October 3, 2017

Rahvuskaaslased Program takes Estonians across the world ‘Back to their Roots’

Written by Lachlan Bell

Between the 13th-24th August, I was one of the lucky participants in the ‘Back to Our Roots’ Estonian Youth Exchange, an opportunity for 30 youth of Estonian origin to travel around Estonia, learning of their heritage and opportunities for work and study in Estonia.
Over the course of 11 days, I learnt of my cultural history and was able to pick up the informal language whilst being given an insight into governmental practices and local business success stories and most importantly are promoted to build a network of young Estonians from across the globe.

The 11-day program is organised by the Seiklejate Vennaskond Youth Organization, coordinated by the Estonian Youth Work Centre and financed by the Compatriots Programme of the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. The program provides all accommodation, food and activities free of charge for participants, provided they are willing to engage in the program, and anyone with Estonian roots between the ages of 18-26 from around the world is eligible to participate.

This year’s participants came from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, U.S.A, Mexico, Panama, Chile, Argentina, England, Denmark, Hungary, Sweden, Finland, Belarus and Ukraine, with 10 Estonians joining alongside as informal guides, teachers and family. Being from Australia (with my new Melbourne friend Annelii Vann-Wall) it was a great opportunity to meet and network with new people beyond your traditional ‘bubble’. I was able to meet people from such varied backgrounds and professions that it really made me re-evaluate what my goals are and what direction I want to take myself in.

During the trip I was able to reconnect to my culture, a side that I had only ever experienced through other people’s recounts and pictures from their time in Estonia. This was my first time in the country and it was more than I could have ever asked for from a trip to Estonia. As everyone on the trip came from various backgrounds and cultures from around the world, our common ancestry was able to bring us all together from corners around the world, a truly unique experience, allowing us to quickly form a bond that hopefully lasts a lifetime.

We visited numerous historical and cultural sites throughout Tallinn, Tartu and along the way dropped by through several rural villages to experience a more traditional and authentic lifestyle associated with the Estonian archetype. My time spent on the trip really reaffirmed the emotional connection I had already felt back here in Sydney and reminded me of how true some of the stereotypical mannerisms can be (stubbornness, dark humour, love for family). By the unfortunate end of our trip, it truly felt like I was leaving behind my new family, but I am hopeful that we will all meet in the future.

I highly recommend any Estonians between 18-26 to participate in this program, for me it was eye-opening to finally see my homeland and experience it with a group of young people that were just as enthusiastic to get as much as they could out of the trip! We were taken to startups and companies such as Garage 48, Transferwise, Maksu- ja Tolliamet as well as getting to be inside the Presidents Palace and Parliament! This was an opportunity you cannot pass up, (plus accommodation, food arrangements and activities are paid for), so what’s stopping you!

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