They have made me to who I am now… Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Within five valuable years I expanded my world view, got used to different mentalities, survived heaps of snow with -30 degrees and discovered both the most beautiful as well as most dirty places I had ever seen. I found love, and I lost love. I learned to say no and to trust my intuition. I found out the characteristics of being Dutch through self spot and pride, realizing that origin can often be traced back within one’s reasoning. I felt lonely on the most crowded student parties, but yet so fulfilled and energized when strolling along the sea side, through centuries old Russian cemeteries and abandoned side streets, all alone. There’ll be things I’ll miss, like my friends, the warm Baltic evening light, all magic but non-touristy places and the surprisingly informal atmosphere within the universities and internship placements. There are also things I’m not going to miss, like the Lithuanian style inner-curve-taking way of walking which I still don’t get, the often experienced ‘customer isn’t king’-behavior, and the smell of people drinking so much cheap beer and vodka that they simply sweat pure alcohol, and then always manage to stand too close when there’s no way out, brr. Five years at this beautiful corner of Europe made me more independent, more intelligent, more open, more creative and even less judgmental. Being comfortable with yourself and your achievements is one of the greatest satisfactions you can have as a young adult. Especially as a woman, it was a delight (through a.o. the topic of my Master thesis, having to do with sexual objectification) to properly and comfortably distance myself from the immense female self-body-monitoring that seemingly occupies the lives of the majority of women here. The insight in the mechanism provided self acceptance and satisfaction, leaving a lot of time left to notice other things in life, let it be a special bird or just the change of light. Yes, the Baltics made me realize there is much to enjoy in life. Because of my experiences here, I managed to put my teen-like shyness aside and to perceive the world with open arms, but yet, always strongly relying on all my senses. If I could do it over again, I’d walk the exact same path.
From teen to young adult in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. I left my teen years behind somewhere in Russia, where I celebrated my 20th birthday in 2010.
I remember well how I always prepared for my topography tests when being a nine-year-old. My dad used to help me and we repeated all countries and capitals till I got sick of it and without too much effort managed to get a 10. The Baltic States were complicated. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius. I somehow always mixed them up. ‘Why do I have to know this?’. I remember a few years ago a Dutch atlas producer also had some difficulties with this area of Europe. They had to throw away thousands of freshly printed atlases because they got the order of these three little countries wrong. I can’t blame the people back home in The Netherlands for not exactly knowing where I study. I’m shifting between all Baltic countries and somehow always end up finding some new adventures here. However, people asking me about my studies in Lapland or Iceland would be advised to check the map once again. Now, fourteen years later, having left all topography tests behind, I’ve lived in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. What an adventure! And, it’s not over yet. I’m quite proud about this successful achievement, especially since I’m only twenty three years old. If I would have told my younger self how my life path would have changed during the years I would probably not have believed it. Well, at least I never mix up the order of the Baltic countries anymore!
A book review about a book which is, as far as I know, only available in Dutch. Therefore a post for the Dutchies this time. If you do manage to find this book being translated: read it! I absolutely loved it.
Dus, Rusland voor gevorderden. Dat leek me wel wat. Niet dat ik me na pas één keer in Rusland te zijn geweest ‘gevorderd’ mag noemen, maar toch. In Estland, Letland en Litouwen zijn nog veel sporen terug te vinden van de Russische overheersing. Het is dan ook niet verwonderlijk dat de bureaucratie nog veel gelijkenis vertoont met de Russische. Bijna dezelfde lui staan ten slotte nog steeds aan het roer. Gelukkig lijkt het er tegenwoordig in de Baltische Staten op het eerste gezicht wel wat minder corrupt aan toe te gaan, ook al zeg ik dat niet met volle overtuiging. Iedereen die iets met de Baltische landen heeft en Rusland toch ook wel mysterieus en spannend vindt zal veel plezier beleven aan ‘Rusland voor gevorderden’ van Jelle Brandt Corstius. Het boek is ontzettend vlot geschreven en leest dus lekker weg. Het is alsof een goede vriend doorratelt over ongeloofwaardige maar toch waargebeurde belevenissen in een land waarin iedereen de gehele dag teut is. Ik krijg er geen genoeg van. De verhalen zijn erg herkenbaar, ontzettend bizar, maar raken daarentegen ook af en toe de gevoelige snaar. Jelle is een meester in het overbrengen van droge humor met een flinke vleug Hollandse nuchterheid. Een aanrader dus!