J-Term in Tallinn

By Charles Fair

A view of Freedom Square by Night

My experience at the Tallinn Winter School was one of new cultural perspectives and a greater appreciation of the academic rigor to learn the Russian language. The Russian language course through Tallinn University allowed me to use Russian in real-world examples under the tutelage of native speakers. Further, in class sessions I was often required to speak Russian, and I have always found that verbal exercises work best when mastering a language. All these factors allowed me not only an easier time adjusting back to Russian classes at Miami in the Spring Semester, but also a great improvement on my preexisting understanding of Russian.

             We were able to see so much in our three weeks abroad, seeing the many sights of Tallinn, and even taking a day trip to the border city of Narva. Narva was a fascinating place to visit, with its abundant Soviet architecture and what is left of its historic old town. The food in the old city is fantastic, a delicious mix of Estonian and Russian dishes. While there, we were able to visit the underground Swedish bastions, which many a time were instrumental in repelling a Russian attack. We also were able to climb the walls of Hermann Castle, which housed an amazing exhibit detailing the history of Narva under Danish, German, and Russian rule. Being able to see Russia itself across the Narva River was its own reward, with Ivangorod Fortress staring back at us as resided on the other side of the river.

(From Left to Right) Nate Hall, Caden Wilcox, the author, Theodor DeRosa, Liam Martin, and Grace Peconge atop the walls of Hermann Castle, with Russia in the behind us.

             I could write an entire novel about my experiences in Estonia, but I shall only write about my favorite experience to not take up too much of your time – the Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom. My experience at this incredibly profound museum was a deeply moving experience, hearing stories from Estonians who lived through the Nazi and Soviet occupations, and were forced into lives of resistance, collaboration, or simply survival. I was able to see the conditions Estonians had to live in to stay alive in the face of oppression, and how the Estonian people preserved their culture in the face of Russian attempts to crush it. While the stories presented there were indeed horrific and full of suffering, the museum ended with a hopeful exhibition detailing the experiences of Estonians who witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union, and the end of Russian occupation. Estonia still faces many troubles this day, such as the potential for Russian aggression and a large Russian minority that often clashes with the Estonian population socially and politically. However, after seeing all that Estonia has been through, they have proven time and time again that they are a resilient nation and people and will surely weather anything that might come their way.

             In conclusion, I am eternally grateful for being able to participate on such an eye-opening and meaningful opportunity to study abroad. I was able to immerse myself in a language under guidance of native speakers who were so incredibly helpful and patient. Further, I was able to place myself in the part of the world where my field of study revolves around, experiencing it in person rather than the medium of books, the internet, and other outside sources. All in all, I highly recommend the Tallinn Winter School experience to anyone in the field of Eastern European studies, given how in-depth the language course is, and all the opportunities that come with living in Tallinn.

Charles Fair is a freshman majoring in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

This entry was posted in Essays. Bookmark the permalink.