Eight Days in Estonia

Before spending eight days with my family in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, I had never heard of the country. It has a population of just over one million people, but I quickly discovered a love for the quaint town and its mix of modern and historical architecture, national parks, and good food.

Estonia is half-covered in forests and its terrain is relatively flat. It’s a largely innovative country with a fast-growing economy, and it has the highest number of startups per capita and has a program called e-residency, which is a digital ID that can be issued to non-Estonians. Citizens of Estonia have access to universal health care, free education, and the longest paid maternity leave in the OECD. They do their taxes and they vote online.

Tallinn’s Old Town is a well-preserved historical site, listed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1997 as an example of “a medieval northern European trading city.” We spent the majority of our time here and had the opportunity to get to know the area intimately.

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On of our last days in town we went to the top of St. Olaf’s Church, the city’s biggest medieval structure. We had to climb hundreds of small stone steps, but the view was well worth it. There was a small platform surrounded by fence that allowed you walk all the way around the tower.

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One of the best parts about Tallinn is how clean the food is in town. Everything is locally sourced and organic, and almost all restaurants make everything from scratch including their bread and butter. Rataskaevu 16 was my favorite restaurant. I had chicken breast and some peppermint tea with some of their homemade sunflower bread, and it was delicious.

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While the heart of the city is Old Town, Tallinn has a lot more to offer further along the coast. During the first week we were there we took a bike tour and saw Kadriorg Park, which is about a 20 minute walk outside the city. It is filled with museums, gardens, and palaces.

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But even further outside of Tallinn is Lahemaa National Park, characterized by its bog walking and small fishing towns. We were able to walk on Viru bog and it was one of my favorite parts of the day that we spent in the park. The platform was the width of two small wood planks.

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We visited two small fishing towns: Käsmu and Altja. In Käsmu we climbed a tower at the edge of the water and had a home-cooked meal with salmon, potatoes, and bread. Some Estonians live quiet lives in these small coastal towns complete with preserved fishing net sheds and farms.

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These are some of the highlights of my time to Estonia. The country has so much more to offer than what I have mentioned and it has a fascinating history, but I wanted to share some of my favorite bits from the trip. If you are ever in Europe, I highly encourage you to check out Tallinn! ♥

A New Environment

With the school year coming to an end in just two weeks, I have taken a lot of time recently to reflect on the past ten months. Since moving away from home, I have learned so much about myself that I hadn’t noticed in the past and have changed a lot.

One of the biggest realizations that I’ve come to recently is how your environment determines so much of who you are as a person, and how it is largely due to the people that surround you. I hadn’t realized just how much this was true until I came to college.

When you grow up in the same town surrounded by the same people, everything about your environment lets you be comfortable. Naturally, you fall into a routine with school, friends, and home. You know what your place is and you usually know how each day will look. You may face challenges in your life as you grow older and earn more responsibilities, but the environment remains constant. It’s familiar, and for many people that is associated with a level of content.

In high school, I thought of myself as relatively reserved and shy, often keeping to myself and not opening up to new people very easily. I was a homebody and liked to stay inside my bubble of a comfort zone. I never attended many school events and would often opt to stay in for a night instead of going out, and surrounded myself with people who seemed to feel the same.

But near the end of high school, I was itching for something new. Even though it scared me, I knew that I wanted to get out of my bubble.

Because the shift in environment was drastic, the changes I underwent were largely due to the new experiences I was having and sharing with other people. By meeting so many different kinds of people during college, I’ve had the freedom to be whoever I want. It is clear to me that the meaningful friendships and relationships that I’ve cultivated since coming to college have had a huge impact on my life. I have made friends that I have been able to open up to and connect with in ways I had never experienced prior to college. And as a result I’ve learned a lot about who I am and what really drives me forward, and how to be be confident in myself as a person with dreams and aspirations.

For example, I have learned that I love to be spontaneous and make decisions on the spot, even though for most of my life I thought I was a meticulous planner who only felt comfortable planning everything in advance. I have learned that I love to be a goof, even though for most of my life I thought I should put on the front of being composed all the time. These characteristics seemed small and intangible, but now I realize that they’ve affected me a lot.

Being thrown into a new place with so many different people shows you who you are or who you want to be by challenging you, and then showing how you deal with those unexpected difficulties in your life. It’s really given me the opportunity to embrace those insights. I love my hometown and I wouldn’t change anything about it, but going to college and being exposed to a new environment has opened my eyes.

Change

“If you change nothing, nothing will change.” – Unknown

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve realized that I have been consistently challenged by one thing: the fear of change.

Most recently, it was the transition to college. While I was aware my apprehension was not uncommon among first years, I still felt butterflies in my stomach on the first day of fall quarter. The prospect of living in a dorm with two other girls, being in a new town with no friends, adjusting to the quarter system, and leaving my family behind to live independently was terrifying.

But since last September, I have grown and learned more about myself than I ever have in the past. From learning how to live on my own and taking challenging classes to spending the majority of winter quarter pledging for a business fraternity, I have discovered so much about my capabilities and resilience through changes in my life. I realize now that my fear isn’t based on change itself; it is on how I’d persevere through that change. While that fear will always be inherent, I have learned (and am still learning) how to overcome it and how to use it to push me forward, rather than down.

The greatest lesson I have learned this year is that if you aren’t uncomfortable, then you aren’t pushing yourself enough and as a result, won’t learn or grow as a person. Voluntarily getting outside of your comfort zone is the best way to challenge yourself, which is why I’ve decided to use the remainder of the school year to try new things. I am pursuing on and off campus opportunities that will hopefully set me up for success later down the line.

With all these new opportunities comes a feeling that I can only describe as being simultaneously terrified and excited for the future. I wanted to create this blog and use it as an opportunity to express my genuine thoughts and ideas and share my experiences. I am excited for what’s to come and I can’t wait to share it.