Who would have thought that such a simple word could have so many different meanings? Home. In a metaphorical sense, we have been told that “home is where the heart is”. Home can also be looked at from a geological standpoint – home is where you grew up. However, what about home being some place that you have never visited before? In German, there is a word for this, fernweh. It is described as an internal feeling of longing for a place that you have never been before. That is the feeling that I have always had growing up in Canada with an Estonian background.
As a second generation, Canadian I always felt somewhat connected to my roots, I could speak the language (to an extent), I had the Estonian name and look, but when I was asked if I have ever been to Estonia all I could say was “no”. How can a person feel so tied to a place in which you have never been?
At the age of 26 all this changed for me and I was finally able to go and explore the land I know that my family had come from as well as some of my family still reside in, thanks to the rahvuskaaslased program put on by the Seiklejate Vennaskon. In this program 30 individuals from ages 18-26 were invited to join in this program from around the world. We were fortunate enough to have Estonians from New Zealand, Australia, USA, Chile, and much more. In this program, we spent 2 weeks immersed in what it meant to be Estonian by learning about language, culture, political and economic factors and of course Estonia’s history.
Before I left for this program I was unsure how to feel. Excited? Nervous? What if I didn’t get along with the other people? What if I hated being in Estonia? It seemed however that fate had brought me to Estonia. Shortly after being selected to join the rahvuskaaslased program my grandmother passed away at the age of 89. It seemed appropriate that this trip wasn’t now just about reconnecting to my roots, but it truly was a homecoming. Not only just for myself, but for my grandmother who had to escape her beloved Estonia during World War II and the family she loved so much.
Going to Estonia was overwhelming, exhausting, and one of the best experiences of my life to date. The rahvuskaaslased program had made such a detailed itinerary for all participants that we all genuinely got to see the real Estonia. From going to Tallinn to Käsmu and walking to Kuradisaar (Devil’s Island), to visiting the parliament buildings and AHAA Science Centre, it was hard not to fall in love with a country that has successfully been able to embrace both the past and the present times.
It wasn’t until I had the special opportunity to visit some family in Estonia that I realized how connected I felt to the country. Meeting with family that I have never met before, and being welcomed with such open arms and talking about family within Estonia was an extremely overwhelming feeling. At the end of that day as I left after leaving my grandmother’s ashes in the family plot in Nõmme, I felt comforted that by the fact that I felt such love and welcome in those 2 weeks. It was in Estonia that I felt at home, and somewhere I knew my grandmother would as well.
There is not a moment in this trip that I regret ever being a part of such a special program. From making family style Estonian dinners with 30 of the most welcoming and lovely individuals I have ever met, to enjoying a traditional sauna, or even finding joy in the moments that were bitter such as tipping a canoe in a bog, I realized that I felt like I was part of something bigger than just myself. In my life, I have been able to call a few places home and truly feel it, first in Toronto, then in the Rocky Mountains of Canada in a small town of Banff, Alberta. Now I feel overjoyed that I can call Estonia home, another place for my heart to feel at ease.
For more information on the rahvuskaaslased program by Seiklejate Vennaskond, please visit http://www.seiklejad.org/rahvuskaaslased
Eva Katrin Järviste-Bloudoff