This Thursday in Narva…

This week has been a fairly busy week with the amount of work we’ve had to do–all which of course will only benefit us in the long run. We had an excursion to a museum dedicated to the Battle of Narva yesterday which was very interesting. I love reading old propaganda posters and was excited that I could actually read most of them, showing that our hard work is paying off already! Today we had a lecturer come in and discuss politics in Narva, which was also interesting. Russian and Soviet propaganda kept creeping up into the discussion making it even more exciting. Tomorrow the Ambassador is coming to meet with us and the high school students from America and we are all pretty psyched to get the chance to speak with him. This weekend will be fun as some of us are going to Riga, Latvia, some are going to Tallinn, and some are staying in Narva to get some much needed rest and relaxation and, of course, study time!

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“Sure, why not?”

“The best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry” ~Robert Burns

I haven’t decided whether I am the mouse or the man, but my plans often go awry. With the copious amounts of homework, writing assignments, and general language learning, it behooves me always have a plan. Every Monday, I am handed a schedule. From that point forward, I know when I need to be where and what needs to be accomplished in the next seven days. I plan my time around this very helpful schedule. Despite my desire plan every detail and to stick tightly to said plan, I cannot escape the fact the best plans are those which allow for deviation.

Unsurprisingly, Russian textbooks are very helpful. The exercises contained therein lay a grammatical foundation, expand my vocabulary, and familiarize me with the operation of the Russian language, but on occasion opportunities to set the book down and stretch my abilities materialize outside of “the plan.” Life is unpredictable like that. Since my goal is fluency, I want to ride the wave of spontaneity for as long as I can. Unfortunately, this means straying for the plan.

A few days ago some classmates and I were walking to our dorm from class. We met two ladies who were walking their dogs. After getting our greetings out of the way and asking to pet the dogs (one of which is affectionately called “chill dog.” I must admit, she is pretty chill), we were launched into a conversation about Russian domestic politics and the merits of Putin as a leader for Russian in the present geopolitical climate. Coincidentally, we had been discussing politics in class earlier in the day. Later, we ran into a group of people we had met previously; we ended up talking with them and playing card games for several hours before the need for sleep overcame the desire to talk.

Many instances similar to these have either happened directly under the nose of several hours of undone homework or been the cause of mild sleep deprivation. One time, just as I finished my homework at 11:30pm someone stepped into my room to see if I wanted to go to a pub and find people to chat with. The homework was always finished, but sleep wasn’t always had and the plan was often abandoned.

Having a conversation with the locals is the ultimate test of your ability to communicate. There is no telling where the conversation will wander. As it turns out, three of the most helpful words while a studying a language abroad are “sure, why not?”

 

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Like, Really!

Our time here in Narva is winding down and I can’t believe how much I have learned being here.  This past weekend, we went to Tartu – a beautiful city with a youthful, college atmosphere.  Tartu was a blast.  Being an American in Tartu is like being a king.  People at first didn’t believe us when we would say we were American but when they finally realized our nationality, they were astounded.  I was able to befriend a successful, young Estonian businessman who had his own personal security detail following him.  He told me stories about his visits to the United States and he blissfully explained the classic euphuism “like really, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!!! Like really!”  This weekend we’re going to Tallinn for the second time and it should be another unforgettable weekend.

Another cool experience I had was two nights ago when Laird, Jeremy and I went for a walk around Narva with some young Russians.  We were walking near the castle when we heard some live music.  Immediately I recognized the tune of the songs and I knew it was Gospel music.  We went over there and it was a group of Moldovan, Estonian and Russian Christians playing great Gospel music with a guitar.  We introduced ourselves and I began singing the songs with them in mixed English and Russian.  It was great experience worshiping the Lord with them and I found out that there is only about 500 Baptists in Estonia.  I was humbled too by the fact that the group decided to pray for me.  We made a big circle and they prayed for my health, my family, my education, my future kin and many other things – all in Russian.  I was amazed with how much I understood.

I have come a very long way with my Russian skills.  I am much more confident in my ability to speak, listen, read and write.  It really has been a blessing.  When I can’t understand a word, I can use context clues to figure it out.  I can understand and construct sentences, I know expressions and I am confident with the cases.  I am even comprehending verbs of motion and all their complexities.  I can’t wait to go back to Rutgers and showcase my improvement to my peers.

I am really thankful for this trip and everyone who has invested effort into our education.  From the people in our excursions who take time out of their day to give us tours to the workers at the café, I am so grateful for everything they do.

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From Narva, to Tallinn, to Finland, to Tartu and back.

So far,  I have been to a whopping 1% of the world (according to the app “Been”). As disheartening as that sounds, it makes me extremely excited as I thought that I had discovered an entirely new world just inside of Estonia.

Shoving 2 semesters worth of information into 8 weeks is HARD. Between class everyday, lectures, excursions, papers, movie reviews, verbs of motion quizzes, awkward interviews with native speakers, hours of homework when I’m done with class and a 2,000 word final project; I’m exhausted. “Class and homework. Class and homework. Study abroad is just that; studying while abroad.” However, the more I treck along this path into a foreign culture, the more I realize that with working hard comes playing hard, and that there is more to Estonia than Narva; just as there is more to study abroad than studying abroad.

Tallinn was gorgeous. Old town in Tallinn was an experience that I would live again and again. The city had so much to offer us from an amazing nightlife, to museums, shops with home made wool socks that I’m really excited to wear, stores with millions of trinkets, traditional food and clothes, art and music, and extremely welcoming Estonian friends. It was home away from home.

The next weekend was “свободное время” or free time for us. So what do we do? Planned a trip to Helsinki, Finland, of course! I, Caitlin Longhofer, would be traveling to yet another foreign country (Finland would push my “Been” app to say 1% instead of 0% – it’s the little things). To me, backpacking around Finland for a day was an experience I will never forget. Just to say that from Project GO I was able to backpack a Scandinavian country for a weekend is really something. The Russian influence on the architecture there was amazing to learn about.

Uspenski Cathedral – Helsinki, Finland

This last weekend we traveled to Tartu – essentially Estonia’s college town. It was, by far, the most gorgeous city I’ve seen on this trip. From the rich history to the river, Tartu was everything a foreign student could hope for. There were tons of younger adults our age and about a million stores and shops to accommodate them. My favorite part – as lame as it sounds – was learning the history of the city and the architecture. If European study abroad has taught me anything about myself it’s that I can make some awesome macaroni and my secret passion is architecture. The Tartu Cathedral is one of the biggest and oldest Cathedrals in the country and by far the most gorgeous.

Tartu Cathedral – Tartu, Estonia

I can’t believe we only have 2.5 weeks left of the program. Looking back on it, I’ve learned so much about Estonia and the surrounding areas. From history, to traditions, to the language, the people, and to the land itself. I’m so incredibly thankful to have been given the opportunity and I’m even more excited to finish this thing out with a bang! Time flies when you’re having fun…

… or when you’re having the time of your life in a foreign country. I think that’s the case here.

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My time here so far…

It’s been quite an adventure so far here in Narva. Between having hilarious misunderstandings between myself and babushkas to not ever getting a joke spoken in Russian, I’ve had a blast exploring the Russian language here so far.

When coming here, I wanted to find a place to train for wrestling; I wrestle in college and didn’t want to become a fat blob by the end of my time here, so I searched for a place to train. As it turned out, every club in Narva was closed for the summer. However, I soon found out that there was a kickboxing class at the big yellow gym where I lift at.

I walked into the class and asked a gruff looking, tatted up Russian man with fohawk if he knew of any wrestling clubs. “No”, he said, “this is kickboxing.”  I struggled in Russian to ask him if he knew where any were, and he got mad and asked me to leave. Defeated, I walked downstairs. However, an old man approached me, and said “come with me” in Russian. I followed him, and he showed me every room in the gym. We approached the kickboxing room, and he pointed to the fohawk man again.

I decided right then to give it a try. I asked him how much it costs, and he replied 25 euro, but he’ll give me a discount. I took it and he told me it runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

The next Wednesday, I went and worked my butt off punching and kicking the crap out of the punching bag. A young boy came up to me, and I found that he spoke English surprisingly well. His name is Maksim, and we became fast friends.

As it turns out, Maksim told his dad that he met a really cool american guy, who is very strong and a hard worker but has atrocious technique. The next practice he came up to me and said “Connor, my dad and me invites you to eat with us. Sunday. Also. My dad comes to train you.” behind him stood a stocky and ripped 45 year old Russian man in a wife beater, who made me work nearly as hard as a d1 wrestling practice. His name is Dmitri.

As it turns out, Max is the Baltic champ (includes, the Baltic states, Finland, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine) and Dmitri is a former world champion. I was seriously learning from the best. In addition, I get to practice stance and motion drills and lifting before practice, so I’m having absolutely no problems keeping in shape (in fact, due to the fact I’m with other ROTC students, I’m running and doing more pushups in addition more than I did before I came here).

I ended up meeting Dmitri at the hotel Noorus, where some of my friends on the trip had already gone that morning to go to the spa there. They had already paid the 25 dollars necessary for a few hours in the spa, but when i wandered into the spa and asked the head desk person if she knew a person named Dmitri, and that I was supposed to meet him there, she gave me a wrist band and let me into the spa for free.

I met my friends inside, and found Dmitri. I asked Tigran (a fellow student) to tag along, and we proceeded to get the VIP treatment, literally getting into the VIP area, using expensive rubbing oils in the eucalyptus steam room, and sitting in a salt room for a few hours, all the while talking in Russian and getting to know each other. As it turns out, Dmitri is the head of security at the hotel.

We then proceeded to eat the most delicious pork I’ve ever had, at a local, family-owned Armenian restaurant, which was especially a treat for Tigran, as he is Armenian himself. It was an amazing day, spent with amazing company.

I am continuing to train with Dmitri and see Max every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and convinced a few other Americans to join me in Muay Thai. So far I’ve sparred with Dmitri a few times, and a 15 year old champ, but I’m slowly getting better at it, all the while picking up a lot of Russian experience by putting myself out there.

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Happy Birthday Captain :)

Seeing from the title, today is someone’s birthday! Today is my rabbits birthday and I specifically chose today to be the day I write a post. To all who are curious he is a miniature caramel colored fuzzy lop with the whitest underbelly! But of course this is a blog about Narva and the intense Russian program here rather than my rabbits birthday so I will keep the rabbit comments short 🙂

Honestly speaking, Narva is a beautiful city. The streets may be cracked, and the weeds over flowing, but a the same time it feels like one of the most welcoming places I have ever been in! The people here are amazing, and their is a feeling of comfort and home when you walk past through the streets (we are actually on the topic of transitive verbs with prefixes so I can happily say I can write about my adventures, and destinations properly). The people I have met here are some of the coolest people I have ever met. The bonds made here are some things I want to continue creating in the future with other people. The one thing I value most is feeling like family among a group of friends and the people here – they truly are a family to me.

The natural born people here are also really welcoming to a conversation especially after finding out that you are American! I have even made friends with some of the Estonians, and they have been nothing but nice to us, showing us the different locations that as Americans, would not have been able to see otherwise! They even taught a couple of us how to play four square, but with soccer (definitely bringing it back to the states). Now the game sounds complicated but honestly, coming from someone who lacks any soccer talent, this game is the funnest game (sorry it is not a real word, but it perfectly describes game) I have ever played. Sometimes I even see friends in streets or I see their car and they greet you with a welcoming smile. It truly makes your day!

Now to the studies. I have experience in speaking mainly diminutives, slang, with improper conjugations, and a slow flow. I can happily say that is all mostly in the past! This program has definitely increased my level of sophistication within my conversations and even increased my knowledge about English grammar! The class has definitely been successful and I hope to show it in the OPI exam at the end of the program.

The excursions are simply fascinating. I have been to so many places, but my favorite by far was going to the mines (yesterday). I took so many photos! I only wish I could have explored more of the mine! They looked like those stereotypical movie mines, and boy are they awesome! I want to already write so much about this place, but I feel like the blog page would need a whole other site to be able to contain this information. So for now, I will come to a close, and talk about my excitement in the next blog post to be done 🙂

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End of Midterms!

This Friday marked the beginning and the end of midterms and so we made the most of our free weekend. On Friday, a group of us left for Helsinki and enjoyed an awesome trip in beautiful Finland. The group that stayed behind relaxed and caught up on some much needed rest and relaxation. On Saturday it was a beautiful and warm day here in Narva so the group that stayed behind went to the beach. We enjoyed the always gorgeous view of the coastline and the frigid waters of the Baltic Sea. We impressed any Estonian watching with our mad Frisbee skills. We suntanned (but not really since the sun disappeared quickly after we arrived) while listening to soothing reggae music. We even got to see the lovely Kelly and Olga for a brief time as they passed us (apparently having had the same idea of relaxing on the beach)! We ended our beach time by making a well fortified sand mountain complete with a miniature American flag (because who doesn’t keep a tiny American flag on them at all times?). The Helsinki group returned early Sunday morning and were able to get a little bit of sleep before it was off to go do paintball. After a lot fun and bruises later, they returned exhausted and feeling victorious. Now it’s time for studying and laundry–the typically college Sunday. This next week is going to be extremely busy and exciting so for now we’ll relax while we can!11049548_10204412564065972_8590779563944458164_n

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