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Pitt in Narva 2016

Как я провел это лето

My Tour Through Haunted Tallinn

I have always loved seeing the stranger sides of a cities.  Local stories and urban legends have always fascinated me. Whenever I visit a new city, I like to go on a ghost tour. I did this in Williamsburg, Edinburgh, and Rome. The chance to go on a ghost tour and see the mysterious side of Tallinn was an absolute must for me. Something about the unknown and the mysterious just fascinates me. Ironically, I am not a huge fan of horror films. I bought a ticket and the tour did not disappoint in the slightest. I arrived at the meeting point at around 20:00. The group I was with was small, the perfect amount for this type of tour.  There were a group of ladies from the United Kingdom, a man from France, a Danish man, a family living in Austria, myself, and the tour guide, who seemed to absolutely love her job. Ghost tours are not always supposed to be scary, they can be, but not always. Sorry to disappoint, but chances are that you will not actually see any ghosts. Rather, they often serve as a means of telling stories and actually visiting the places that they are supposed to take place. We toured many of the buildings in Tallinn and listened to the spooky stories behind each building. My favorite spot had to be the location where the devil supposedly had his wedding. We didn’t go into the room as it has since been sealed up to prevent anyone from entering. Beyond stories of the mystical and mythological, there was also interesting historical facts about the dark side and sometimes funny side of Tallinn. Like the story of a foreign noble who drank so much in life that his body didn’t decompose after he died, so the church charged for people to see him to help pay off the debts the man acquired during his life. The tour lasted for around two hours and each stop was as interesting as the last. When the tour ended, we all were treated to some free hot chocolate at a café. There we all talked about literature, politics, and languages. These tours provide an opportunity to learn about the part of city that you will never learn in the textbooks or on our tours. I definitely recommend taking a ghost tour to anyone that is interested. I have a trip to Helsinki coming up and I will almost certainly part take in another ghost tour.

Haunted Tallinn

This is where the devil supposedly had his wedding.

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Dolla Dolla Bill Ya’ll

It seems that despite its kickback in value in the ’07 housing market crash, the dollar has steadily grown stronger in comparison to Euro in recent years. And nowhere has this been more apparent than in the aisles of our very own Narvan Rimi supermarket. All of us Projectgo students, even the Nebraskans (check out this link to see how cheap Salem and Ethan live compared to you… it’s ridiculous), were blown away when we first saw the prices in Rimi. A dozen eggs? A paltry 80 eurocents. A liter of milk? Again, a meagre 85 cents. And a loaf of bread? Only 60 cents! And don’t even get me started on the beer prices— I could drink myself to sleep for just under 2 euro (but that’s probably because I’m a featherweight drinker to be fair).

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While I’m ecstatic that my purchasing power has skyrocketed, I had to ask myself: why is my purchasing power so damn strong in Estonia? How could Rimi afford to keep their prices so low? Well, as always, Wikipedia had the answer.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Co-Development publishes a monthly table comparing the cost of living in the United States to many of our allied countries. According to the OECD, a basket of goods that would cost $100 in the United States would only cost $71 in Estonia. Now, before you go off thinking that the Estonians are living the good life, it’s helpful to get a bit more context regarding wages and salaries in Estonia. The average monthly wage in Estonia is 1,148 euros. Compare this to the average monthly wage in Mississippi— 3,008 euros.

That’s right, the state with the lowest monthly wages still beat out Estonia’s average wage by a whopping 1,860 euros! The minimum wage here is even more astonishing— it caps out at 390 euros per month. If we assume that a minimum wage worker works 160 hours per month based on a 40 hour work week, then the hourly wage here in Estonia is only 2.44 euros per hour. American minimum wage caps out at 6.60 euros per hour, and many states mandate for higher minimums than this.

Despite a proffering of cheap goods, it’s apparent that Estonia and its people still struggle to hold themselves aloft economically in comparison with their international partners. But despite this comparative disadvantage, Estonia’s growth has been unparalleled in comparison to the growth of the other former Soviet bloc countries dotting Russia’s border.

The point of this post was not to just parade the power of the dollar, but rather, it was to emphasize the potential for growth in Estonia. It’s unbelievable that Estonia has come so far in just 25 years, and its even more exciting to see where they’ll go from here.

The Old and New

Standing in a hot air balloon, we saw the city of Tallinn laid our before us.  The old, the new, the amphitheater, churches, castle, office buildings, new construction by the water, boats and ferries coming in all the time…

Things that are hundreds of years old can be seen everyday in Tallinn.  It was incredible to get this perspective looking down at the entire city.  There is old town Tallinn on the right and the downtown area on the left less than a ten minute walk away!

The old and the new

It was an interesting Sunday morning.  A couple of us girls walked down to the docks where all the ferries were coming in, got tickets for the hot air balloon, and had and that incredible view of Tallinn for a while.  We then walked back to the old Tallinn section and just took our time soaking in the sights in a way we hadn’t had time for before.

There are so many little places to explore and loose yourself in that small area of winding streets.  A small bookshop really interested me.  It had mostly books in Estonian (go figure) but I was able to find a few in Russian, English, and German as well.  I can now point you to a good place to find cookbooks containing Estonian dishes in Russian, in case you were looking for one of those.  A book of Russian folk tales was the souvenir I was able to snag from the shop.  Want to know where a classy, medieval, modern cafe can be found?  I could also point one of those out to you.  It had excellent coffee and chocolate gelato – would highly recommend.  😉

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Tallinn was a lovely vacation from our classes and a great opportunity to better understand the history and culture that make up Estonia.  (Getting free city WiFi from a castle wall is really something else.)

Our Three Days in Tallinn

This weekend the Pitt 2016 Project GO Russian Language cohort spent a few days in Tallinn, Estonia’s vibrant and exotic capital. We were blessed to stay in an unjustifiably but unforgettably luxurious hotel that had more amenities than your obnoxious neighbor’s IKEA-filled model-mansion could ever dream of having. We took full advantage of the hospitality, spa, and workout facilities, leaving no sauna unseen and no weight unlifted (looking at you, Christian and Steven).

Believe it or not, we actually did learn a lot about Tallinn and Estonia from our excursions with our Russian speaking, pipe smoking, shoulder bag toting tour guide. My favorite part of the two day tour was the visit to the park and grounds of Kadriorg Palace. Forgive me if my following description does not do justice to the badassery of these palatial walking grounds, because the buildings and greenery built and maintained on this enormous plot of land were truly something to behold. What made the grounds particularly memorable and imposing was their symbolic representation of the old Russian empire. According to our tour guide (and by tour guide I mean Kelly, because if I am being even remotely honest with myself I desperately needed an interpreter for most of the tour), the palace and surrounding greenery were designed specifically to represent the then-Russian empire as a whole, with the palace representing Russia’s center and capital and the greenery and surrounding buildings representing the various peripheral entities of the empire, including the modern day territory of Estonia. Those tsars knew what was up.

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The city itself is as beautiful as they appear to be on the Tallinn post cards that I have neglected to send home to you over the last five weeks (I do love you, mom and dad, I promise). Old town is full of spunk and character with its amazing local restaurants, colorful rooftops, and lively local markets. If I may brag, this was my first successful attempt at bartering, and my efforts won me two small wooden weapons to bring home to the fam.

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We would all willingly go back to Tallinn in a heartbeat, although I’m sure we are all just dying to get back to speaking Russian after that three day English speaking hiatus. Thanks for a good trip fam.

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Scenes from a Narvan Apartment Building

Soirée.  Dinner party.  Potluck.  Вечеринка.  Many names for the same event.  We tend to shy away from them when we’re younger; and, truthfully speaking, they can be hard to enjoy as children. But now that we are older we have thrown away childish things – and that includes our childish attitudes towards social gatherings. Here at Narva, we’ve fully embraced the dinner party (as well as the obligatory game of charades that comes after).

 

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Just last week, the hospitable suite of room 51 (i.e. David, Ethan, Zach, Christian, and Stephen) hosted a number of us for dinner.  The food was great.  I believe we had up to three or four main courses to choose from, one of them being Russian dumplings (or пельмени) tossed in a delicious cream sauce.  The drinks and desert were also very refreshing (check out Christian’s recent blog post for a description of his frozen chocolate banana pancake concoction).  I was pretty impressed that we managed to cook as much as we did with the limited amount of pots and pans.  It took some time scrounging around for extra chairs and silverware, but that added to the fun of the night.  It’s always more memorable to throw together an event than have it perfectly placed before you.  The image of a couple of college kids putting on a dinner party in the middle of Eastern Europe without a lot of know-how, or hosting space, or cooking amenities is funny.  That’s how we like it, and we make it work.

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And that brings me to my next subject – charades – because that’s what charades is all about: making what you got (whether it’s an obscure movie or a 1980’s song) work for your team.  Both sides had some tricky ones lobbed at them by the opposing team.  For example, try acting out Miss Congeniality 2 and see how long it takes for your partners to figure it out.  But both sides did well in the course of the game.  Overall, I think we’ve all drastically improved our skill at being understood through non-verbal gestures.  If only Russian communication were as easy.

In conclusion, we all had a good time and the lesson learned from all of this is simple: throw a dinner party!  Unfortunately because of the room size, we can’t host everyone for a home-cooked dinner (though our top thinkers are currently trying to figure a solution around this).  But that’s alright.  Smaller parties can be more enjoyable anyways.  And so to any Project GO student reading this, cook some food, throw on an outfit, and enjoy a night with the fellows across the hall.

To Tallinn

Today marks the end of the fifth week of our eight week adventure in Narva. And by staring at the exhausted, and gloomy faces of the 3rd year students as they boarded the bus you could tell the last 5 weeks had not been easy.  Side note, the 2nd years were observed to be in fine spirits as they play nothing but games in their class.  On the bus spirits were lifted through naps, a spirited discussion of the best PC games, snacks provided by the industrious Kelly, our adopted mother, and rousing karaoke of a truly bewildering variety of songs from musicians as varied as Eminem to Darius Rucker.  Our bus trip even included the habitual stop at the seemingly sole rest stop in Estonia and some time on a giant swing set.13775479_1185080094848809_6430985505638063780_n

To our delight once again the hotel to which we were quartered is of high European quality, complete with to the delight of many; a fitness club and spa.  As a side note the hotel спортзал is in the author’s opinion as good if not easily better than in Narva.  However those luxurious amenities would wait for we needed to поехали to our excursion.  Led by our tour guide we explored the narrow, cobbled streets of Old Tallinn, through tight passageways that our group blocked to the locals, past street musicians, including one who was playing the Harry Potter theme song on wine glasses, and a local bird unperturbed by the appearance of a group of Americans, listening to Russian, in Estonia, a train, the local Tallinite who decided to join our group before being chased off by Kelly, and a celebration of a runner carrying a Burger King poster.   What a город!IMG_3088.JPGFor dinner we split up; some to a Georgian Restaurant, others to Thai and the chance for the first spicy food since, well, leaving America so long ago.  As the sun sets over Tallinn, upon opening the curtains, the author has discovered that the sun has already set, we go to sleep, or participate in various night time activities that seek to banish the exhaustion and tribulations of our odyssey in the Russian Language, waiting until the sunrise at literally zero dark thirty to herald the start of a new day.  At least we get to sleep in.

The Crux

In any process, be it rock climbing or calculus, there is a segment that is more difficult than all other sections, a crux. This segment is often what prevents climbers or mathematicians (to utilize the aforementioned example) from attaining success.

Here in Narva, we students find ourselves in the crux of this program both academically and physically. Apart from taking our midterm, preparing for our final projects and studying for quizzes, this week has also been remarkably difficult due to the exhaustion that has begun to take hold. We watch as the adrenaline of living in a foreign country fades, and hours of intensive learning take their toll. Morale is slightly lower than weeks passed, and the witty quips we have exchanged for 5 weeks fall ever so slightly flat upon disinterested ears.

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What separates those who will succeed from those who fail is how they handle this crux. Whether we choose to give up, or double down and dig in. What I have found so incredible about the program is the near universal mental fortitude displayed by my colleagues. As homework assignments seem tedious, we lean on one another for help and inspiration to put our best effort forward. When one of us feels disheartened about a grade we receive, others quickly rally to cheer them up. When one of us falls ill (like myself) others are there to offer some Nyquil and a much needed “pat-pat” on the back.

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I knew that my classmates and I were chosen to be here from a vast array of applicants, but it is only now that I feel truly humbled to take on this challenge with them. So, while facing this crux has been stressful, it has also been rewarding as we watch ourselves fight through it.

Doing a lot with a little

A basic lesson most students learn in either macro or microeconomics is that the scarcity of a product drives both the demand and price of that product upwards. Recently though, a few metastudies have been conducted that similarly conclude that scarcity not only increases demand, but also marketplace innovation as well. Scarcity inspires creativity; it compels man to do a lot with only a little.

So as I found myself unsuccessfully scouring the aisles of the Rimi Supermarket looking for peaches and pudding, I realized that, for the tenth time or more on this trip, that Narva ain’t the good ole United States of America. If I wanted to make a delicious potluck dessert (we do potlucks now… it’s a thing), I needed to unbridle myself from any pre-established plans or recipes, and wing it. And wing it I did.

Eggs whipped together with bananas? Yup. Milk boiled with chocolate? Uh-huh. Berries mashed

with gelato? You betcha. Combine everything together and freeze? Check.

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(Not representative of the actual dessert)

After an hour wait, the time has come to pull the sugary beast out from the freezer. Will it be worthy of Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen? Does it have the chops to satisfy a starving Guy Fieri? Unfortunately, it’s a solid “no” to both questions. The treat isn’t exactly ascetically pleasing, to say the least. But, it did taste ok.

Of course, the point of this blog post is not to ramble on about some half-baked dessert or intro level economics; rather, it’s meant to illustrate the impact of scarcity on our summer abroad experience. When faced with a lack of seemingly commonplace goods and services that we take for granted in the States, we have all responded with a sense of creative and energetic ingenuity. Two weeks ago, the hot water was shut off for a week. Did we grow some hair on our chests and stoically push through the cold showers? Of course not! We boiled water in our coffee pots and made due with what we had. That’s the spirit of adventure and ingenuity that Narva imbues within us. Narva forces us to adapt and overcome, and there has been no greater joy (besides Geneva for Cian) than conquering those challenges.

Staying fit in Narva

This week has thus far been pretty uneventful– class, tests, and studying abound, but for most of us attempting to stay in shape is also an integral part of our daily routine. The heavy (but delicious) Estonian food coupled with long hours sitting in class are enough to push us all out the door in some manner, but our approaches to fitness vary widely. From the “allergic to cardio” weightlifting approach (see below) to the “allergic to gym fees” cardio and calisthenics approach, we all are settled into our routines at this point. Displaying FullSizeRender.jpg

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Routine, however, doesn’t stop fitness from adding to the unique Estonian experience (read: yield strange results as compared to the U.S.)  The gym rats have perfected the art of bonding with the gym “chuvaks” and have created dictionaries of relevant terms in Russian. For us runners, on the other hand, being chased by a leashless dog (or 5) on a run and getting side eye from Narvans are part of the experience. I don’t think running for fun or fitness has spread to Eastern Estonia yet, if the perplexed looks I get every afternoon are an indication. Regardless of the added challenges, the beautiful weather, well stocked gyms, and new experiences are worth the venture out of our обшижитие*!

*see руссlish post for definition

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