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Destination: Estonia

Sarah in EstoniaPractice makes perfect, as any musician knows. However, as Sarah Cushman, senior music major from Geneva, Ill., is well aware, practice coupled with study-abroad opportunities makes for an experience of a lifetime.

Cushman spent three months at the prestigious Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre in Tallinn, Estonia, honing her piano skills and experiencing this small, music-loving country on the Baltic Sea.

“Studying in Estonia gave me the time I needed to focus on my craft, which absolutely made me a better pianist,” Cushman remarked. “Plus, I studied under famous musicians and came to appreciate this beautiful country.”

While Estonia may seem an obscure choice, it is a popular destination for European musicians. Culturally, music plays an important role in Estonian history. As Cushman explained, Estonians helped earn independence from Russia through the non-violent “Singing Revolution,” where thousands of voices participated in the singing of national Estonian songs.

“Music is a universal language,” she said. “At the Academy the atmosphere consisted of people from all over Europe and America, in my case, coming together for the sole purpose of music and the theatre.”

Although no American students had ever studied at the Academy, Ohio Northern has a rich history with the country. Professor Nils Riess, chair of the Department of Communication Arts, has sent dance and theatre students to Estonia for years, but it was a connection within the Academy that sparked the idea of Cushman going abroad.

While in Estonia, she studied and practiced, taking courses in various musical subjects and spending nearly six hours each day at the keys. She was fortunate to have the strong support of fellow ONU student Ryan Hales. Hales, also a senior, was participating in a theatre internship in Tallinn.

“I was rarely homesick, especially not with Ryan there, except maybe at Thanksgiving. Only because the closest turkey to be found was in Hungary,” she remarked, noting the cultural differences between Estonia and the United States.

Yet, it was these cultural aspects that enriched her time abroad. She lived with a host family, took Estonian language classes and sang in a local choir, with whom she completed a small tour of the countryside.

The time she spent in Estonia left her eager to return, and she hopes to rejoin her community choir in next summer’s Song Festival, a commemorative event featuring 30,000 singers.

But she won’t have to wait that long. Cushman will accompany the University Singers back to Tallinn for its spring break performance tour.

For now, Cushman has settled back into life at ONU, but the time she spent in Estonia continues to resonate as the “high note” in her musical career.

Written by Autumn Steiner
Junior, professional writing
Bluffton, Ohio