After the Easter break, the past week was all about work. More drawing, more painting, more sculpting and definitely more unidentified paint and clay goop finding its way under my fingernails. We continued to study both old and new models, including ourselves, and I’ve been working my assignments further.
We, together with my beloved exchange-partner in crime, Jasmin, also had a meeting with one lovely local museum exhibiting printmaking and the art of handmade paper and books and talked about the possibility for us to conduct workshops in their premises. Thrilling enough to truly knock my socks off, they gave us the green light! Everything is still a little uncertain and we’re waiting for responses from few other possibly assisting parties, but so far everything we would love to do, a nude model drawing session and a self-portrait workshop, seems to be fairly easily executable. So exciting!
I shall introduce the museum and all the wonderful things its ambitious crew coordinates when I get my hands on my next film scan delivery. Developing film in stores here is insanely cheap compared to Finland, but on the downside I’ve had to deal with fairly long waiting times (I still truly recommend using the services of the chain Fotoluks – clean scanned negatives delivered by email cost around 4 euros per colour film roll).
In the midst of all the school work hassle I’ve had some time to reflect on Estonian culture and behaviour, thanks to one really good talk I recently had with a local university student from Turkey.
Before coming to Tartu (the promised city of creepy human-sized statues on literally every corner), I tried to prepare myself as well as I could. I had read through a bunch of old exchange travel blogs, watched a ton of documentaries and Youtube videos and consulted a dear local friend of mine in order to have an idea about what to expect from this mysterious place and its inhabitants. The most common generalizations about Estonians seemed to be that the nation was timid, cold and stubborn, to the extent that some people felt like it was fairly common to get greeted with a somewhat rude welcome. Have these superstitions proven to be true? Spoiler alert: well, yes and no.
The Turkish student signed all of this with laughter. He told me he had felt really lonely since having moved here in the beginning of last semester, mainly because locals were really hard to get to know to. Yes, people are really polite in general and eager to answer questions or give directions, but tend to quickly give up the conversation if an awkward silence falls upon it. This happening over and over again can easily make a foreigner feel like Estonian people don’t want anything to do with newcomers of their kind.
Quiet? Shy? Grumpy and frustratingly emotionally reserved? Am I still at home? As a Finn, I can truly relate to being perceived as the silent and impossible to get close to -stereotype for all the wrong reasons. Estonians have proven to share pretty much the same principles concerning personal space and privacy (and to struggle with similar awkward anti-small stalk tendencies) as we do and lean more towards individualism as a culture. Touching others, for example, during conversations is almost nonexistent and giving someone a hug usually needs a certain level of trust acquired to not be considered creepy.
Despite our endless sympathies going for our fellow Nordic peers and their familiar customs, making new friends, other that other foreigners, hasn’t been that easy for us either. Jasmin has confronted a lot of trouble trying to find volunteers to take part in her final assignment she is supposed to work on during her stay in Estonia. Our classmates are either reluctant to speak English, even though most of the Estonian youth handle the tongue very well, or come out fairly uninterested about getting to know us. Classes go by in silence and focusing solely on the project at hand, which might be good for concentrating but eventually gnaws the mood and makes us feel like outsiders.
Luckily there is peer support! The active exchange student community in Tartu machines plenty of events and gatherings in town that we are able to take part in and not be completely isolated. I’ve noticed that the circles around the visual art scene here are relatively small and we keep crossing paths with the same people whatever gallery, performance or gig we go to. Maybe all the Estonians need in order to open up is some more warm up and doing things collectively. Hopefully not giving up and retreating into my temptingly cozy and cold Finnish shell will eventually lead to something good. It’s all about bravery and opening up to other people.
Until then, nägemist!
I dream of you in colours that do not exist.