Encounter with an Estonian Exchange Student

Today I worked as a substitute for a math teacher at the high school close to my house. In addition to geometry, this particular teacher taught a “service learning” class. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but today the kids were supposed to go around to the other classrooms, collect their recycling, and then return to our room for the remainder of the period, where they were free to chat, do homework, etc. As I was calling the role, I came across a student named “Laura,” which also happens to be my name, and I told her so. The other kids all mentioned that she was an exchange student from Estonia, which I thought was interesting. After all the kids came back to the classroom, I sat down next to this particular student and asked her a few questions about her home country and what she thought of America. She seemed impressed and excited with my extremely minimal knowledge of her homeland (oppression under the Soviet Union during the Cold War, its vicinity to Latvia & Lithuania), which surprised me a little. She then mentioned that students at the high school she was attending here in the US had asked her where Estonia was, with some asking if it was in Asia or Africa. Might I add that this girl was very white, with blond hair and blue eyes. She looked neither African nor Asian. I was quite disappointed with our (American) students’ lack of critical thinking and knowledge of geography. It’s no wonder that other nations think poorly of us. I don’t think it’s vital that we try to impress anyone (especially Europe – about that whole “defeating the Nazis” thing – you’re welcome), but a little self-improvement would not hurt our nation in the least, especially in the realm of public education. That’s really my first and only “point” for this entry.

My other thoughts on this incident are centered around my desire to travel to the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), but especially Estonia. I had heard of these nations when I was little, but I didn’t know much about any of the Baltic states beyond the fact that they existed. The first time I remember hearing about Estonia was in a Miss Universe pageant that I was watching with my mom one year when I was maybe between the ages of 5 & 8. My next encounter with anything Estonian was this absolutely terrifying Soviet-era commercial for chicken. I first watched this video when I came out to visit my husband at the base here where we live now. He was at work, and I was holed up in his barracks room with his laptop, trying to go undetected by roaming officers and NCOs. I watched several of these crazy ads, all made by a man named Harry Egipt. The ads piqued my curiosity about the nation, so I started looking for other info on it. The pictures I’ve seen of Estonia are very pretty and the towns all look like charming places. Laura was very friendly and seemed happy to talk to me about her country, so my hope is that other people from this region are friendly too. One of my teachers from high school that I’ve kept up with has been to Estonia, and he said it’s a beautiful country. I hope maybe I can go visit one day =)

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