My Estonian adventure was almost like a fairytale: There was a lot of magic, incredible events, amazing people, and the greatest memories…
The adventure began almost 7 years ago, when I decided to create a website about Estonia. In a few weeks I carried out my plans and the website appeared at www.eesti.pl. In the beginning there were just a few pages with basic information. In time the website became a big source of information about this great little country. Eesti.pl also gained popularity among students, travelers, and even journalists and university teachers.
Some people say that the moment you try something, all the magic is gone. I tried once – I visited Estonia a few years ago – but it wasn’t enough. I decided to go to Estonia as an Erasmus student (for the 2008/2009 academic year). Luckily, it wasn’t just Erasmus – I also spent the preceding summer at the Summer School and EILC in Tallinn. I then came to Tartu for two semesters.
My hometown, Warsaw, is 20 times bigger than Tartu, and even the number of students in it is over 2 times bigger than the number of inhabitants of Tartu. Prior to my arrival I wondered whether it would be possible for me to survive the gray autumn and cold winter in such a small city. Now, without any doubt, I can answer: yes. There is no mistaking the town’s official motto: Tartu really is a city of good thoughts.
What made my time so unforgettable? I have to mention three things: people, place and atmosphere.
Both Estonians and other international students gave me a lot of happiness, unforgettable moments, meetings, and discussions. For many foreigners, including me, the impression of Estonians is surprisingly positive. All of them do their best to give the best impression of Estonia. No matter where – in a bus, a post office, or a shop – they are very friendly and helpful. I sometimes thought that helping others was more important for some of them than doing their job.
Another group of people with whom I spent my time included other international students. Among them, I met many great friends and made lifelong friendships. Sasha, my flat mate in Tartu, wrote on his blog:
Through the days, feasts, talks, laughs, coffee, classes, trips, pictures, kisses, and parties, we have undertaken a journey together this semester. I have Italian, Polish, Georgian, Lithuanian, Russian, Ukrainian, English, and Estonian colors stained on me now, and I don’t really want to wash it all off.
The place and the atmosphere
As I mentioned, I was afraid of living in such a small city as Tartu. Reality proved to be much more colorful than I expected. The University of Tartu and the relatively large number of students have a great influence on the city.
Before coming to Estonia I did not have the highest opinion of events such as student days (cheap fun), but Tartu’s version was great. It is evident that Tartu is a student city with long-standing traditions (student life, fraternities). In addition, the cultural capital of Estonia offers many concerts, events, parties and places, which make the atmosphere in the city unique.
What else made me think of student life in Tartu so positively? It was the University of Tartu itself. After a few months I started thinking “wow, studying has never been so simple”: teachers are more like partners than superiors; every problem can be solved via e-mail; and you don’t need to visit 5 offices because one is enough.
Estonia is not only Tartu and Tallinn. I have visited many places around Estonia, including islands, small towns, villages, and national parks. What is the most interesting thing about them? I think it is the friendly people and their fondness for tradition and nature.
Many people say that Erasmus is not about learning, but about studying, and I agree with them. What is the difference between learning and studying? For me, this second term means getting to know, in many different ways, people, places, and culture. Even if I can’t say that I spent tens or hundreds of hours in a library or reading books, I can say that I learned a lot. Now I know the taste of Vana Tallinn; I know that there is more than one type of pasta; I now greet everyone “Hello, how are you?”; as well as much simpler, smaller things.
I came to the conclusion that neither one could live without the other – neither me without Estonia nor Estonia without me. I finished Erasmus in June, but thanks to this strong connection (or my good luck) I had the good fortune to visit Estonia again. In July, I attended the Song and Dance Festival, which provided more unforgettable moments and tons of great memories.
Now that I am back home, I am trying to share my knowledge and experiences – not only through my website, but also in a traditional way – I am writing a guidebook. I am happy that all these beautiful pictures taken by my eyes will inspire others to visit this great little country.
We international students were ambassadors of our countries in Tartu. Now we are ambassadors of the town and the University of Tartu in our countries. I have no doubt that UT is the best diplomacy school in the whole of Estonia and maybe even Europe!
Originally published in The University of Tartu newsletter.