My first days in the place of my dreams were far more nightmarish than oneiric. Prior to arrival I was told that while Estonian is the national language everyone here speaks English so I’ll be just fine. I learned a few basic greetings, questions, and survival phrases, but over all I wasn’t too concerned about it. When I touched down in the capital city of Tallinn I still needed to take a two-hour bus ride to the town where my university, and thus my accommodation, was located. The only way to buy a bus ticket was by using a machine that operated partially in English until it came time for payment, where the card swipe only displayed instructions in Estonian. It didn’t like my card and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. After struggling for at least 10 minutes I was rescued by a middle aged English man who, as it turned out, was a professor at my future university. He helped me buy my tickets, talked to me while we waited for the bus, and helped me get off at the right stop. He then disappeared into the crowd at the stop so effectively that I’m not entirely sure he wasn’t some form of divine intervention.
After this initial hiccup things only became more stressful. My luggage had gotten lost so I had only what was in my carry-on. Luckily this included some clothes and toiletries. Unluckily, it did not include my outlet adaptor. I spent my first 24 hours alone in my dorm room, jet lagged, lonely, and stressed. Everywhere I went all the signs, all packaging and instructions and notices, were exclusively in Estonian. Having travelled alone and being unable to contact my family or friends at home for fear of losing precious battery life before I could recharge anything, I can honestly say I have never felt more isolated. Studying abroad has been my dream for as long as I can remember but in that moment all I wanted was give up and go home.
Going out to explore the second day felt like a Herculean effort, but once I made into the old part of town and began finding my class buildings, book shops, and encouraging graffiti, I pulled my chin up and began to see the positives in my time alone. Today, exactly one month later, I am sitting in my favorite café, listening to my music from home but next to my roommates from France and Germany. I will never forget how scared and overwhelmed I was that first day, but nothing worth doing is easily done and even if I tripped over the doorframe I’m so glad I made it over that threshold.