Anthropology Student Jennifer McGreevey - Core of Anthropology Lies in Going Places Unknown

In 2016, I moved to a country where I had never been and knew no one to attend a graduate program in social anthropology that had only existed for a little over ten years — unsurprising when you consider that the country itself only gained independence from the former Soviet Union twenty-six years ago.


I had been told about the program by my undergraduate professor in the United States, where I grew up and lived for the first twenty two years of my life. I was looking for a change and I certainly got it.

The country I moved to, of course, is Estonia — advertised as "positively surprising" by Tallinn University on their brochures — which has, without a doubt, been the site of one of the most important and enriching experiences of my life thus far; and one that goes beyond academics.

The young graduate program that I came here to attend has been equal parts challenging and rewarding. I have been lucky enough to have bright, curious people from Estonia, Russia, India, China, and France, just to name a few, as my classmates. We are a small group, which allows our professors to really get to know us and our intellectual interests, and to directly support us through coursework, fieldwork, and the writing of theses. When we discuss, for example, capitalism and its effect on global working conditions, our viewpoints often touch on our respective cultures and home countries, allowing for a truly unique experience.

Outside of the classroom, my anthropological education continued, as I gradually learned about the Estonian language, history, and way of life over the course of two years living in their country. My days spent considering capitalism from a Russian or Indian’s point of view were supplemented by nights trying, and mostly failing, to understand what all the hype about techno parties was all about, a European trend that had missed us in America.

I wandered through Tallinn’s picturesque Old Town and had the sense of being brand new. The frustrating experience that once was going to the grocery store was suddenly one day replaced by knowledge of the difference between veiseliha and sealiha among other things. In my off time, I travelled to over a dozen other European countries and made friends from all over the world.

To many of the people I knew, Estonia — a tiny, post-Soviet country where it frequently snowed in October — seemed like a strange choice to attend graduate school. Yet, the core of anthropology lies in going places previously unknown; in exploring who we might be in a different context, time, and place, and identifying how and why.

The armchair anthropologist sits at home—I went to Estonia. What I found was a humble, beautiful country full of surprises, and intellectual and personal experiences I will not soon forget.

Jennifer McGreevey, MA student of Anthropology