Markos Hughes, Estonia Blog
So here I am writing the blog of my first Student Ambassador trip to Estonia for the National Platform. I will admit I was terribly nervous the days leading up to leaving, as I was going to be travelling with ESN President Carlo Bitetto, but he was unable to come at the last minute due to illness, so it was left to me to travel to Estonia solo. I woke early on Saturday morning and caught a bus to Bergamo, and made for my flight to Riga Airport in Latvia. I spent most of morning sightseeing around Riga, it was half snowing, half raining and not the most welcoming of weather, but I enjoyed my time there nonetheless.
By mid afternoon tiredness from walking around all morning set in and I boarded a bus headed for Tallin. 309Km and 4 hours later, I arrived in Tallin. Internet and power allowed me to do some more practice for the presentation along the way. I arrived in Tallin around 7pm, and was greeted by bubbly Estonian National Representative Kärt Maalin and her colleague (I forgot a lot of names, mi dispiace!). They were very nice and welcoming, and took me to the apartment I would be staying in to drop my bags, before we headed to dinner to meet the other ESN members from across Europe. ESN members from Italy, Slovakia, Poland and Lithuania were all present, as well as members from across Estonia. Kärt admitted that with only a population of 1.3 million, Estonia was quite small, and with it, their ESN membership. What they lacked in numbers they more than made up for in passion and enthusiasm. We had some local Estonian food that was very tasty along with the common dark-rye bread, which I mistook for chocolate cake. The National Platform had actually started the day I arrived; so many of the members were keen to enjoy themselves after having spent the whole day attending speeches and workshops. After dinner some members dressed in traditional Estonian clothing and began teaching us how to dance the Estonian way. After timid steps at first, the large group of us learnt quickly and were soon holding our own against the Estonians (If I do say so myself).
Next we were informed we would be doing a small recreation of a popular Estonian dating game show, and I was the unfortunate one chosen to be blindfolded, having to choose my “date” contestants based off of pre-chosen questions. It was all terribly embarrassing, but amusing for everyone involved. Later on the ESN members insisted I join them out, even though I insisted I had to present in the morning. After some futile efforts I joined them out, and was understandably very tired by the next morning.
It seems that Estonian’s do not need a lot of sleep, as they were all awake and ready the next morning. It had snowed quite a bit in Tallin, and the town was covered in snow, which was quite beautiful to see. I was staying in the city centre, so thankfully the trip to the University for the National Platform was within walking distance. Estonia is actually quiet advanced technologically, with free and fast public Wi-Fi available everywhere. I was informed many times that Skype was invented here.
For the first half of the morning, I participated in workshops and listened to a few presentations from other ESN countries. After a short lunch break, we returned to presentations. As this was my first experience of being an ambassador and first time at a National Platform I was unaware how welcoming and relaxed the atmosphere was, and all nerves I had before presenting receded. Meeting many people, it was difficult to answer when they asked me where I was from. I often resorted to the long version; That I am on exchange in Italy from Australia, and I was born in Ethiopia. It was a great icebreaker. A lot of people noticed the peculiarity of myself being an EU Ambassador, and not being apart of EU.
My time to present arrived, and I was surprised to learn that many of the Estonian ESN students had actually not heard of the Expo in Milan, as I myself had seen it advertised everywhere. I was presenting to about 40-50 people, and the practice paid off as I think I presented smoothly. Once I was finished I answered 4-5 questions and took down a lot of email addresses and friend requests. After the presentations, photographs, gifts and small speeches were given to thank the attendees. I used this opportunity to quickly interview the National Representatives and President of ESN Estonia, to ask them what they thought of the Student4Expo initiative.
Following this, we were given a tour of Tallin’s Old Town by ESN member Matis, Elin and Kieu (great memory J). It was great to learn of the unique and complex history of Estonia, most given its strategic position on the Baltic Sea. For dinner we went to an authentic medieval diner. Candles, clay plates, fire, and baskets were in use. It was a very cool experience and the food was unsurprisingly delicious. I may have indulged with sausages, soup, bread and beer. As a final farewell we headed to a unique bar on the outskirts of the Old Town. Once again I returned home at a late hour, and had to wake early to begin my journey home. I said goodbye to Kärt, thanking her profusely for the accommodation and looking after me. A walk, two bus rides, a flight and a train and I was finally home 11 hours later, exhausted but truly happy for the experience.
Thanks to the EU & ESN Italia for sending me, and ESN Estonia for having me!
- Markos Hughes #Students4Expo Ambassador -