Narva is a city teeming with sights and people around every corner, and, as a part of the former Soviet Union, has been forced to recover from the collapse of a giant, the “Motherland.” This is not the only time this city has been forced to overcome, though; during World War II, nearly 98% of Narva was destroyed. Today, only three buildings from the original city remain standing. Although some of the buildings were rebuilt, the people who returned to the city were not the native residents; rather, the city was filled with immigrant workers from around Russia. The population is declining, though. As of 2013, the population of Narva had dropped to 58,663, from approximately 83,000 in 1992.
The mood in Narva is strangely somber. Thousands lost their jobs when what was once the world’s largest cotton mill, Krenholm Manufacturing Company, closed its doors in 2010. The result can be seen around every street, on every building, displayed on nearly every person’s face — there is an apparent sense of sadness in this city. Yes, there are nearly more parks than there are children, but if you take a moment to look a little closer, you will find the hypodermic needle on the basketball court, and the spray-painted “бля” and “Fuck the COPS” decorating the children’s slide and adjacent buildings. Walking to school in the morning, you will be accompanied by people, generally older men, stumbling home from the night before. This is a city that lost its infrastructure, and has struggled to get back on its feet.
Juxtaposed with this somber atmosphere is the beautiful scenery along the river between Ivangorod and Narva. Walking along the path that hugs the curves of the water, you will nearly feel at home between the nature and the city, as well as with the sights and sounds coming from the events and businesses that frequent this path. The second week we were here, I came upon a break-dancing event, and it was clear the people at this event could not possibly be having any more fun than they were at that moment. It was a truly insightful experience as an outsider, and to see this atmosphere was important in my view of Narva as a whole. There is rich culture here, but the other aspects of the city and people sometimes hide it.
Over the past 8 weeks, our group has had many ups and downs in the city of Narva, and around Estonia and some of the surrounding countries, but one thing will always remain: the memories we created here, and the language immersion we were given the gift of receiving the opportunity to experience. I feel I can confidently speak for the collective when I say, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for this opportunity. To my fellow project-GOers, do not forget, or take for granted, the times we had. We grew from these experiences, both good and bad, and there are very few people who can say they have had the courage to do what we have.
People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.
— Eleanor Roosevelt
See how far we’ve come?