Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was a typical day for me in Estonia, until late afternoon. My wife, 11-year-old daughter, and I had been living in Estonia for less than three weeks, and I was settling-in to my role as a Fulbright Scholar to Tallinn University. For most of the day, I was at the university meeting new colleagues and continuing to learn nuances for what I would be doing for the next 4.5 months – mostly teaching a variety of psychology classes.
I arrived back home to our small apartment around 4:00pm, Estonia time. My wife had gone to pick-up our daughter at the International School in Tallinn and would be returning home shortly. I turned our TV on to watch CNN International, the only channel that consistently broadcast in English, and was surprised and saddened to see and hear the news of the terrorist attacks in the US. It was a difficult evening for our family.
The following day, I was back at the university and had a morning meeting with a colleague in his office. He extended his concern and sympathy, as others did when I arrived on campus. While we were talking, one of the department’s staff members came to the office doorway. She was a lower-level employee, one who did not speak English, and the one with whom I interacted the least. We greeted her, she paused for a bit, and then she tearfully extended both hands toward me. I stood, and we grasped hands. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said. She simply wanted to extend her concern and sympathy to probably the only American she knew.
On the surface, this might seem to be a simple act and trivial memory. But it epitomized the appreciation, respect, and concern that many people in Estonia had for people in the US. It meant a lot to me, and It was another reminder of the importance of Fulbright’s mission – to connect meaningfully with people in other countries and foster mutual understanding.
Jay L. Wenger – Fulbright to Estonia 2001