BY Karel Parve > Junior > International Relations > Bucknell University / Editors > Stephanie Weaver and Hannah Park / Photos courtesy of Robert Landry > Bucknell University
Growing up, I made the decision to learn four languages—not for the sake of getting into a better college, but rather to prepare myself for an anticipated life abroad. After all, from an early age, I’ve dreamt of moving away from Estonia.
As a closeted young man living in a post-Soviet society, where homosexuality is widely considered a disease, I knew Estonia could never be my home. So when my friend received the Baltic Scholarship from Garrett College in Maryland, I immediately took advantage of the same opportunity and followed her to chase my personal freedom.
For me, adjusting to the American lifestyle meant coping with culture shock and making major life changes. In the beginning everything made me nervous. I had to take responsibility for myself and grow up over night. I was alone.
Although I was fluent in English, I still felt the “living in another language” realm. It felt so oppressive, not being able to speak my native language for such a long period of time. Keeping this integral part of my life on the backburner made me restless and there was always the temptation to retreat to my room and Skype with my friends back home. Eventually, though, I joined clubs and organizations to distract myself and meet new people.
The greatest culture shock, which was unexpected rather than hindering, was the outgoing nature of random people I’d just met. Simple acts of kindness, like strangers saying hello in passing, would be considered strange back home. I realized the European stereotypes of Americans— the “keep smiling” attitude and extroverted mannerisms—actually rang true.
I was also surprised by American food; it’s so hard to find a healthy meal. The preparation of American cuisine scared me more than the food itself—I still struggle to understand why so many dishes have to be deep-fried. I did, however, fall in love with peanut butter, which isn’t available in Estonia. And while my palate adjusted, the U.S. drinking age restriction left me puzzled. I don’t consider myself a heavy drinker, but going out to dinner with friends and not being able to enjoy a glass of wine as a 20-year-old was insane!
Overall, moving to the U.S. wasn’t only about exploring and embracing a different background. After spending years trying to fit a mold, I finally mustered up the courage to be honest with myself and came out to my friends while taking sum- mer classes at Bucknell University.
Currently, I’m a student intern at the LGBT Awareness Office and work on raising awareness on rights issues. It’s an opportunity that would’ve been unrealistic to chase back home. The job has been beyond amazing and I feel as if I’ve found my niche in advocating this cause.
In Estonia, where education emphasizes specialization, college students pick a major and only take classes within that major. Having studied in this rigid school system, I’ve grown to appreciate Bucknell’s liberal
art’s approach to academics. The amount of attention each student receives and the overall sense of belonging contin- ues to amaze me on a daily basis.
I still miss Estonia—especially the language and chocolate—but America is my home now. I’ve met so many amazing people here, with whom I’d like to think I share a symbiotic relationship: while I may add to their cultural depth and understanding, at the same time, they enrich my life experiences.
NEVER HEARD OF ESTONIA?
As the smallest of the three Baltic States, the Northern European country is often overlooked on the map—until now. Here are some fun facts that will better acquaint you with the charming and historically rich destination.
• Skype, the premier Internet calling system, was invented in Estonia.
• Estonia has the highest number of meteorite craters per land area in the world.
• Estonian is one of the few Finno-Ugric languages in the world—it’s also considered a nightmare to learn!
• While Estonians are among the oldest inhabitants of Europe, its culture and landscape are heavily influenced by its Swedish, German and Russian occupation.
• Estonian cuisine is not exactly wildlife-friendly—wild boar, deer, marinated bear— you name it, they roast it!
• Roads are free of traffic, and hence, most likely free of road rage.