For the past 17 years, since 1989, when korp! Amicitia was resurrected in Tartu, strong ties have developed between the Tartu and Toronto chapters of the organization. These ties were considerably strengthened this spring, when a group of 15 members of the Toronto chapter flew to Estonia to take part in age-old spring rituals together with their Tartu “sisters”.
The idea for such a trip had been hatching for several years and finally in June of 2005 the Toronto chapter sprang into action. First on the agenda – fundraising to help student participants finance their trip!
The enthusiasm and initiative generated by the half-dozen fundraising activities was exceptional. An Amicitia cookbook “Amicitia leib” with 145 recipes provided by the Toronto members came into being at record-breaking speed and was sold out! To complement the cookbook, a wooden spoon with the Amicitia symbol (tsirkel) engraved on the handle was immediately sold out! And a silent auction of creative gift baskets donated by members – also sold out. And an Amicitia calendar with exotic travel pictures provided by world-traveling members. Sold out? Of course!
Interestingly enough, the 15-member group traveling to Estonia consisted of two distinct age groups. The chronologically and “academically” mature members of the group - Leida Sepp, Ellen Leivat, Helle Arro, Maaja Matsoo, Marta Kivik, Lia Hess and Eva Meriorg - were born either in war-torn Estonia or post-war in Sweden or Canada. They joined Amicitia in the 60’s and 70’s, at a time when there was very little hope that Amicitia and other academic organizations banned by the soviet occupiers in 1940 as being “anti-soviet”, “bourgeois” and “nationalistic”, would ever see the light of day in Tartu again.
But fortunately, memories cannot be banned! And the pre-war members of Amicitia, who fled to freedom in the west and founded the Toronto chapter, certainly had memories galore to share with each new generation of recruits - nostalgic stories of wonderful by-gone Tartu student days, exciting stories of chivalry and romance, magical stories which became more magical with every passing year and with every retelling.
Fortunately, Leida, Ellen, Helle, Maaja, Marta, Lia and Eva were expecting neither chivalry nor romance! But they did experience something else that was unique. They were looked upon as representatives of the “missing generations”, those generations, which reached university age in Estonia between 1940 and 1989 when academic organizations were forbidden in soviet-occupied Estonia. At the Volbri parade, the “mature” Toronto group felt themselves to be an island of experience – with a total of 250 years worth of membership - in a sea of bright, beautiful, vibrant but very youthful faces.
The younger members of the Toronto group were all students and no one could tell them apart from the Tartu students. Seven out of the eight students - Tormi Kimsto, Kaili Yalle, Kairi Hess, Heli Telmet, Katrina Müür, Andrea Kivik and Erika Kivik were “rebased” (pledges) and with their traditional black “teklid” (caps), no one could tell them apart from the Tartu rebased. And the 8th student traveler was “värvikandja” (full member) and “rebasvanem” (mentor to the pledges) Kristiina Nieländer, who knew every nook and cranny of Tartu because during the 04/05 academic year, she had been a full-time student at Tartu University. And no one could tell her apart from a native “Tartlane”.
Born during the eighties, Tormi, Kaili, Kairi, Heli, Katrina, Andrea, Erika and Kristiina can barely remember a time when Estonia was not a free and independent nation. For them, traveling to Estonia whether to visit family and friends, to sing or dance at the Song and Dance Festival, to attend Scout and Guide camps, to attend university, to work or to visit the Tartu chapter of their korporatsioon is a normal part of their life experiences. Second-hand stories about the days of yore are great, but as Kristiina and her pledges will attest, experience is a far greater teacher and participating in ceremonies laden with tradition and ritual in Amicitia’s birthplace, Tartu, is worth its weight in gold.
For the Toronto students, it was an opportunity to meet their Tartu contemporaries - not only fellow students in Amicitia but also fellow students from all of the other Tartu and Tallinn- based men’s and women’s academic organizations. Awarded “visitor” status, the Toronto pledges were able to participate in the all-night Volbri celebrations and avoided the fate, which awaited their Tartu counterparts - all-night kitchen duty! In fact, the Toronto rebased discovered that, on the whole, being a pledge in Toronto as compared to being one in Tartu is not so bad after all!
Was this trip a one-time initiative for the Toronto chapter? The answer is a definite “no”! The “rebasfond” is now a permanent fixture and fundraising initiatives to assist the next batch of students/rebased are already under way! Young people who join Estonian academic organizations in Toronto and elsewhere outside of Estonia tend to have a strong connection to their Estonian roots and what better way for them to explore and experience their own Estonian roots as well as the roots and history of their chosen academic organization than by taking a trip to Tartu where it all began!
From the perspective of a forty-five year old member of korp! Amicitia (academically speaking, of course)…..
Korp! Amicitia Toronto chapter visits Tartu!