Getting a routine

05. 01. 2019

When I arrived in Estonia, I first focused on the new things: the people, the language and the culture. What I did not think about that much (mainly because there were much more important things) was what I should continue doing.

Many people – i think – have problems with building themselves a routine when they first go away from their biological parents. Or perhaps it was just the fact that there are so many other things that change that a routine does not fit in at first.

The more often you repeat things, the easier they get. Many things just take time: The longer you go to school the easier it is for you to memorize the time table; when you know the time table you can take the right material with you and you know for what subject you need to do your homework (At the moment I have so few things to take to school that I have all the material in my bag all the time, but that should not be the case forever). I also think it is easier to become used to everything and to settle in, if you feel comfortable in your environment and you have friendly people around you. I am lucky on that aspect.

What was especially hard for me were the simpler things: Caring for myself like sports and other daily routines. It took me some time to realize that I should maybe start doing/ using those things. Even then it was hard to keep doing them. Most of us have that problem even in our normal lives, you know you should do something but you never really do it. This is (at least for me) even harder during an exchange year.

But it comes, slowly but surely; every day I feel a bit more at home in my everyday life. The more you get to know your environment the easier it is to adapt to everything as much as it suits you.

Malin

Christmas special

05. 01. 2019

I know it is a bit late, but I think it is time to tell you a bit about the Christmas traditions in Estonia.

My (host)family got a Christmas tree at the 30. December. It was an artificial one, but traditionally people get their Christmas tree later and use a natural one. Apart from that we have chains of lights around our house and my (host)sister’s and my room is decorated with fairy lights. Many other houses – especially in the country side – are decorated with Christmas lights.

Christmas tree in Tartu

In Tartu the main shopping centers are graced with a lot of Christmas lights and the streets in the old town are lit with more of them. On the town hall square is standing a tall Christmas tree decorated with ornaments and lights. Under the Christmas tree is a mail box for Father Christmas and there is a small Christmas market.

A bigger Christmas market is in Tallinn (I visited it two days ago). This one is said to be the most beautiful one in Europe, but that would be an exaggeration. It is hard to hear a word Estonian on the Christmas market in Tallinn, there are mostly tourists and the sellers talk in English and sometimes Russian with their customers. Woollen socks, pullovers, scarves, gloves and hats but also candles, Christmas ornaments and mulled wine can be bought there

I also made gingerbread (piparkoogid) together with my sister; those are the traditional biscuits for Christmas. They are a bit spicier than I know them from Germany and are similar to the Scandinavian ones.

In my school we had a Christmas ball. The teachers from my school had made a short (and quite entertaining) Christmas film and there was some Christmas decoration in other respects it was not much different from a normal ball. I cannot really dance and the dancing lessons before did not help, but I enjoyed it anyway.Most students (and teachers) dressed up a bit more festive on our last day of school and we gave each other presents. We only had four lessons and during one of them all students from 10th to 12th grade sang together in the assembly hall. Some of the songs were English ones translated to Estonian, others were Estonian. I did like to sing with all the other students, even though some of them did not strike the right tones and I did not know all the words, the atmosphere was very Christmas like. Later everyone wished each other a happy Christmas and I went home through the snow.

On Christmas Eve we are going to eat together and open some presents. Since most Estonians are not religious Christmas is not as important as in other European countries. Most families do not celebrate Christmas that much; some not at all.

When the snow first fell everyone told me that even in Estonia Christmas is usually without snow, but this year it looks like we are going to have a very white Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of you, may the snow fall unexpectedly today at your place too ٩(^ᴗ^)۶◞✧

Malin

School

Good morning! I know I have not written in a while (instead I am going to write a bit more in this article than in the ones before) but I do not regret that at all. I had very much to do and I did not want to use my free time for writing. Now I have holidays, so I have some time to write and since these are my first real school holidays I think it is time to write about school.

The day when school starts is in Estonia traditionally the first of September, which is also the day of knowledge. Since that date was a Saturday this year, I went to school the first time on Monday the third. Some schools also started already on Friday, other students had to come to school on Saturday. It is customary that on this day the students dress formally (usually in black and white or in some kind of school uniform) and bring flowers for their teachers. On the arrival orientation camp the YFU volunteers showed us examples how we could or should dress for our first school day but what they showed us was exaggerated. I have seen very few students dress up as formally as I saw on the arrival camp.

On my first school day I spent a lot of time just waiting. My host sister had told me to go to my class teacher’s room but she came just a few minutes before school started and I had been there half an hour ago. When she finally came she already knew my name and told me where to go for the first “lesson”. Since she teaches German she spoke in (very good) German with me. I went to the assembly hall where already some students from my grade sat. After everyone had come every student got a student card and the two teachers (my class teacher and the one of the other class) talked about things I did not understand… There I got a first idea of what it was like to not understand the language you are listening to.

When they were finished we gave them the flowers (I also gave my class teacher chocolate because she would take care of me as an exchange student) and we went outside where some people sang and the students were welcomed to the school. We could go home again after that.

The 10th grade at my school consists of the classes MS (Media, Sports) and TS (Technology, Sports); I am in the latter. The Technology part of the TS class has more maths and physics lessons. Also we participate at the technical history lesson and the technical drawing lesson. Most students from my class (including me) also go to the robotics lessons.

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the locker room; the students have to change shoes here

I also sing in two school choirs: one is the choir for all high school students and the other is actually a “children’s choir” (5th to 9th grade). I was really excited when I had the opportunity to participate at the children’s choir because they (hopefully will be able to) go to the Laulupidu (the Estonian song festival that takes place every five years).

In the beginning I usually walked after the girl who had offered to help me in the start with the teachers and school in general. During that time I did not talk much (usually only to ask for translation) and I existed more than really participated at the regular school life. I also soon got bored in the lessons. First I had enough motivation to try participating in every subject: I wrote down everything I could and tried my best to listen to the teachers. During the lessons where the teachers told me not to participate because it “made no sense” I learned Estonian.

After a while the motivation decreased and I drew more than learned during lessons.

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my way to school

The teachers talking became no more than a constant, monotonous noise that was very tiring to listen to. Of course there were always lessons were I could (and can) participate but I am going to talk about those more detailed later. Something that got better were my social contacts. I began to talk to the other students from my class and started to play cards with them during the breaks (something that seems to be very common in Estonia). I also began to spend most of my time in school with three girls from my class.

Now to the subjects that I can actively participate in (that means I do not just copy everything from the board and do nothing else):

  • English (obviously)
  • German (even more obvious)
  • Geography, at least at the moment. I am not so sure, whether I should be so happy about this one, because we have to learn all countries in Europe and 43 more plus capitals.
  • The teacher usually translates the exercises I do not understand. I actually enjoy the sports lessons more than in Germany
  • I already mentioned that I have “technical drawing” lessons (sadly I do not have normal arts lessons as well). Well yes, I can participate there too.
  • Even though I do not understand everything at the moment, I am happy to be able to participate at Mathematics as well. The teacher is quite good at explaining without using language at all
  • Additionally I am able to go to an Estonian lesson with the students from 4th I enjoy those lessons very much because I understand more and the students are indeed very friendly

During the other lessons I get sometimes asked a question or I can prepare a presentation for the next lesson. All in all it is not so bad to go to school here.

Note: To my own disappointment I had to find out that the, in Estonia quite common subject “national defense” is teached in 11th grade; it might have been an interesting subject.

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the first snow 😀

After the first seven weeks of school I was very happy to have a week of vacation. The weekend, where I did not have much free time (because of a YFU meeting) has been exhausting and I feel like I have been constantly lacking sleep. Now my holidays are almost over, but it began to snow and I feel better than in the beginning (though that of course does not mean that I am looking forward to school).

the family

23.09.2018

After about three hours of driving we (the exchange students who were going to live in the southern part of Estonia) finally arrived at our destination.

It had been a longer drive than I had expected but we passed the time well. We sang an Estonian children song (with gestures) that we had learned on our arrival orientation camp we ate and talked. I also slept for some time because I had not slept much the last night. Through the window I could see woods and fields, sometimes houses, once I spotted a deer (or something similar I am not sure). I had expected that the bus would drive us to Tartu since that is the second biggest city in Estonia, so I was surprised to see that the bus halted in a slip road in front of a house somewhere the landscape.

It was the house of a host family. All exchange students and their families ate in their garden (in a very big tent, because it was raining outside). After some time and first (, good) conversations the families slowly went home and in the end we did as well.

We arrived at a big house with fields, woods and some other houses around (not very close). We went inside and my family showed me my (and my host sister’s) room. After I had unpacked most of my stuff my host mother showed me the rest of the house and explained some general things (e.g. who has to do the laundry and when they usually eat dinner).

At first everything I did without asking felt strange. I had to wait and watch my family prepare food just standing in the kitchen because I did not know what to do. Often when not sure what to do I felt like I was balancing on a thin line trying to do what I wanted/needed without doing something wrong (in the end that was a baseless fear). Every time I thought of an excuse for doing what I did though knowing I did not have to explain myself for things like toasting bread. But even asking was sometimes hard for me. It took me some time until I asked for the internet password a second time (this time for my laptop and not for my phone). I had to ask for it because I wanted to publish the previous article and it was – of course – no problem.

The uncertainty from the beginning faded after a time. My family is very friendly (the whole uncertainty had nothing to do with the family rather the new environment) and now I can take food from the fridge and empty the dishwasher like a normal person again. I begin to feel warmth as well; when we go somewhere or simply just cook or watch TV together, I start to feel home here.

The next two weeks I became acquainted with the neighbours (they live one kilometre away from us), went several times to Tartu (it is a very nice city), met other exchange students, cooked marmalade with my host mother, collected blueberries in the woods with my host sister and our neighbour, made a trip to the largest lake in Estonia, Lake Peipus, which is the fifth biggest lake in Europe and we visited many different people who are in different ways connected to my host family. I also met four people who will go to the same school as I do. They are my host sister’s friends and were invited to our home two days ago. They seemed friendly and we had something you could call conversation.

In my first post I wrote that it probably would not matter what county I choose, but now that I am here with my host family and everything, I would not want to change anything.

Malin

To begin one must end first (but in my case just pause)

26.08.2018

The night before the departure I felt doubt for the first time. I wondered why I even did this. I forgot all reasons to spend an exchange year in Estonia or an exchange year at all. It was the first time of doubt, but soon I was able calm myself again and remember the advantages of an exchange year:

  • Being able to pause your everyday life
  • The possibility to get to know a completely different kind of life
  • Seeing a new culture
  • Finding out about yourself
  • Getting to know another family’s way of life
  • Learning a new language
  • Visiting another country most detailed
  • Becoming acquainted with a different school
  • Meeting new people
  • And last but almost the opposite of least you will be able to act completely different and nobody will be surprised, because this is how they met you. What I mean is that you will be able to be how you always wanted to because no one will wonder about how fast you changed, nobody will tell you that you are not yourself (I hope you understand what I am trying to explain)

The next day all doubts vanished at the latest when I met another girl at the airport – I already knew her – who will also spend a year in Estonia. We shared our excitement and some moments later five students in YFU T-shirts sat in the plane to Frankfurt.

In Frankfurt we were about 20 students who after two enjoyable hours of waiting finally departed in the plane to Tallinn.

Note: do not change your seat reservation when flying to an exchange with YFU. YFU reasonably booked seats that were placed next to each other. I had changed my seat, because I wanted to sit by the window but during my flight to Tallinn none of the YFU students sat next to me. I was lucky because the two seats next to me were not booked and I could use all three of them, but that might not be the case every time.

The airport in Tallinn is proportionally small and so we had no problem finding our way to the baggage claim area. There we had to wait for over half an hour before all our suitcases arrived but the volunteers from YFU Estonia welcomed us anyways.

About the arrival orientation camp I am not going to write too much because it was similar to our YFU orientation camp before the exchange year and there we were told not to tell other students too much about it. Anyways here is a small summary:

We had language lessons to learn Estonian, once a day. We had workshops where we were told how to solve problems and other things. Both the lessons and the workshops were led by very nice YFU volunteers. One disadvantage was that the majority of exchange students were German, so many of those started to speak in German. It was hard to keep speaking English in order not to suspend the other students. All in all it left a very positive impression. All people participating were kind. With everyone I spoke with I was able to have a good conversation and it was not hard to find someone to talk to. Also it was the first time in my life that I actually danced (there I dance just freestyle but it was the first time in general I danced). It was the last night before leaving to our host families and most people danced to the music that played constantly. Usually I do not like that kind of music and I never really danced before. There I danced to music I did not know (which is not hard because I just usually do not know any music) and with people I had met only few days before. I really enjoyed it.

Malin