Below is an update from recent MAPH Alum Bart Pushaw (’13) on his Fulbright in Estonia. For graduate students interested in applying for Fulbright, the deadline for the 2014-15 year is September 30th, 2013. You can find more information on the University of Chicago’s Graduate Affairs website.
In his book Estonia: A Ramble Through the Periphery, Alexander Theroux devotes an entire chapter to why he abhors the small Baltic country. The first two pages of the last chapter are filled exclusively with sentences beginning with, “I hated…” While his disgust for Estonia, accrued while accompanying his wife during her Fulbright fellowship in Tallinn, treats banal facets of quotidian life in the country, it is all too easy to fall into his trap and blindly agree with him. Estonia is obscure, the proper names are strange in comparison with Anglo-American standards (take, for example, the names Tiit, Ene, Aat, Epp, etc.), and beating your naked self with birch branches in a 80°C (172°F) sauna before rolling (your still naked body) in the snow to only jump in a freezing lake might seem a little extreme. But, such a nation would be obscure to Americans growing up in the Cold War era, where Estonia did not exist until it emerged among a plethora of so-called “random” post-Soviet states in 1991 (actually, the Republic of Estonia was also sovereign entity from 1918-1940). And Estonian names are, in fact, normal to Finns—of course a result of Estonians and Finns descent from a singular ancient Finno-Ugric, and notably non-Indo-European, culture. Besides, beating yourself in a sauna is something that really should be experienced before it is written off!