m open to the challenge. I feel like I’ve gained a confidence here that I would have never achieved on my own, back in the states.

Although I said “I want to go home” more than probably anyone during my time here, I’m very grateful for my time here in Narva. The things I learned and experiences I had are so valuable to my future life plans and I’m so thankful that I was able to spend my summer here in Narva, Estonia.

-Cristal Lugo