Photo Essay 2014

Jack Van Dam

Jack Van Dam


An Eye-Opening View to the World: Through the Lens of Estonia

This summer, I had the unique opportunity to attend a European Union and Russian Relations class in Estonia. During those three weeks, I got to explore the history and culture of Estonia. I also was able to create lasting friendships with classmates from thirteen different countries around the world varying anywhere from Kenya to Russia. This experience was by far the best experiences I have ever had. Throughout the class, I was taught by experts in their fields, covering anything from Estonian history to International Human Rights Law. My view of the world quickly expanded, and it has totally transformed the way I think.

After I got off the plane in Tallinn, I quickly had to adjust to the Estonian culture. The first night I was in Estonia, I explored the city with some classmates of mine. While walking through the city, I wanted to try out one of the five basic phrases of Estonian I knew. I walked down the street, and said “tere” (hello), however the lady I said it to, did not even flinch and kept walking. I immediately thought to myself, hmmm, I wonder if I said it wrong. I proceeded to walk down the street and say hello to somebody else, and they just kept walking. It seemed like I was visiting a land of robot people. However, during our first week of classes, I studied Estonian history, and I quickly found out that the Soviet Union left a long lasting effect on Estonia. I learned that during the Soviet days, the Estonian people did not openly talk to people, due to not trusting anyone for fear they would get turned into the government.

Along with the academic aspect of the program, I learned just as much, if not more from my classmates. While studying the topic of EU and Russian relations, there were actually students from Russia and Ukraine in the class. It was interesting to hear their differing perspectives on the different issues at hand, especially since we were there when the Malaysian Airlines flight got shot down. Here in the United States, we have our own perspectives and ideas on President Putin, but it was interesting to see what the people of the affected countries had to say, and the stories that came with it.

Overall, my Study Abroad trip to Estonia was life changing. I learned so many different things from the professors and students alike. It was truly amazing to travel to a country that I did not really know anything about, and come back home with information, and ideas that will help make me a better global citizen, transform the way I think, and overall just make me a better person. I am so fortunate to have been able to go study abroad this summer, and it will forever be one the highlights of my college career.


During the second week of our class, we were split up into groups to teach the class how our specified region related to European Relations. The team pictured, and that I was a part of was Team North America. There were three students from Kansas, one student from South Carolina, and one student from Canada. We worked in the hallway of our hostel a couple of days before the project was due, putting the finishing touches on everything.

This is a picture of the capital of Estonia, Tallinn from a ferry on the Gulf of Finland during sunset. During the first weekend there, a group of five students and I went to Helsinki for a day trip. We took a ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki, and each way took about two hours.

In this photo, we were wrapping up our very last class for the three weeks in Pärnu. This class was by far the largest class of the three weeks that I attended, there were approximately thirty students from thirteen different countries. Pictured, there is myself, a student from South Carolina, Italy, Ukraine, and Austria.

This is our class photo from the second week in Tartu. This is the class in which my group and I gave our group presentation in. Our professor (second from the left) was from Russia, and was a guest lecturer at the University of Tartu (Tartu Ülikool.) In this photo, there is a student from Ukraine, our Russian professor, two students from Ukraine, a student from Moldova, myself, a student from South Carolina, Canada, two students from Kansas, a student from Austria, Italy, and last but not least a student from Ukraine.

This is the main university building of the University of Tartu, (Tartu Ülikool), dating back to 1633. This building housed the class during the second week while I was in Tartu.