The Estonian American Experience > My First Visit to Estonia

I visited Estonia for the first time in 1977 after receiving an invitation from my father's brother to spend a month with his family in Tallinn. With my father's encouragement, I persevered through the red tape necessary to obtain the soviet visa that would allow me to stay with my uncle's family in their apartment. I was twenty-one years old and, while I had dreamed all my life of visiting Estonia, I never imagined that opportunity would come to me during those years of occupation. I will never forget arriving in Estonia and feeling as if I had come home. I couldn't speak the language and was completely dependent on my uncle for all communication but that didn't matter. With my uncles and aunts and cousins I found a family and a place where I truly felt at home.

I spent the month of May, 1977 with my uncle's family and that time will always be one of my most cherished memories. Of course all my relatives made the trip to his apartment in Tallinn to visit with me since the visa granted by the Soviet government did not allow me to leave the city of Tallinn. The stark contrast between my life in America and the lives of my relatives under Soviet occupation was, without doubt, the most educational experience of my university years. However, even more than that, I gained a greater appreciation and understanding of my father and Estonian culture. Little things such as why my father always insisted that we have some kind of bread on the table with every meal, made so much more sense to me.

It was more than 20 years before I was able to return to Estonia, this time traveling there with my father. Finally I was able to visit Lüganuse where my grandparents and great-grandparents lived and were buried. In that area, I felt such a strong connection to the land of my ancestors that it was almost tangible. It was also wonderful to see and feel the difference in a now independent Estonia.

I have since traveled there additional times and had the opportunity to attend Laulupidu in 2009, which was another of my lifelong dreams. All six of my children have now had the opportunity to visit Estonia - two at a time. While I have thoroughly enjoyed each visit, the first visit to the land of my forefathers in 1977 is incomparable in the impact it has had in my life.

February 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGayleen Gandy