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Study Abroad - From WASEDA to the world -

From WASEDA to Estonia

Mr. Naoyuki Karita
3rd year student at the School of International Liberal Studies

If you heard the name Estonia, could you point to it on a map? My reason for flying to this small European nation was that I wanted to enjoy the "unknown" and "uncertainty." I had sought the country that I would never live in if I miss this chance, and finally found the Baltic States. I had an interest in the former Soviet bloc and was studying Russian, so this was the perfect destination for me. Out of those countries' national flags, Estonia's was my favorite, so I decided to do an exchange at the University of Tartu.

Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia, is a university town with a rich international flavor, hosting students from all over Europe and around the world. With a population of 100,000, this quiet town provides an environment where you can concentrate on your studies. Affected by the intelectual aura of the citizen and the atmosphere of the town, sometimes I devoted a whole day to my studies, and sometimes I was deep in thought sitting down on a park bench or in a small caf辿. As the name "City of good thoughts" suggests, your soul becomes free here. There is a mysterious beauty to this town that cannot be described in words.

Travelling around Estonia, I saw many sights that reminded me of the fact that this country was part of the Soviet Union until 20 years ago. KGB prisons, collective farms, military bases, Russian towns.this negative legacy hidden in Europe's splendid history came across as shocking and brutal to me, born and bred in the island nation of Japan. 30 percent of Estonia's population is said to be Russian, and in 2007, in the capital of Tallinn, there was an uprising staged by the Russians. It appears that, even today, an animosity between races still smolders under the uneasy shadow of peace.

Estonians, who have endured centuries of oppression from major powers such as Germany, Russia and Sweden, are different from self-assertive "Europeans", and are in some way expressionless and inward-looking. In order to have these shy people open up, I, coming from a distant land with a different skin color and culture, spent twice as much time as others to learn the Estonian language. As a result, I was treated kindly by the Estonian people throughout my year there. For example, when I introduced Japan to a rural junior high school in Estonian, I formed friendships with students and staff by taking a sauna together, and was able to experience Estonian family life with their families. On my travels, I was regarded as a curiosity as a Japanese who could speak Estonian language, and there were times when the shy natives would take me, a total stranger, around the sights by car.

Despite the depressing aspects, Estonia is a little-known exchange destination off the beaten track overflowing with the "unknown." Waseda University's exchange network is spreading worldwide. For a once in a lifetime chance, you shouldn't narrow your sights to routine destinations, and include, as a serious option, going on your own adventure to an unexplored land for an exchange.

(Offered by WASEDA WEEKLY)

Pastoral scene from Saaremaa in the Baltic Sea.

Snow covered buildings at the University of Tartu

Remains of a Soviet munitions factory (inside Estonia)