Wow! What a journey! The ’19s and ’17s began this trip as a group of awkward acquaintances and, over the course of twelve days, morphed into a close group of friends sharing a special bond. We began as struggling map-readers but finished as seasoned travel experts. We fully immersed ourselves in the Baltics, kicking off our trip in Helsinki, exploring Tallinn and Riga, and finishing in Stockholm. We spoke with natives from various backgrounds and statuses, learned about the culture and history of each country, ate new foods, and attempted to learn new words in other languages. We spent many hours happily roaming around the cities (Mr. Craig often reached 20-30,000 steps in a day!). Each one of us was forced outside of our safety zones in new and different ways, testing us and expanding our horizons and preparing us for leadership and life.
I think we can all agree that each of us developed as people, as leaders, and as a group throughout this trip.
Here is a quick summary of our experiences in\ each country from the ’17 who planned it:
Helsinki, Finland (Alix Galumbeck): In Helsinki, we learned about Finnish culture from a scavenger hunt in the National Museum of Finland, various churches, and my Finnish relatives, Ritva and her family. We toured her work and then visited her home. By meeting with my family, we were able to learn about Finnish history, culture, and society in a more personal way.
Tallinn, Estonia (Luke Cromwell): In Tallinn, we immersed ourselves deeply into Eastern European culture. We visited the US embassy and the Estonian parliament, and had productive discussions with representatives from each location. We also explored Tallinn’s fascinating and rich history with visits to the Tallinn TV tower, old military fortresses, and churches around the old town.
Riga, Latvia (Chris Kazakis): We acquainted ourselves the city of Riga with a kayak tour on our first night. Our second day was spent digging deeper into the culture and history of the city with visits to two museums as well as a culinary tour. We also tested our navigational skills with a challenge to find as many coffee shops as possible in the old town. Our last day in Riga, we had the opportunity to meet with students from the University of Latvia, who gave us a younger generation’s perspective on the country.
Stockholm, Sweden (Hallie Griffiths): Stockholm was an awesome experience for me both as a leader and a traveler. I learned not only how to plan every aspect of a trip, but also how to be flexible and adapt when situations did not go exactly as planned. I think that our time in Stockholm overall was a great balance of historical, modern, domestic, and international.
Here is a quick Summary of how we developed as leaders from Nico Moscoso, our leadership activity coordinator:
Leadership was a big component of our trip to the Baltics. Every day a ’19 was our leader of the day and executed the days plan which was created by a ’17. All of us learned a lot from our own and others’ failures and success. Each day we got better and better at leading and I can confidently say that we are all much better leaders now than we were entering the trip.
Perspectives on different cultures:
On our last day of this amazing Baltics trip, the group gathered together to discuss what we had seen and learned about each city’s culture and how it all fit together. Some noted how distant Helsinki seemed from the rest of the Baltics, seeming to be happy and at peace in its own world, despite the struggles of living so far north. Another emphasized Finland’s national pride and identity. Others pointed out how Finland enjoys being remembered by the western world, referring back to a conversation with a finish native, who very surprised and excited by the fact that we were on a school trip from the States and chose to visit Finland! Different from Finland, Estonia is far more ambitious in its dealings with the west, refusing to let Russia bully it around anymore. It seems self-conscious of its size and, therefore, goes the extra kilometer to ensure NATO’s protection from scary neighbor Russia and ensure support from EU. It is incredibly proud of spending 2% of its GDP for NATO and fulfilling its part. It continuously boasts its groundbreaking E-stonia culture and e-government and follows the Western model precisely, choosing to look to the future, as repeatedly mentioned by many a fellow. On the other hand, Latvia, as everyone seemed to unanimously agree, is looking towards the past. Its focus is more on showing off its history and less of a concern with NATO and EU. However, both Estonia and Latvia are known for being in the top five of most unhappy countries. In drastic contrast to all of this, Sweden, never conquered by the Soviet Union, continues to proclaim itself as “capital of Scandinavian countries”. It is clearly proud and confident in the fact that it is developed and huge and has an illustrious, conquering history. All these countries we have visited provide various glimpses into the Baltic States and show the similarities and differences within one region.
Our Favorite Quotes :
“During my days as leader, I had some struggles. But I learned to persevere and work through them”.
“The diversity of culture between countries that went through the same events in history is quite interesting.”
“…I got nothing…”
“This trip was an enlightening experience and I learned a lot… I learned how to deal with people.”
“Olen iloinen!” — Finnish for “I’m happy!”
“This journey saw the fellows grow on so many levels. They opened their eyes to new cultures by examining, experiencing and exploring first-hand, life in each country. They grew by pushing themselves outside their comfort zone by sharing frank discourse with locals, tasting different cuisines, and tackling long sleepless days while traveling via a wide array of transportation. Each Fellow grew and strengthened their ability to lead and follow. They problem solved, honed their communication skills and perfected their personal leadership style. At each turn they were challenged and in every case they excelled! Their efforts, compassion, empathy and resolve made us proud! They are ready to take on the world!”