Monday, June 6, 2016

Embracing Culture

       In my first few days venturing around the countryside of Estonia, I found myself thinking about how my time here compares to last summer’s internship in Kauai and my recent European venture to Greece.  As these comparisons arose, I tried to block them thinking that I would enjoy this experience more if I let it stand on its own.  Being a cross-cultural experience, I thought that it was the chance to find out more about myself and God through being surrounded by a new setting, which comparisons to previous experiences could potentially hinder.
On my third night in Estonia, I walked around Old Town Tallinn for the first time.  As we followed his energetic kids up the cobblestoned streets, which were still lit by natural daylight despite being 9 pm at night, the pastor described what the Old Town used to look like when he first moved to Estonia over 15 years ago.  Over the past several years, the structures have been maintained and strengthened and their exteriors have been painted over with vibrant and varied colors to attract more tourists.  Despite these recent changes, the history of the Old Town still plays a defining role in how the site functions today.
After taking in the mesmerizing view from one of the lookouts near the highest point in Old Town, I turned to follow the kids to the other lookout.  As I turned, I looked up and laughed aloud.  The tree that shaded me had leaves that were strikingly similar to a tree that I had spent a great deal of time under in Kauai.  It was like God was inviting me to go ahead and reflect on how the adventures I had in Kauai shaped me and let that be a part of who I am here in Estonia.  As I continued to ponder this on the way to the next lookout, I followed the pastor down a side street that wasn’t the right way to the next lookout, but led us to an open air concert featuring a group of musicians with violins and cellos.  As we stood in the back of the crowded venue, I realized that the song they were playing was Mama Mia.  The last time I remember hearing Mama Mia was during the last night of the Greece trip, watching several of my friends sing and dance to the song.  Again I felt invited to let the memories of Greece come flooding back.
        As I looked out over Old Town Tallinn from the second viewpoint, I thought of how its function had changed over the years.  Once needing to provide the necessities of life for those who lived in it, its focus is now on inviting tourists to learn more about the history and indulge themselves in the many cafes and souvenir shops that line the streets.  Despite the change in its purpose, the defining features shaped by the history of the city remained.  Like this site, as I encounter new tasks and adventures in Estonia, my daily life will surely not look the exact same as it did in the past.  Comparing my new adventures in Estonia to past experiences in Greece, Kauai, Gig Harbor, or Whitworth may not always be helpful.  However, viewing such experiences as a context and framework for my present time helps me to be myself while also allowing myself to continue to grow into who I already am in Christ.

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