Metsaülikool (MÜ) was established 42 years ago in August 1967 to provide a venue for post-secondary education in Estonian language and culture. Organized activities for children and teenagers have always been available in our North American society: Estonian schools, camps, scouts and guides. MÜ’s aim was to address the void for the 20 plus age group by providing a week long immersion program in Estonian which would combine lectures and tutorials in language, literature, music, art, history, politics, economics and culture, interspersed with sports, leisure activities, interest groups and of course partying - all in an idyllic natural setting.
Estonia is again independent, creating access to high quality education at Estonian universities for anyone interested in pursuing Estonian studies. The Estonian Chair at the University of Toronto provides access to Estonian studies right here in North America. Is there a need for Metsaülikool? Yes! Metsaülikool is unique because of its gorgeous setting, proximity to major North American centres and the opportunity for Estonian language immersion at any level. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with friends, make new ones and network with like-minded people.
There are a number of myths which surround the MÜ experience.
MYTH: MÜ’s accommodations are primitive.
FACT: Kotkajärve is not a resort hotel. The most common abode is a tent. Various scout and guide organizations have barracks available. Bring your own sleeping bag. Women can also sleep on the second floor of the main hall. It is warm, dry and well lit! Some cottages may be available. The Divine Lake Resort is a five minute drive away. Port Sydney and Huntsville (20 minutes drive) provide a wide range of accommodations. Pine Lodge Inn in Port Sydney offers rooms at $102/per room per night, 705-385-2271, http://www.pinelodgeinn.com.
Toilet and washing facilities are basic. Outhouses are provided, thoroughly cleaned before MÜ begins. Also disinfectant soap and towelettes for washing hands. The sauna is heated every day, and some claim they are only truly clean one week of the year! Yes, MÜ week!
MYTH: The woods are full of mosquitoes, bears, and other critters that go bump in the night.
FACT: The mosquito population is almost non-existent in August. Mosquitoes hide during the day, are most prevalent at dusk or during cloudy and rainy weather, and disappear once night falls. Bring bug spray just in case. Lectures are outside when the weather is warm and sunny. The only “critters” you are likely to encounter in the middle of the night are your fellow compatriots. Wild animals are very reluctant to come near human party animals, though it is not uncommon to see deer on the drive in and out.
MYTH: It is impossible to sleep because of the noise from the all-night parties.
FACT: Traditionally the “party animals” always congregate at the same designated campsite, and are not usually disruptive. There are several camping areas a reasonable distance away, where one can peacefully catch 40 winks before the sun rises. You can join the revellers at your discretion.
FACT: The nights can be cold. (They can also be hot)
August nights can get chilly. Come prepared with a warm jacket, and a warm sleeping bag or blankets. But bring a thin blanket too, in case you need to sleep on top of your sleeping bag, not in it.
MYTH: The food is blah.
FACT: If you have attended any parties at the Estonian House and enjoyed the food, get ready for some of the same fare. The caterers are the same people. It is Estonian home cooking at its best. Lots of food, lots of choice. And lots of coffee to fuel those interesting late-night conversations.
MYTH: My Estonian is not good enough.
FACT: If you attended Estonian school or learned Estonian at your mother’s knee, you will find that either your command of the language is fine, or you will become attuned to it within a day or two. The whole idea of MÜ is to come and use your language skills! The attendees’ language levels are varied. If you want to learn from scratch, or improve your vocabulary, daily classes are available.Non-Estonian speaking spouses are welcome! By the end of the week you will be singing with the best of us. We have many repeat non-Estonian speakers who adore MÜ!
MYTH: Metsaülikool is elitist
FACT: The Metsaülikool program is designed to stimulate lively discussion and make you think, practice your Estonian, and want to learn more about your heritage. The presenters and your fellow attendees are all intelligent, thoughtful and at times outspoken people. People are generally not arrogant or cliquey! One of the richest aspects of MÜ is the wide variety of personality types it attracts. Broaden your horizons. Learn from the experts.
MYTH: Everyone must actively participate.
FACT: Group participation is encouraged but is entirely voluntary. Past experience has shown that moderators may try to gently draw in any participant who may feel shy, but is willing to try. You will never be put on the spot. Every group needs listeners. There are always enough talkers at a party.
MYTH: The program is very intense.
FACT: The number of activities and programs offered in the short time available may become a bit overwhelming at times. Some people want to take full advantage of all that is offered. However, if you decide you have had enough, Kotkajärve has many quiet, scenic places to get away to.
MYTH: MÜ is for the young / middle-aged/ old / university educated …
FACT: MÜ is for all ages who want to connect with their Estonian roots. Day care, with a complete program, is available. Teenagers! Come and see what MÜ is all about. You are our future movers and shakers! We look forward to our 20- and 30- somethings because of your energy and enthusiasm. We have had a lot of input from your contemporaries in designing this year’s program. Call your friends and come and make it happen. You 40- 50 somethings. What are you waiting for? Where else are you going to get relief from your kids because they’re all having a good time under supervision hanging out with their pals? Singles: MÜ has been the start of over a dozen marriages! Seniors? Darn, you guys are hard to keep up with, day or night!
Date: 15-22 August, 2009. Place: Kotkajärve, near Huntsville, North of Toronto, Canada.
Please visit MÜ’s website at http://www.eesti.ca/mu/ for more info, a fabulous photo gallery, and on-line registration. Come for a few days. Come for a week. Register today!
Telephone contacts: Maimu Mölder: 416-421-3812, Olev Träss: 416-656-5387. Rides can be arranged.
Kotkajãrve Metsaülikool (MÜ) 101: Facts and myths