A successful visit for the Tartu, Tallinn and Toronto chapters of korp! Amicitia (1)
Archived Articles 11 Jan 2008 Ellen LeivatEWR
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This past November, the Toronto chapter of the women’s academic organization korp! Amicitia played host to a group of 34 members (referred to as “amicad’) from the Tartu and Tallinn chapters of the organization. The occasion was korp! Amicitia’s 83rd anniversary celebrations.

The amicad from Estonia, most of whom had never previously visited Canada, took full advantage of their week-long stay to enjoy all the sights and sounds of our colourful multi-ethnic city including, of course, two very significant Toronto landmarks – Estonian House and Tartu College. And the mandatory trip to Niagara Falls? In the glorious comfort of a school bus on possibly the rainiest day in all of 2007! Damp but memorable!

But the highlight of the week’s events were the anniversary celebrations (“kommerss”) on Saturday, November 24th at Tartu College – an activity-laden day which started at 10 a.m. on Saturday and ended at 5 a.m. on Sunday. The traditional more solemn ceremonial aspects of the celebrations followed by the also traditional merry-making. A nice balance!

As the name “Amicitia”, (meaning friendship in Latin) suggests, the organization’s foremost goal, when it was established 83 years ago, was to provide opportunities to foster, generate and nurture friendships among university educated women. Eighty-three years later, friendship as a value remains at the heart of the organization here in Toronto and where it all began - in Tartu. Is it possible to compute how many possible friendships were established, when on November 24th 34 amicad from Tartu and Tallinn met face-to-face with 90 amicad from Toronto? The permutations are incalculable as is the value of friendship!

For the visiting amicad, their experience with the Toronto chapter brought home a very interesting realization. In Tartu, one joins an academic organization as an undergraduate and joining such an organization is very much about enhancing one’s university experience. Quite soon into their visit, the amicad from Estonia discovered that the same does not hold true in Toronto. Yes, they met many amicad, who had joined Amicitia as undergraduates, but being a “rebane” while attending university in Colorado, Dublin, London, Kingston, Montreal, Halifax, Vancouver etc. is not about enhancing one’s undergraduate experience. They also met many amicad who had joined the organization beyond their undergraduate and graduate years - some as many as 10, 20 even 30 years beyond their university experience.

So the reason for joining an academic organization in Toronto? One of the Toronto amicad, Kaili Telmet, explains her decision to join Amicitia as follows: “I didn’t join Amicitia until I was in graduate school, completing my Master’s degree. It took me many years of thinking and pondering to finally decide that joining a “korporatsioon” was really a good choice for me. I wanted to re-integrate myself into the Estonian community in Toronto and start to re-kindle friendships that I had as a little girl. My identity as an Estonian, my identity as an “amica” have now become irrevocably joined.”

One of the visiting amicad, Evelin Jõemägi, expresses her realization that in Toronto one’s Estonian identity and membership in an academic organization are inextricably tied, as follows: “I was sincerely impressed with your deep sense of identity and pride in being Estonian, which came across not only in my personal contacts with the Toronto amicad but also in your speeches during the ceremonies. In Estonia, we tend to take this identity for granted, but my experience in Toronto increased my awareness of the significance of one’s ethnic identity.”

Another visiting amica, Kärt Kirso, echoes this sentiment: “What I remember most about the trip to Toronto, is the feeling of pride, hope and patriotism that it aroused in me. For most people in Estonia, their everyday life is not characterized by thinking very much about what it means and what it takes to be Estonian. I have not felt so patriotic in years and I don’t want to forget that feeling. I thank all the Toronto amicad and all the other Estonians in Toronto for making me feel this way!”

The visit had a reciprocal effect on Toronto amica Kristiina Lillakas: “When I received my “värvid” (colours) this past November and became a full-fledged member of Amicitia, I felt honoured and proud to be accepted into an organization with such deep roots in Estonian history and with such a diverse membership. This feeling was further amplified by the presence of the amicad from Eesti whose friendly personalities and heart-felt speeches left a lasting impression on me. Being a member of Amicitia has given me the opportunity to retain my Estonian identity, to renew old relationships and to build new and lasting relationships with Estonian women in Toronto, Tallinn and Tartu.”

For Krista Eichenbaum, who also became a full-fledged member in November, meeting so many amicad from Estonia, further reinforced for her the feeling “that being a member of an academic organization is firstly all about friendship and secondly all about being Estonian. When thinking of my future and where I might go and what I might do once I graduate, it is comforting to know that I will always be able to come back to Amicitia, and find a group of familiar faces and traditions.”

For current “rebane”, Maarika Arget, it was her first “kommerss”: “It was interesting to be part of a ceremony that brings together so many women from different countries, generations and experiences. We’ve all done such different things, had different jobs and lives, and have different ideas, yet I felt an immediate acceptance and a common bond of friendship with the amicad from Estonia as well as with the Toronto amicad, many of whom I had never met before that day. Our common Estonian heritage and our membership in Amicitia are the ties that bind us. Becoming a rebane is a great way for me to be part of the Esto community again and also gives me something to share with my mother, who is also a member.”

Annika Toivi speaks on behalf of all the visiting amicad when she says: “I am grateful to all the wonderful Toronto Estonians for the shot of patriotic pride I received during my visit.” And what do Estonians living abroad do for a dose of patriotic pride? Travel to Estonia, of course. And visit the Tartu chapter of their academic organization. Quite a useful reciprocal arrangement! And, all in all, a successful visit for the hosting Toronto chapter of korp! Amicitia as well as for the visiting amicad from Tartu and Tallinn!
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