Singing Revolution: The Sound of a Free Nation

A Free Exchange of Ideas


The relationship between NWU and the University of Tartu began with exchanges through the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP). Caroline Ideus (’07) was the first NWU student to travel to Tartu through ISEP.

Huge supported the development of a direct exchange relationship between the schools through the Harry and Reba Huge Foundation. Relationships like these between freethinking institutions in free countries tend to grow, well, freely. Soon, several Estonians added their voices to Nebraska Wesleyan’s student body.

The Baltic Way, 1989   |  Getty ImagesOne of those voices is Sass Karemae’s. Karemae is a 6’10” sophomore center on the men’s basketball team. His GPA after his first semester is a perfect 4.0, and he is considering a major in international business. He was one of six Estonians studying at NWU last semester. Most are here on one- or two semester exchanges. Karemae plans to be here four years. Karemae was a year old when Estonia gained its independence from the Soviet Union.

He and the other current exchange students represent the first generation of Estonians with no direct memories of the occupation. They’ve grown up with the stories, and with a sharp consciousness of exactly what the freedoms they’ve always known truly mean.

“My dad always said, ‘It’s amazing to see how everything is possible now,’” Karemae said. His father worked for a news station during the revolution and helped document the Baltic Way in 1989—a simple demonstration of a united independence movement where more than 1 million people held hands to form a human chain stretching across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Karemae may have been too young to participate in the Baltic Way, but he recognizes that his own freedoms connect him meaningfully to that human chain.

“We’re doing things that older generations couldn’t dream of.”

We’re doing things that older generations couldn’t dream of. It’s good that they remind us.

He thought of his grandparents’ circumstances when they were his age. Karemae said independence came to them after the point in their lives where they could put those freedoms to their fullest use. “It’s good that they remind us.”

He realizes how different his experience is from the students around him today.

“Americans don’t necessarily take (their freedom) for granted,” he said, “but they’re used to it. It all feels normal. Maybe the same thing is happening to us now.” Stories and teachers play important roles in maintaining that recognition of what our cultures and our liberties truly mean. The exchange relationship between the University of Tartu and NWU can play a valuable part in that continuation, partly because that exchange isn’t limited to students. The Tartu/NWU relationship has grown to include speaker and faculty-exchanges.