Pitt in Narva 2016

Как я провел это лето

The Arrival

They were messy, they were long, they were our first few days in Estonia. Our arrival into Estonia was met with more than a few small challenges, but these challenges were easily overcome and only served to bond our small community with great inside jokes and character. From lost luggage to narwhals our eight week study in Estonia is off to a great start.


After a hectic and delayed arrival in Narva we had to be flexible with our schedule and time, but we made the most of it. Within the first few days we had a fun range of activities and shenanigans. We all successfully went grocery shopping and found much needed items such as limes, tortillas, and avocados. We rearranged rooms, bought rugs, and have done laundry in the one washing machine for 50 people. We have seen castles, swung on giant swings, and toured our unique university. We had Taco Tuesday, group gym time, and a Game of Thrones watching party. We had fun and most importantly we set the foundation for more fun times to come.


Of course there was more than just good times and fun. Within our first few days we also set a great foundation for studying the Russian language. A foundation that each and every one of us hopes to build off of. We know we are here to learn a critical language and we can’t wait to do it, but we definitely hope to have some fun and adventures along the way. It has been an exciting start and we can’t wait for what’s next.


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Tallinn 2k16                                                                                                                                             Included in the third year group, but mysteriously not this photo, because NO ONE TOLD HIM THIS WAS HAPPENING, is Joshua Ratta

I think I’ll start with a quote from Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” because not only does that describes our grade performance here in Narva these last couple of days, but our general mood as well.  We are all excited for this program to end; to leave Narva and go back to America, freedom!  Go to our favorite restaurants and fast food, use drying machines again and most importantly great wifi.  But at the same time, this means that we are going to be split up, the friendships that we’ve made will while not completely lost will be diluted and weakened by distance and time.  There will be no more solving of international and American political problems in Russian together, no more lunch time discussion over whether the Army or Air Force is better, say what you will, we can all agree on beating Navy, or the gym crew working out together everyday.

We’ve come a long way in the classroom as well.  Us third years can remember the first week, during which, everytime that Svetlana asked a question we would all sit quietly waiting for another person to respond, so long as it was not us.  Today, Svetlana has to stop us from talking, so eager are we to vomit Russian in grammatically questionable phrases.  Indeed we are so comfortable that certain, unnamed members of our class routinely roast, often in Russian other anonymous class members, although, the fun really begins when Svetlana joins in.  So thank you Svetlana for putting up with all of us for 5 hours a day, even when we were to tired or too busy talking about pizza dog or what have you to actually attempt serious Russian conversation.  fjdhf.jpg

Thank you to Olga for leading the program,  for teaching the second years and Kelly for doing whatever it is she does, because if I had to name every single thing that Kelly does to make our studies easier, minus cancelling excursions, my digital list would fill up the mysterious cloud on which this blog resides, I’m a history major, the only I thing I know about the cloud is that I type stuff on my phone and it shows up on my laptop.  Thank you to Dawn for providing the background assistance and making sure we got every small detail done to apply and then get accepted into this program.  I suppose in the spirit of fairness I also must thank the American taxpayer for funding this, the DOD for creating this program and Vladimir Putin for making it necessary to study Russian again #Russianlanguagematters #alllanguagesmatter.  Спасиба, спасиба всё

PS:  That’s probably the wrong all, I’ve never understood their different forms.





Home Stretch

Even though the end of the program is only a few days away, we are prepared for a long couple days. Yesterday we participated in a reading and listening exam that took around two hours. Today we all enjoyed a break from all exams, while tomorrow we take the dreaded OPI. It will be interesting, though, to be able to see the improvement from the first OPI we took the first week. Lastly, we have our final exams on Thursday.


For us third years, we also have our final projects. We all have had so much fun filming our videos and I am so excited to see everyone’s come together on Friday when we show everyone else in the program. It has been a lot of fun using all the Russian that we have learned throughout the summer.

A way for us to relieve our stress this past week is watching the Olympics. Whether it’s gymnastics, swimming or even power lifting, everyone is having a great time cheering on Team USA from across the world. My personal favorite is the women’s gymnastics and am so excited to watch Simone Biles.

My Unique Narvan Experience

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Well we’re finishing up the program in a few days and since I chose the latest blog spots I could, I suppose its my time to blog. In general, this program has both been incredibly interesting and rewarding. This is hardly a unique statement and is probably one already made in the countless blog posts before mine. There are a few reasons, however, that my particular experience is fairly unique. The main purpose in me coming to Narva was not actually to just study Russian (although that is still a major goal of mine), the main reason I am in this post-Soviet border town is to perform research for my thesis.

My primary academic interest is currently the Russian diaspora around the post-Soviet world. Following Ukraine and Crimea, I have been attempting to study the experiences of ethnic Russian populations living outside the Federation. Narva, therefore, is a perfect location for my research. Estonia may be both EU and NATO, but around 20% of its population is ethnically Russian. The only area, however, that Russians make up the majority population is the Ida-Viru  county, in which Narva is the largest city. The unique relationship between the Russian ethnic minority and the Estonian government made my research even more exciting. From what I understand being here, Narva is practically an independent social and political entity in Estonia. The joke when leaving for Tallinn from Narva is “Oh, you’re going to Estonia”. This is a great description of the relationship between these parts of the country.

There are remarkable barriers in place, by the Estonia government, which isolate the Russian population. Although Russians make up 1/5th of the population, the legislative branch of Estonia has less than 5% ethnic Russian representatives. Beyond that, all higher education in Estonia is only taught in Estonian, which disenfranchises ethnic Russians, for who learning Estonian is both difficult and often not useful. Finally, around 9% of the Ethnic Russian population still does not have citizenry of any kind, because of the citizenship laws in Estonia. Unless you’re parents were in Estonia before the USSR, you do not have Estonian citizenship. This disregarded many whose parents were moved to Estonia during the USSR’s Russification of the Baltic States. Until a year ago, there was no Estonian news in Russian, which forced the Russian population to rely on Russian news from the Federation. Ironically, following Crimea and Ukraine, the Estonian government created an Estonian news channel that was in the Russian language, although it is still fairly unpopular. It is also remarkable to not the physical differences between the Russian dominated city of Narva and the Estonian cities of Tallinn and Tartu. Whereas Tallinn and Tartu are beautiful, vibrant, and incredibly clean, Narva is none of those things. As interesting as it is, it is fairly undeniable that there are significant issues in Narva with drug abuse, pollution, poverty, and alcoholism. I still find it surprising to see the EU license plates on cars here because of the stark differences between Estonia and Narva.

So it was into this context that I began my research with Russian speakers and Narvan citizens. While I am still analyzing my interviews, of which I have gathered around 15, I can still report some basic results. Much like previous work before mine, the Narvan populace is generally unworried with regards to Crimea or Ukraine. They have an intrinsic connection to Russia, but generally identify with the Ida-Viru county or Narva over a particular country. They, in general, are absolutely fine with the Estonian majority, and are practically indifferent to the Estonian government. More analysis of my research requires more time than I have currently, considering my upcoming finals in the program. If I were to treat my interviews like a survey, however, this is how I would report the results.

Broadly speaking, my results seem fairly paradoxical considering the context of Narvan life in Estonia, however, my research and results are simply echoing the results of researchers preforming similar work before me.  I am exciting to utilize my continually improving Russian to properly go through my findings in the coming years. Before that, however, I have to continue my Russian training and research in my next study abroad program. I will be in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, for the following year doing exactly what I have done in Narva so far. I’m looking forward to finishing the program with everyone, traveling in Europe for two weeks, before diving back into the post-Soviet world. Narva has been a great experience for me in regards to my education and academic interests. Since I have another blog post coming up, I can talk about my non-academic experiences there.

-Cian Stryker

Last Weekend before the Goodbyes

The Last weekend before we all go our own ways. Some went to visit the lovely Riga, Latvia and others the great Helsinki, Finland. The rest of us stayed in sweet home Narva working on third year video projects or discovering the city for the last time.

I was part of the spontaneous weekend trip to Helsinki crew. Compared to Tallinn, Helsinki has a more western vibe. The cathedrals were beautiful, especially the Russian Orthodox one, which we were able to go inside and admire it. It was breathtaking with the contrast in colors, the paintings, and the grand chandelier.

We found traces of Russian on some street signs, monuments dedicated to Russian leaders, and the cathedral. We took the ferry to the sea fortress island called Suomenlinna. It is a world heritage site due to its historical and cultural significance as it served as a fortress for the Swedish, Russians, and Finnish.  We picked the best time to board the 9AM ferry because the island was empty and it felt like we had it all to ourselves. The church had a double function of being a lighthouse too which is very unique.

The views were beautiful and walking through the dark fortress was thrilling.

On our way back from the island we had a taste of some delicious Finnish seafood (Salmon and shrimps).


The trip ended well with a short visit to the cat café, which was a new and exciting experience for me (since I love кошки) and had delicious peppermint hot chocolate.



This week we all prepare for the exams and final projects and anticipate our departures back home (Summer time sadness kicking in). Definitely thinking about how much we learned with the help of our teachers (Oksana, Svetlana, and Olga) and by ourselves. We have become more culturally aware and will bring the knowledge back home. These couple months has gone smoothly thanks to our mother Kelly.

Cheers to spontaneous travels, Narvian adventures, and the wonderful people in our lives.

Good luck on the exams!




The Great Tracksuit Caper 2016

As our time abroad draws shorter and shorter, we have all been reflecting on our time spent here in Narva, Estonia. Even more bittersweet, we recently had our last day of class– a day full of debates, yoga, and our final discussions on grammatical structures (грамматика!). We really have come far from where we started, and we are all going to miss class and our awesome teacher, Svitlana. Thank you Svitlana!!!FullSizeRender (3)

However with the closing realization that we will be leaving soon, some of have done some soul searching…

…and realized that we desperately need some tracksuits to commemorate our time spent here.

For those unfamiliar with the association of tracksuits in Europe, here is a brief summary: tracksuits (particularly Adidas) are very popular on the eastern borders of Europe–particularly in the countries surrounding Russia, aka tracksuit capital of the world. And so we too wanted to join the ranks of our brethren in our adopted culture and acquire some nice tracksuits. Some in our group (Nikko) have already fulfilled the dream and have purchased a tracksuit.

However the more we search, the less we seem to find. Because of popular labels and name brands (I’m looking at you, Nike!) everything is either too expensive (that pesky Euro), or not quite the quality we are looking for. Yesterday we searched through multiple stores but our efforts were in vain. However we remain optimistic, and morale is still high. We will continue to search in these final days, these day of days.

While we are all looking forward to going home, we still have to make it through the final hurdle of next week…which includes many tests and final projects. With the arrival of the weekend however, I am sure that we will all find the energy to finish this last week with the speed of excellence!



The final full weekend of this trip is upon us. It is a very strange feeling looking back to the beginning of this trip. The beginning feels like five minutes ago, yet, at the same time, it feels like an eternity ago. I have made of a lot of memories and have seen a lot of new things. There are several memories that stick out in my mind. The first memory that sticks out in my mind actually came before arriving in Estonia. There was a snafu at the airport that required me to spend the night in Amsterdam. I will never forget the frustration and confusion that ensued. Plus the airport misplaced my luggage, so I had to wear the same clothes for several days. Definitely was not the ideal way to start the program, although I did get to stay at a nice hotel in Amsterdam. The next memory that sticks out was the time we went to the beach. I forget what weekend that was, the first or maybe second. Either way, it felt really nice to unwind. Laying in the warm sun, swimming in the cold water, and even making conversation with the locals. It felt really nice to get away from the stress of work for a while. The third memory that really sticks out were the travels to Tartu and Tallinn. I was amazed by the stark contrast between these two cities and Narva. Tallinn felt like a large vibrant modern city and Tartu felt European. Meanwhile, Narva has a definite Soviet feeling to it. I knew that there was a difference between the Western, Estonian speaking, side of the country and the Eastern, Russian speaking, part of the country, but I didn’t know that it was that stark. The fourth memory has to be the time we all went to the spa. It was so nice that I went a second time and I have a plan to go again. It has to be one of the most relaxing places on Earth. You can buy a ticket for two and half hours or five hours for a relatively cheap price, by US standards. There are loads of features to enjoy from a small whirlpool to an aroma sauna. Each time I came out of that places I felt like a new person, refreshed and ready to go. My time in Estonia is almost over. Soon, it will be time to head back home and resume our studies. However, I will never forget this experience and I like to think I will head back a bit smarter.

Coming Around the Final Turn

Here we are, on the final lap of our classes in Narva. Only 4 more hours of learning Russian stand between us and the weekend. Of course, it’s a weekend followed shortly by final exams, reading and writing proficiency exams, oral proficiency interviews, and final presentations. But at this point, we’re just focusing on making it through the week. Tiring as it may have been, we’ve had a lot of fun too. We visited THE large abandoned factory of Narva. We’ve spent countless hours this week solving riddles and word games. (There’s a certain four letter word, and if you take away three of the letters, the remaining letter has the same meaning. What’s the word?) And we third year students celebrated our wonderful teacher’s birthday with cake and flowers in the break room.temp


So, what does the future look like? Well, after breezing through a chapter about economics yesterday and today, which nobody in the third year group was really interested or proficient in, we started talking about global issues. This will be a fun chapter. I expect tomorrow to be filled with portents of climate change, nuclear war, and the machine uprising that will no doubt take place (yes, of course we are learning how to say that in Russian). Beyond that, few people have plans for the weekend that involve more than a 20 minute bus ride to the beach. We need a relaxing weekend as we come around the corner to the final stretch. The checkered flag is almost in sight!indy-500-checkered-flag-hhwqgx-clipart

THE Factory in Narva


Today was a wonderful day to have our final excursion. We went to THE Factory in Narva. Here was one of the leading producers of textiles within the Soviet Union…at one point. However, now all that remains is a worn down, decrepit building of a once prominent force within the Estonian community. The location of this factory is especially important when looking at its surprisingly rich history. It is situated on its own 32 acre island right on the Russian-Estonian border known as Kreenholm Island.

The Kreenholm factory, now Swedish owned, was erected in the not so distant year of 1857. It functioned as a textile mill that turned cotton into yarn and cotton cloth. From the point of its construction the factory was a dominant force in Narva; by the 1910s it was employing 10,000 people, pretty important for a city with a current population of less than 90,000. The factory continued to produce textiles for the Soviet Union, even producing clothing for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. It produced textiles for the USSR until Estonia gained independence in 1991.

Estonia’s new found independence meant the factory was no longer associated with the state. A Swedish company, renamed Krenholm Group, bought the factory in 1994. The company’s business practices as well as decreasing demand for the factory’s products lead to bankruptcy in 2010. The factory is a shadow of its former self, and its workers are subject to repeated rounds of layoffs.

Of Mines and Men

As we quickly approach the end of our time in Narva, we are all making the most of the time we have left before the inevitable… final exams. Here is some stuff we recently did!

A few days ago, we went on one of our final excursions as a group to a mine (Шахта). Overall, a very tough subject to understand–especially considering word choices such as “oil shale” and “industrial train car”.  However, we did not mine as we did not want to take this place for granite! The mine absolutely rocked, it was very gneiss. And the farther we went in the tunnels, the boulder we got. A very unusual, yet unique, experience.



“Do you want to play a game?” -Jigsaw (Saw III) 


With the arrival of the weekend, some thought “should I stay or should I go?” And while some left for Helsinki and Tallinn, (stay tuned for a later blog post) others remained in the Narva area to experience the greatness known as the Noorus Spa and Hotel in Narva-Jõesuu, about 15 minutes from Narva. This is probably the best spa в мире*. Multiple saunas with varying heat (and multiple Finnish saunas), a huge indoor pool, jacuzzi’s, both heated and cold pools, and even places to tan with a beautiful view of the beach. Mere words do not do this place justice. And of course there are other beauty treatments to get there, such as massages, manicures, and more. I myself received a massage, and the masseuse only asked me 3 times if “все порядке”*. Probably because she thought I had stopped breathing.

With the advent of Monday and the return to our normal schedule, we all of course yearned for the good times of the weekend. But we did come back a little more refreshed and ready to work–preparing to finish these last weeks strongly!

*-In the world
*-Is all in order (are you ok)


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