Friday, October 28, 2011

Oh, you do speak Estonian

Last night, I attended a dinner at F-Hoone that was part of the the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association’s "Hea Kodanik" (Good Citizen) program. The program lasts for three days and is geared toward giving Estonia’s youth both the motivation and a forum to discuss important and occassionally troubling aspects of their society. Leading Estonian politicians, experts, and opinion makers like Mart Laar and Sven Mikser are participating in the event this year (though the Ambassador was the featured guest of last night's event). These leaders talk about the importance of the state in addressing society’s needs, and more specifically, the role that the Estonia Parliament can play in shaping citizen societal engagement.

In other words, how to be a good citizen.

There were about 100 high school students from both Estonian and Russian schools from across Estonia there last night, all around 17 or 18 years old. The group was about 50-50 Estonian and Russian.

It was pretty interesting...a nice mix of kids...some from Narva who had never had an Estonian friend, some from Saaremaa who had never met a Russian. They were eager to talk to the Ambassador and were ready to have interesting, thoughtful conversations with him, me and my APAO.

I had one funny thing happen last night...I was talking to a table of kids, mixed Russian and Estonian. We were speaking in English because one of the Russian kids didn't speak Estonian (the other Russian girl, who was from Tallinn, switched back and forth between Russian and Estonian with great ease...her English wasn't as good as the others', but she often defaulted to Estonian when she couldn't get out what she wanted to say). Anyway, one kid asked me what languages I spoke, and I said "English, obviously, Estonian..." and he chuckled and said Estonian? And I looked at him and said, "Jah, ma räägin eesti keelt." And the look of shock on his face was awesome! He said (with no apparent hint of irony), "Oh, you do speak Estonian."

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