Learning from living abroad: Estonia

Posted: April 8, 2024

Real reindeer at Christmas

Tallinn, Estonia, has two distinctive parts of the city. The part that is still totally intact, Gothic style buildings and bright colors. And the other part, dark and crumbling, full of the memories of the Soviet Union takeover, only 80 short years ago.

First-year Ava Puccini lived in this place for nine years.

“It was gloomy and kind of dark,” she said.

While Estonia declared independence from the Soviet Union in August of 1991, lasting effects still linger. On March 9, 1944, the capital was bombed. Tallinn, which is located on the Baltic Sea coast, still bears marks from the attacks.

“Living with people who have endured so much changes the perspective we have about our life and the freedoms and opportunities we take for granted,” said Ava’s mother, Olivia Puccini.

“But the last time I was there, the latest president had been making a bunch of changes to modernize everything,” Ava Puccini said.

Estonia is a very different place than the US.

“The culture and the way people interact with each other are entirely different,” said Puccini. “There is so much more respect over there for our elders, the city around us and its history. They fight to keep it alive.”

Her favorite Estonian tradition?

“Probably the Christmas Market,” Puccini said. “It was really cool. Just like the food—borscht and frikadellisupp. And they would just go all out for all their holidays and it was
just really fun.”

Frikadellisupp is an Estonian soup, made with meatballs, root vegetables, and herbs.

“The Christmas Market was truly magical,” said Puccini. “They would get this huge Christmas tree that was a good twelve meters tall and decorated it beautifully. They had reindeer surrounding it, real live ones. It was all held in the freedom square, where they protested against Soviet rule.”

Ava’s parents, Nick and Olivia Puccini, started their missionary work in 2003. They were the first Assemblies of God missionaries to live and work in Armenia.

“But I don’t remember Armenia, because I was two, so I don’t really count it,” Ava said.

In 2012, they moved to Estonia to continue their work.

”We did church planting and helping youth,” said Ava. “We also worked with homeless people, and we helped kids get proper school supplies, and then just the church planting.”

“She learned to serve and love people, and live a life that helps people find God,” said Olivia.

They ended up planting Focus Church in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The church is still going strong, now supported from afar by the Puccinis, who still serve on the church’s board. The Focus Church website credits the Puccinis with leading the visioning process and personnel development in seven countries before turning the church over to local leaders.

“We helped plant Focus Church, Kogudos [Church], Elu, which is life in Estonian, Kirk [Church], and a team from Estonia that left for Lithuania to plant a branch of Journey Church,” said Ava.

While Puccini has been back in the United States for a while now, she’s planning on heading back to Estonia for a trip this coming summer.

“I feel like living in Estonia has impacted my perspective in the way that I view the United States. I can definitely see contrasts between them and I can see what works for Europe that I think would benefit us,” said Puccini.

“Estonia influenced Ava in both good and bad ways. It allowed her to see the world and grow up with a greater perspective about cultures and people than could have never happened if raised only in the US,” said Olivia Puccini.

“Ava’s more aware of things like culture,” first-year Michu Tufaa said. “And she’s not ashamed of it, too.”

Would Ava decide to go down the road of missionary work again?

“I’ve thought about it. Maybe. There are definitely some upsides and downsides,” Puccini said.

Only the future will tell if Ava ends up back overseas, but for now she’s content in the US.

You may also like…

PWHL Minnesota season in review

From underdogs to champions, PWHL Minnesota had a whirlwind of a season As the last buzzer sounded, Minnesota’s gloves and helmets went flying. Only this time, it was for real.  Game four of the PWHL finals went into two overtime periods before Minnesota's Sophie...

Churches Pushing Assimilation

In 1493, following Columbus’ arrival in the New World, the Doctrine of Discovery changed the scope of European involvement in the Americas for centuries. Signed by Pope Alexander VI, this Doctrine permitted Europeans, the Portuguese and Spanish in particular, to claim...

Track and field record-breakers

Click the photo below to view a galleryAthletes smash school records! (This story has been updated to include end-of-season records.) It’s been yet another record-breaking season for the Minnehaha track and...

Are high-school grades accurate?

How grade inflation is affecting the current generation of students In the education system, grades are everything to a student… or are they? They often are used to help others rank your work ethic and mentality. However, these numbers are starting to steer far off...

The ins and outs of sports medicine

MA's athletic trainer and strength & conditioning coach support students Minnehaha is home to many exceptional sports teams and hundreds of student-athletes.  Behind those teams and athletes are many amazing coaches who know how to bring out the best in each...