Elevate Difference

My Estonia: Passport Forgery, Meat Jelly Eaters, and Other Stories

Long Island native Justin Petrone, like many young people, wanted to shake up his life after graduating from college. He wasn’t sure how, but he managed to do it in a big way. My Estonia tells his true story of a life-altering year of love and timeliness.

“Finland really was my last hope. It was calling me in my sleep from Helsinki: an open-air mental institution on the other side of the world.” Little did he know joining a foreign correspondence program wouldn’t just change his direction for a few shorts weeks. Ultimately, his compass would be facing north for a time longer than he ever imagined.

On his first day in Finland, he met the captivating Estonian named Epp. She wasn’t so much concerned with direction as long as she was moving. Justin quickly fell in love with her as she took him on a winding road to Estonia through England, France, Italy, and Ireland. Once it was decided they would marry, they settled for a while in Estonia so Epp could finish school.

As his time in Estonia progressed, Justin discovered the good, the bad, and the beautiful of this little country that many Americans are unable to locate on a world map. The small size of Estonia allowed him to explore the medieval old town of Tallinn, the hip university area of Tartu, and the bogs of the south.

He moved to Estonia in January, a time of year when the country is covered with ice and snow, and was hit by bitter cold days and a darkness that falls by mid-afternoon. Although he handled the weather well, other things didn’t come as easily: “When most people think about adjusting to life in a northern country during the winter, they think about being depressed by the dark and the cold and turning to alcohol for relief. But wasn’t the weather that starved me of joy in Estonia; it was the awful food.”

Through humor and humility I was able to connect with his experience. It also helps that I’ve been to Estonia and related to many of his observations. The one aspect of Estonia that I do disagree with, though, is his initial interpretation of the people. He never displays contempt or even very much irritation, but does paint them as not being personable. I’d agree their culture isn’t as open armed as, say, Brazilians or Italians are, but I was met with a lot of kindness and felt very welcome during my stay.

From his description of Tallinn’s Old Town to the college town of Tartu, anyone will become intrigued by this unique nation. This could be seen as a travel novel for people who have an interest in Estonia, but underneath is a much deeper story. Anyone who has moved somewhere unfamiliar, or unexpectedly fallen in love, can relate to this book. Even if you’ve only imagined finding love in an exotic place, this would be an interesting read for you.

Written by: Andrea Hance, March 3rd 2010