Saturday, September 28, 2013


Today is Aksel's birthday. He is turning sixteen today. As I sit here typing this up, various family members are arriving for the party at six (it's five now).  As far as I can tell at the moment, birthday parties involve having a big meal with family. But more on that later.

This has been an interesting week, for sure. Sunday morning I did something that I'm sure would have happened sooner or later: I poured Keefir in my tee instead of milk. You see, the bags that they come in look exactly the same and when I went to grab a new bag of milk, I grabbed Keefir instead. I only realized my mistake when I saw that there were tube like streams of white stuff floating in my tee.

This has also been a week of weird schedule changes. On Tuesday, in addition to to taking the bus to school for the first time, our PE class also changed times to one block earlier because the rest of the classes' Estonian teacher wasn't there. We exchange students were hanging out in the library for three blocks because we had a free block, then  Estonian in the library, and then another free lesson before PE. It was nearly the end of the free lesson before PE, when a girl came in and told all of us that we had missed at least half of PE. When the four of us exchange girls got to the locker room, some girls we know we're exiting and told us that we had missed all of PE. Apparently someone had asked the teacher if we had been informed and the teacher said we had, but we never were.

Then the next day the five of us got to skip the first half of drama class because it was an assembly about summer vacation.

On Thursday, it was the first day of our English teacher's absence. Apparently there are no substitute teachers, so we were told what work we had to do before she returned on Tuesday and left to our own self-discipline for English class. Pretty much everyone showed up, but all but two of us left within ten minutes. When I finally left and went to the library, I found the rest of the class there, and some were doing the  work. We were also informed on Thursday that we didn't have to show up for the first two Physics classes on Friday.

Friday I had to take the bus to school on my own, and it arrived right after we pulled up to the bus stop. I had to quickly get out my wallet and get on, however I had a leaky travel mug of tee in one hand and the morning bus only takes cash, and not bus cards. Basically, I ended up dropping change everywhere, because my wallet doesn't have a coin pocket with Velcro or zipper and spilling at least half my tee over my jacket sleeve. Thankfully, a nice man in the front seat picked up the change I dropped and I managed to give the bus driver the right amount. As an extra bonus, when I walked from the bus stop to school it rained and washed off my jacket.

Friday evening, my host mother said that we might have a girl from Austria staying here as well. She is in Elva volunteering at the orphanage, but was getting lonely so she starting looking for a host family. She will be coming over tomorrow so we can all meet face to face and see how we'll get along. I hope she ends up staying, it will be great to have a teenage girl around. Who knows, I may even learn some German.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


It has been a busy two weeks, and somehow I never got around to writing on my blog. I was going to to it over the weekend, but someone switched the wifi to a different network on me. To be fair, when we figured out it was him, he gave me the password.

Classes have been going very well, at least as well as can be expected. Physics is still incomprehensible, and I had to take a test in it yesterday. The test was in English, but I don't understand the underlying concepts, so it will be a terrible grade. However, according to the teacher, the test only counts for exchange students if we do well. I answered half the questions, the ones that were similar to Chemistry, and wrote "Ma ei tea.", I don't know, for the other half. I also wrote a border of sentences saying "Ma ei saa aru füüsika." which is how I thought you said I don't understand physics, but it should have been "Ma ei saa füüsikast aru." The Estonian student I was sharing the desk with kept looking over at my paper and laughing. The only good part of Physics is that it gives me the opportunity to learn some words in Estonian as I struggle to translate the questions.

Maths is likewise hard, even though the teacher has pulled out books in English for us. The explanations are in Estonian, and the math is really quite hard. It turns out that the class group we're in, 11a, is the eleventh grade group that attends the most difficult classes. I can do a lot of it up to the point where it slips beyond my comprehension.

English class is the best. I have both books I need for the class and the excercises are pretty easy, if sometimes hard to comprehend. It is the only class that gives homework so homework isn't much of a hardship. Usually in class the teacher assigns a bunch of paired exercises and some discussions in pairs. My desk mate and I usually do the first one or two before one sends us in a completely different direction and we start to ignore the class work and just speak in English about something completely unrelated. The teacher doesn't mind because it is in English, and the only thing she doesn't like taking place in her class is speech in Estonian. So yesterday, my desk mate and I spent almost the whole lesson discussing TV shows, and the two girls in front of us turned around at one point and joined in.

Today in English we had a test. I took it and found it pretty easy, except for the translating part and remembering which words we studied that she was looking for.

In drama, the teacher speaks almost no English. Fortunately, there are a bunch of people who are good enough to explain the activity or task. It has been fun so far and interesting to be sure. Yesterday we had to teach a partner a short poem, which they then had to recite before everyone. I taught my partner, Brittney, one in English, but when it was my turn to memorize, the teacher had run out of English poems, and I had to learn one in Estonian instead. Of course, the poem had to be the s card, which meant that nearly every word started with s and contained at least three per word. It sounded like a bunch of hissing, and I'm fairly sure that I butchered the pronounciation.

In Estonian we have been learning a lot of vocabulary, and helpful phrases. And some less helpful ones, such as "I'm single". We have a test in this class tomorrow. It has been a fun class so far and quite helpful, although I can't wait to move on to verbs, which I really need.

In PE we have been doing a lot of running, two laps as a warmup, and sometimes more, such as relay races and timed sprints. The rest of the time we have been doing sports, such as Estonian baseball, much like baseball that I played in hockey practice when I was little, ultimate frisbee, and football. We played football today, and I ended up as goalie. My team won two to one.

In History, we have started with the ice age and moved through to the Bronze Age. Every week one of us has to prepare a short presentation on part of our country's history. I went first and presented last week. My was on the various folk heroes of the US that appeared during the 19th century during westward expansion. The teacher loved it and gave me a five on it, which is the highest possible grade. Erick was supposed to do his today, but we spent the whole period watching the movie 10 000 BC, which is a very good movie.

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Day of Classes

I woke up at six o'clock Monday morning to get ready for school.  We left the house at seven ten to drop off  Adeele at kindergarten, and then we went to Miina Härma to drop me off. Aksel wasn't with  us because it was his first day of school and he didn't have to go in until eleven.

I brought only a notebook, pen, and pencil because I didn't know what the policy was on bags. When I walked in the door, I followed the steady stream of people down into the coat room and looked for my class's. Thankfully there was someone there who I had met the day before there who told me which it was. I left my coat there and then headed upstairs to find my first class. I met up with the other exchange students in front of the classroom and we hung out for a little while until it was time to go in.

I ended up in the back of the room, next to Erick. The teacher came in and class started. The girls in front of us lent us on of their math books so we could follow along and try to do the math. I had thought that we would have an easy day of going over what we would be covering that year or reviewing what was learned last year, but instead we plunged headlong into the subject. Erick and I muddled along and the teacher came over frequently to check on our progress, or to explain the objective in her inexpert grasp of English. She is a wonderful teacher, "normal" (cool) as one girl told us. We found that she laughed a lot and were told that she laughs more and more as tests get closer.

After an hour and a half, we were finally done with Maths, and went upstairs for Physics. There was a rush to choose seats for Physics and I ended up next to Clara, the YFU exchange student from Germany. In this class too, we jumped headlong into the subject, but there was no point of familiarity for me in this one. The teacher spoke a mile a minute in rapid fire Estonian and scribbled diagrams and labels frantically across the board in the hasty scrawl that seems to be the hallmark of science teachers everywhere. I understood not a single thing.

After Physics one girl was nice enough to show us the library where we could get textbooks for math and physics, but the line was too long so we went off to English class. Each of us was in a different room. I was in room 212. The teacher was very cool and employed sarcasm in a quite humorous way. She did, however, have everyone in the room ask me a question in English, which I then had to answer.

After English I met severally other exchange students in the library and two got all their needed books and us other two just managed to get math books from the grouchy librarian. Then we met the fifth of us in room 119 for Estonian class. There were just five of us so it ended up being a rather informal class. That day all we did was drew abstract representations of things that define us and then the others had to guess what they signified. No one was particularly good at guessing, especially Erick. We also had to introduce ourselves in Estonian.

After that class it was the end of the day, so we went back to the library and those of us that needed books were able to get them. Then I had to call my mother, but it took me ten minutes, frustrated growling at the phone and competent help from Erick to get the phone to turn on. Once I called, I then got my coat and waited outside for her.

We had lunch, then went back to her office and I hung out in the basement for three hours watching crime television, before it was time for the Rotary meeting.

We went to the restaurant where it was being held and had dinner at two packed tables with the other Rotarians, before getting tea and heading upstairs to where the actual meeting part was being held. During the course of this, I noticed one lady who had my kind of dress sense. She was wearing a colorful long shirt with Chinese ties, and she was, according to my mother, an architect.

The meeting itself was very long and dull, since I couldn't understand anything at all really. There were papers constantly circling around for Rotarians to sign themselves up for things. I also entered myself into a photography competition that I still don't know the rules of. That's what I got out of the meeting really, but it was still a bit interesting, if only for the fashion.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Day of School. Sort of.

On Sunday, the first day of school at Miina Härma, we left the house at nine, my mother, Adeele, Aksel, and I. We picked up Meeme after getting flowers for the principal and class teacher. We got to the school at little before ten and went into the school grounds. Once in there, I met Brittney, the exchange student from Kansas. Together we went to wait at the sign for our class, 11a.

After a little while, more of our class arrived and she introduced me to the exchange students from Germany and Mexico, one of them being from Rotary. There was a minor awkward moment when I went to shake the Mexican girl's hand and she started to hug me, but we just ended up in a big hug after a few seconds.

After everyone in the school had arrived, the principal stood up and spoke about something for twenty minutes. Then a couple groups sang. Soon after, everyone went inside and went to there class teacher's room. Us exchange students followed the teacher and those students in our class that we knew to the room.

The teacher talked a lot in Estonian and a little bit in English as well. Then she had us exchange students introduce ourselves, so we did in Estonian. We got our schedules at some point and everyone elected a class leader. I'm fairly sure that the kid who was elected is in my drama class. That was pretty much it, and everyone was out the door by noon. I left lilies on the teacher's desk, and then found the principal, who is in my Rotary club, and gave her flowers.

After that I went with my family to lunch and then went home.


Last Saturday at about noon, my mother and I changed into our matching t-shirts and went with Adeele to an event that reminded me of National Night Out. There were several different activities occurring, such as a bouncy house and slide for small children, a craft table, face painting, balloons, and a foot race for two different age groups. There was also a table where people were serving up soup and bread.

People wearing the same shirt as I was were the ones running the events. I believe that they were running for some community government position. Over the course of the day, more and more people were wearing the shirts as they got them.

I watched Adeele run in the little kid race and held Meeme's dog when she went to get soup. Then I got soup myself and it was very good.

My mother introduced me to an American who lives in Elva with his Estonian wife and their children. I learned that he came over from Connecticut to teach English and ended up staying. I also learned that he has been to Vermont.

Adeele got her mouth painted to look like a dogs and then she dragged me over to the bouncy house. I spent most of the next couple of hours watching over her. After her mother finally got her out of it, we went and watched bikers and skateboarders in the skatepark for a while.

After that we helped pick up the event and then went home.

Schoolbooks and Siblings

Just before noon Thursday morning, Aksel and I walked to the bus stop in Elva across from the shopping center. We waited for seven or so minutes before the bus arrived and we got on. It was a nice coach bus unlike the public transport I had seen around Tartu. It took us around forty minutes to get from Elva to our stop in Tartu. Along the way we stopped at bus stops all along the way.

As we approached our stop Aksel pointed out the bridge that would mark out the stop for future reference. We got off the bus at our stop, the one closest to our schools, and crossed the street. We walked down the road toward Miina Härma and Aksel showed me where his school is along the way. The route to my school is fairly simple, off the bus, across the street, walk straight, and it is diagonally to the left, and visible from the street.

Once there, we met up with our father and he took us with him to meet up with our mother for lunch at Cafe Shakespeare. After lunch Aksel and I walked over to his school and he got his textbooks and I tried to read the signs on the walls without much success.

After that, we took the bus home. When we got home Aksel went to the store for supplies and then packed everything he needed for two nights in the forest with friends. He left and hour or two later.

That night my next two host mothers and my future siblings came over and we had a barbecue. I found out that one of my host sisters really loves dogs, and that her family, my second, has two large dogs. Between the fourteen year old and the sixteen year old, I couldn't tell which was which.

At the end of dinner there was a big bowl of grapes that us kids were eating from, when suddenly a frenzy broke out, and my host brother and sisters each had a large bunch of grapes or the rest of the bowl. Then they proceeded to steal each others grapes, an activity which I merrily joined in.

After we were sick of grapes and my 11 year old host brother finished his frosting covered ones, from the cake we were eating, we went out to stand in the grass. Adeele started chasing me and I ended up chasing her. Soon the lot of us, except one sister (the older, I suspect), were in the grass running all about the house and I was carrying Adeele piggyback.

We had to stop for a break and then we were off again. After a while, we had to stop again and then I started caring my five year old host sister on my back. Then it turned into a game of something like tag except I was just tagging everyone, but then it became a game between my younger host brother and I. We kept it going until the moment he left out the gate. I waved them all off at the end and my host brother kept waving back until we were out of sight.

It was a wonderful evening.