Skype visit (2nd group) and closing the exchange program

The blog post on 14 th of October on the Seiklajate Vennaskonnast

The last days on our adventure are a go! It has been a blast and an amazing time together with our group. Today, the second group had a chance to go and visit the Skype office in Tallinn. We had three guides leading us though different parts of the Skype office. Lots of questions about the functions and operations were asked during the visit.

Afterwards we had a presentation from Archimedes who gave us information about scholarships and studying in Estonia. Again our lively group shot questions towards their representative, Reetta. We found out that 89 % of students actually satisfy the requirements to study in Estonia. One of the major positive sides of studying in Estonia, for example, is that the student-teacher ratio is fantastic. There are less students per teacher than any other country in the world. Tallinn is focusing on IT as it has lots of corporations in the immediate and surrounding areas. Scholarships and free tuition programmes are also available there in abundance for Estonians. Positions are also easy to apply for as interviews are held via Skype. An important fact to note was that the students studying in Tallinn have a six month grace period after graduation in which they can find work place however most students find work and internships during their studies.

Today we also had the closing ceremony which meant we had an Estonian language tests. The beginners had a chance to show off learned skills and the advanced students had a test including some more difficult language ‘twists’ taken from the Estonian institute web site. To conclude, we had a final task where everyone handed around pieces of paper, writing kind messages to each other upon them to read on our trip home. The task a very special way to say goodbye. Sometimes it is easier to write things to each other than to say them aloud.
After the Archimedes presentation and closing ceremony we had a lunch in the usual place: St. Patrick restaurant in the heart of Tallinn’s old town after which we had precious free time and everybody used it as they wanted. I (Kaisa) personally visited the Kalev chocolate shop in Rotermann and had a very cheap 10 euros hair cut in Lasnamägi suburb I (Samuel) spent those few hours wandering about Old Town one last time with my new friends collecting souvineers and trinkets to bring home to our families. I purchased myself a pair of Bongo drums; It’s easier if you don’t quesion it.

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In the evening the whole group gathered for the last time together and had a dinner at Kohalik Kohvik. The night was sweet thanks to the delicious desserts and the company of group members. Last pictures, videos and moments were shared together with the group as a whole. Night continued in our cousy appartments and later on in evening streets of Old Town. The last night was full of flavours of nostalgia and emotion. We had experienced something amazing.

 

The overall experience in this programme has been eye opening towards different cultures and ways of life. We will continue practising our Estonian and stay in contact with our new found friends.

Special thanks to our Rahvuskaaslased programme organizer, Heleri Alles, who has such a warm heart and lots of understanding towards our multicultural group.

Best Regards Kaisa Liekovuori & Samuel Pleass

 

Sam here with just a little slice of something extra.

I wanted to quickly comment on something that that happened over the course of the exchange. Something that grew and blossomed so very startlingly fast that, even as I type this, it still seems like an impossibility. That something was the close knit friendships and almost family like relationships which formed between all of us over the past 11 or so days. This outcome was one that neither I nor any one or any of us were expecting or even knew was a possibility. In less than two weeks I have become as close with a group of apparent strangers as I am with people whom I have known my entire life. What we share between us is something rare and special. You all have a special place in my heart that I will cherish and cradle, warmly and lovingly for years to come. Stay in touch, don’t be a stranger, you’re always welcome down under and I love you all.

Your friend,

Sam x

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October 13

Our second to last day saw the group split in two, half of us visiting Skype, whilst the other half enjoyed an extra three hours (and by this stage, much needed) respite, with the two groups switching for our final day. Thankfully, the stars aligned and I was one of the sleepers and so had the distinct pleasure of watching our exhausted, bleary-eyed new friends wander through the doors of Transferwise at 1pm. We were seated and given the company spiel; Transferwise is an Estonian start up launched in 2011 that enables users to bypass the fees imposed by banks on international money transfers. It’s the brainchild of two ex-Skype employees, and today is responsible for £800 million pounds being exchanged per month. More importantly though, at least for most of us present, it just seemed a really engaging and vibrant atmosphere to be a part of, and led to a number of us considering applying for internships. I’d like to say the desire to apply wasn’t based, in part, on the fact they had a ball pit in their office, but I’d be lying.

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After Transferwise we stopped off for a quick lunch before travelling to visit the Bastion tunnels under “Kiek in de Kok,” (15th century) which translates to “Peeking into the kitchen” as the lofty heights afforded by this tower lead to soldiers peering into neighbours kitchens. Below, a labyrinth of tunnels constructed along with the Bastions in the late 17th century allowed soldiers to reposition against enemy attacks, spy on the enemy and fire on their flanks. From 1936, the tunnels were used as air raid shelters, whilst during the Soviet occupation, the hill above the tunnels was used by youths selling Beatles albums, who then ran into the now dilapidated tunnels to take refuge from Soviet police. Nowadays, most of the tunnels are too run down/infested with spiders for tourist visitation, however, there is a small segment available, which our group explored. There were a series of videos designed to help us appreciate firstly, the difficulty of building the tunnels and secondly, the fear of people hiding inside them during WWII.

Following this, we had some free time to wander the city. With the project coming to a close, for many of us it was our last chance to soak in the sights of Tallinn’s gorgeous Old Town or get our tourist on and purchase some typical Estonian souvenirs, like bongos.

We finished the night sprawled across cushions watching 1944, an Estonian film about soldiers having to choose between the Red and German armies during the war, resulting in Estonians fighting against each other. Then it was off for yet another sauna and bed before our final day of tearful farewells and distinctly un-Estonian public displays of group affection.

Back to Tallinn

It’s 12th of October and it’s time to go back to where it all started – Tallinn!

We have visited Käsmu, Taevaskoja and Tartu and it’s been beautiful but today at 8am we went on the bus and drove back to the capital. Everyone was tired from the night out in Tartu so the two and a half hour nap time on the bus was much appreciated. Once we got to Tallinn, we put our bags away to the beautiful apartments on Villardi Street and went to visit Playtech, an Estonian online gaming software company. We were shown around and told about the history of Playtech and how the company has grown and become one of the largest casino software suppliers. The atmosphere there was nice and very international (the official work language was English) and there were gaming machines everywhere! Afterwards I heard some people from our group discuss the morality of providing gambling software which is an interesting thought.

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Playtech

After visiting Playtech we had lunch in the beautiful Restoran Viktoria, had a bit of free time and then went to e-Estonia showroom. A young man in a suit told us all about how the Internet has made a lot of governmental services easier and faster (like declaring taxes, starting a business and voting online with the multifunctional Estonian ID-card). I (Mika) especially liked the visit because it was more of a discussion, not just a lecture and also I can see how other countries could benefit from following Estonia’s example: after having to deal with declaring taxes in Australia I can really appreciate the simplicity of it in Estonia.

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e-Estonia Showroom

Following the informative presentation at the e-Estonia showroom, a rare privilege to chat with an employee of the NATO Cyber Defence Centre was presented to those interested. Topics discussed ranged from Estonia’s history as a front for cyber warfare and role as a leader in cyber security, as well as the controversy surrounding internet privacy and state-sponsored cyber warfare. Of particular interest was a discussion regarding Estonia’s response to the great Distributed Denial of Service Attack on a variety of governmental bodies and media outlets among other parties in 2007, which led to major reforms in Estonia’s cyber security measures. Furthermore, an exploration of internet privacy and its significance in the 21st century was both insightful and thought – provoking, hinting at the magnitude of difficulties in reaching a definitive solution to the privacy vs security debate. Following this captivating but mental strenuous discussion, it was reassuring to know there were no further activities planned for the day, as the group was in dire need of some quality rest and recuperation.

Miss all of you lots, hope we’ll see you again soon!!

Mika and Jesse

Day in Tartu

Today we arrived to beautiful Tartu which is especially known as a student town as there is the University of Tartu. The day started with a visit to the Nature House “Loodusemaja” which is a nice wooden building settled not so far from the city centre. There we discovered the work of the organisation Let’s do it! / Teeme ära! -project. “Let’s do it!” is about cleaning Estonia from the rubbish left the people in the nature. It was great to hear about their activity that they organised in 2008. More than 50 000 people participated to clean up Estonia!

After this inspiring meeting we took a quick walk in the intellectual city centre of Tartu through the cafes, libraries, churches and bookstores. After the walk we headed to the University. We took a picture together in front of the beautiful University building and then we entered inside it to hear more about the history and the study opportunities in Tartu. The University offers different opportunities for courses in English and also in Estonian. As one of the top Universities in the world it is very attractive.

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Then we took a break and went for a lunch to Kapriis. The restaurant was cosy and the food was really satisfying. The lunch break did not last too long – Ahhaa science museum and Estonian national museum were waiting for us.

At the Ahhaa-museum we had a lot of fun! We discovered the science, physics and lots more through different interactive games. We took a picture in a dark room smashing a balloon with a stick. We all had funny faces in the pictures and we laughed about them.

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After finishing the visit of the Ahhaa museum we headed to the Estonian National Museum “Eesti Rahvamuuseum’’ which opened the doors on the 3rd of October. The building is breath taking. Before the museum there was a soviet aviation military base on the same field. From the outside the museum is huge but when you go inside it seems even bigger. We took a guided tour in the museum and familiarized ourselves with the history of the Estonian people. The timeline covered from the exhibition begins with today Estonia and ends with ugrofinnic roots of the Estonian population.

We had a dinner in Aparaat which is located in a hipster area of Tartu. They serve the best blue cheese cake ever! We ended up the day with a beer at Pûssirohukelder where there is the highest ceiling of the world. The house red beer is very good and it is served in one litre glasses. We enjoyed the Universitarian spirit of Tartu in the pub.

We really enjoyed our stay in Tartu and were sad to leave it already next day. The Universitarian attitude, museums and the cosy cafeterias make it very liveable town!

-Risto&Reetta

 

 

October 9 – to the South!

Today is Sunday, October 9. This morning we said goodbye to Käsmu and travelled for 3 hours by bus to Taevaskoja. Taevaskoja is just 10 minutes outside Põlva, the centre of Põlva County in southeast Estonia.

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We spent all morning travelling, so everyone was looking forward to some free time to explore Põlva in the late afternoon. Põlva gave us a feel for what it is like to live in a smaller town in Estonia, with a population of only 6,500 compared to Tallinn’s 440,000. The native Estonians in our group continued to coach the overseas Estonian descendants on the language skills we studied in Käsmu.

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The highlight of our day was in the evening, when we met at a community centre in Põlva to learn some traditional Estonian dancing. Our local instructor taught us almost a dozen national dances, and even the members of our group born and raised in Estonian had trouble keeping up at some points. However by the end of the dance lessons everyone was warm and laughing.

We returned to Taevaskoja after dancing for dinner. Many of our group was tired from the long day and went to rest, while a few others took advantage of clear country weather to count shooting stars in the night sky.

5th Day – language and autum storms in Käsmu :)

5th Day

Once upon a time a wild Austonian (Australian-Estonian) appeared and yelled “F*ck this weather!”

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Arriving to Käsmu, we were facing extreme autumn costal weather, strong cold winds and annoying mushroom rain (seenevihm). Fortunately, we had not one, but two saunas to look forward to after we accepted the Käsmu exploration challenge.

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We made 4 groups, each of which created a list of challenges and passed it over to the next group. The lists included awesome tasks like making a music video, singing in Estonian, creatively photographing popular places in Käsmu, hugging random trees/locals or communicating with them and making up stories on why mattresses get burned.

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Love-hate relationship with the Estonian language (insert photo of Sam suffering)

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We had novice and intermediate Estonian language groups. The novices learned all the important numbers like tuhat kaks (1002), kaksteist (12), nelikümmend kaks (42). They also learned conjugation and everyday phrases like “Sa oled kuum” – “Kas sa oled vallaline?” – “Ma armastan sind” – “Ma tahan süüa”. The intermediates struggled with and defeated the 14 Estonian cases.

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Finally, the moment arrived that we had all been waiting for, and the whole group sprinted towards the heated sauna, ready to change into Adam and Eve’s costumes.

The End of 08.10.2016

Oct 7th – Stenbock House and Lahemaa National Park

Our day began at the Stenbock House (Stenbocki Maja) where the Estonian Prime minister, Taavi Rõivas, works and the ministers hold their meetings. As we waited for the tour guide to arrive, we got to experience the press room, where the prime minister takes questions and provides updates on ministry business.

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While the guide introduced the history of the house, we sat in the very seats that the ministers sit in.

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One of the most interesting things was the complete lack of physical documents, which represents the e-government that Estonia is famous for! Our tour then finished with a visit into the prime minister’s office, a lucky privilege few tours get to experience, as he happened to be away on business. While we were there we took advantage of the opportunity to help our selves to the Prime Misters large bowl of Kalev chocolates!

After lunch we headed out to Lahemaa National park, the largest park in Estonia. The park is home to dense forests and raised bogs. It was a bit chilly for an autumn swim, but in the summer Estonians will come to swim in the clean waters. To protect the bog habitat  (and to keep from falling in) visitors walk along a wooden plank pathway. We enjoyed a view of the many pools of water in the park from the watch tower.

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We are now staying overnight in Käsmu, an old fisherman’s village that overlooks the gulf of Finland. Can’t wait for sauna tomorrow!

Tallinn Day 3, 06/10/16

Tere! We are Silvi and Elisabeth, from Australia and Finland, respectively. On this day we became more acquainted with the beautiful city of Tallinn by visiting some important political and religious historical buildings. They say a picture says a thousand words so here we go…

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(Elisabeth) After the breakfast we had tour in Toompea castle and Estonian parliament. It’s so cool to see how different parts of Estonian history come together in one building. I also think that it’s must see for people with Estonian roots.

(Silvi) I found Estonian parliament very interesting because they have both president and prime minister in power with various duties to do for each of them. In Australia we just have the prime minister who represents the current party in power. On a completely different note, the aesthetic of the building was very stylish. I particularly liked the walls that amplify all sound, so that even if you whisper there are no secrets among the parliament.

(Elisabeth) We had amazing opportunity to see a bird’s eye view of Tallinn from the tower of Oleviste church. The climb to the top was quite tiring but it was worth it, if you don’t believe us just look at the picture.

(Silvi) For dinner we were set a challenge to create traditional Estonian dishes with no help from the Estonian natives. We chose mainly easy meals we were familiar with already and prepared them in smaller groups. It was really fun and the results weren’t too bad either. I experimented with the Sinep (hot mustard) and meat and I kind of regret it haha. The potato salad was really nice, and I love pretty much anything with black bread. The dinner was followed by a cultural exchange of foods like Australian vegemite, Canadian maple syrup cookies, American chocolate, Lithuanian candies, turkish pepper (from Finland) and so on. We also had some lovely Vana Tallinn, a very traditional and tasty Estonian liqueur.

After that some of us decided to go to the sauna, and others to bed to get some well-earned rest for the next day to come.

Day 2: Icebreakers & Nõmme seikluspark!

Hello!/Tere!

Today is Wednesday, October 5, 2016 and the second day of our program.

It was an early morning for the group as we had a big day ahead of us! We woke up around 8:00am, ate breakfast (which was tough with so many choices), and consumed some much needed coffee. The group set out to our first activity of our program, where we would get to know each other a lot better. When we arrived we learned an interesting game called “bunny, bunny”, which provided a lot of laughs and gave us the energy that only the energizer bunny could do. If anyone wasn’t awake by that point, they certainly were after this “energizer”. The next activity was called “the chair” and this was our chance to ask people their deepest, darkest secrets. We learned that Argo is America’s greatest Estonian folk dancer and Elle performed a bird call worthy of mentioning in this blog post. It was a great way to get to know each other. The final activity was our chance to share our expectations for the program. Everyone seemed adamant about making friends and learning about the Estonian culture.

Afterwards, we walked over to the mall to have lunch and from there we got onto a very crowded bus and headed to the “Nõmme seikluspark.” It was an especially blustery day, which was not optimal for climbing trees (who would’a thought!). The first three obstacles allowed us to see each other climb through the course. It was cool because we could cheer and support each other. The last two trails were very difficult and much higher than the rest. Despite people persevering through the weather at this point, the cold weather and wind proved to be the biggest obstacle of them all. It took us around 3-4 hours in total to finish the course. Everyone did an awesome job getting through the obstacles and working together. Credit to those afraid of heights that did the course, you da real MVP(s).

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A couple of the groups split up but we met up at St. Patricks for a nice, hot meal. For dinner most of us had chicken, potatoes and veggies, but for those non-meat eaters, they had a lovely pasta dish. It was a nice chance to catch up and talk about our adventures (literally) that day.

After dinner we came back to the apartment, which we now call our home. Our apartment is split up into three floors and we have 6-10 people living on each floor. There are 4 bedrooms with 2-4 beds in each room. We have a kitchen, two bathrooms, and most importantly… a sauna. The fourth floor is the biggest and thats where we congregated after dinner (see picture below).

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Some people went to the supermarket and picked up “supplies” for the night. Others were exhausted from the climbing and went to bed. The warriors that remained celebrated our victory over the weather and trees. It was a fun evening spent playing games and chatting. Eventually everyone had enough and retired for the night. It was a great, fun filled day and we can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store.

Järgmise korrani,
Devin & Grethe

Let’s begin!

Hello!

Today, 4th of october, was the beginning of our exchange program Back to Our Roots. We came together from all over the world, but we all have something in common – Estonian roots. First couple of days we are gonna stay in capital, Tallinn. Our first meeting place, so say home at Villardi is amazing – 3 spacious flats and even saunas!

Even if the weather was very windy and quite cold, we decided to take a walk to the old city to have dinner  in the leeeeeegendary pancake pub called Kompressor .. because who doesn’t love pancakes? 🙂

After dinner stayed most of us to the old city to get to know the night life and also celebrate Samuel’s birthday! 🙂

It also looks like love against singing is really in every Estonian blood – night ended in karaoke pub!

Can’t wait what tomorrow brings! xx

Helen

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