Becoming a Tartu student – becoming a globally minded student

Dear reader, I would like you to take a minute and think about borders…

If you are in Estonia, or another country, you can easily imagine that official line which gives shape to a specific physical territory. But what about our borders? To be more precise, what are the borders of our mind and thinking?

My interpretation is that our mind’s territory ends with our understanding of the world. With this as a starting point, I would like to show you how I occupied new territories for my mind and how it is connected to Universitas Tartuensis.

Tatiana (Yes, this is me) from Moldova

Map of Europe
Tatiana (Moldova). Map credit: Ivan Vasilyev

As I was physically “captured” within the first borders (Moldova), I had a specific mindset, filled with irrational and unjustified beliefs about the situation in my country. I do not pretend now that my beliefs are true, but at least I hope they are approximately close to be true.

Going back in time, one of my false ideas was that only few people make an effort to protect the environment and that the outcomes are insignificant. And only one change of physical borders (moving to Estonia) and two relevant courses (Spatial Data Studio and Strategic Environmental Assessment for Urban Regions) made me realize that the situation is not as tragic as I had imagined.

There are higher-level organisations that are concerned about the issue and new legislation is being adopted at the moment in Moldova in order to align and enforce best practices in sustainability. In addition to that, we, consumers, in the majority of cases are limited in visions and see only the bottom-up behaviour, which certainly requires some time to follow the top-down strategy and approach.

“When it comes to protecting the environment and not exacerbating the current state of things, all our small actions matter” and “pollution has no borders, so we have to keep it in mind, no matter the country of residence (at least before the human migration to space)” – these are my mind borders so far.

Aleksei from Russia

Map of Europe
Aleksei (Russia). Map credit: Ivan Vasilyev

Freedom of choice in organizing the study plan in higher education is something I wish for in Russia. I really like the fact that here compulsory courses are directly related to the speciality, while optional ones can be chosen yourself.

In Russia, everyone has a strict timetable and there is also an unclear need for many mandatory courses which are irrelevant for the specialization (I studied a Bachelor’s of Software Engineering and among the mandatory courses were Russian language, history, law, and economics).

In Estonia, you are able to choose the courses you are interested in and convenient workload, so it keeps you motivated to study during the whole semester. This could be one explanation for the positive attitude and responsibility towards studies students show here.

Being able to organize a big part of the studies in a way which is convenient for the student results in a relaxed atmosphere, but at the same time increased commitment.  It is probably because we don’t tend to judge or undervalue the subjective importance we attribute to our choices.

Students can learn at their own pace, opt for additional courses, and achieve even more than the required amount of credits. Bear in mind that not all countries have enforced such an educational plan at the moment, and one often lacks the freedom to design one’s curriculum according to personal interests during the entire period of bachelor’s and master’s studies.

Other visions from international students

“Studies here are very close to real-world skills demanded, so the student isn’t afraid to face unemployment after graduation.”

“As we invest a couple of years into our education as students, lecturers, and more, why not choose the best investment option, a high-quality university as we have here in Tartu?”

“Freedom in exploring a variety of art-related courses as a part of your studies, and, most importantly, as a student (enthusiastic despite being short of money) you don’t have to pay for it.”

“You have to be smart enough to know about existing opportunities in the world. Some countries have limitations to the outer internet and only the cleverest ones who know about VPN could see and apply for different opportunities from the outer world (such as studying at the University of Tartu).”

Differences across borders

To end this sequence of ideas, while in some countries you need to possess IT networking skills (VPN), in others the situation is completely opposite, and people even had no option to develop some simpler skills (Microsoft Office).

As we can see, international students’ perceptions of things are very different and based on the situation they have experienced in their own country.

The country situation certainly leads to completely different higher-order factors, such as politics and economy, but as we are young, or not so young, before the earth will have us, don’t we all deserve access to quality studies, a respectful attitude towards each other, and compassion, no matter the geographical coordinates?

Map of Europe
Countries that the University of Tartu students are from as of April 2019.
Map credit: Ivan Vasilyev

Becoming a globally minded student

How can a student not become the richest (in terms of visions and understanding, at least) studying in such an international environment as in Tartu? Impossible!

Being here, studying and enjoying access to communicate with students from 119 countries (as of April 2019), you get to know more than just their stories: you get to know stories and problems of their countries as well, you become aware of the real issues the world faces at the moment, and, most importantly, you realize that only knowledge can help us change the situation for the better. Personally, this was the conclusion… But the generalized one, no doubt, is as follows: “Becoming a Tartu student is becoming a globally minded student.”

I sincerely hope that this article expanded your vision and motivated you to explore, communicate, and understand the people around you, countries, and the entire world (including the inner one).

I would like to thank Ivan Vasilyev for the appealing Estonian flag-style maps, and I am especially grateful to Inga Külmoja for helping me to deal with procrastination.

Tatiana Surdu is a student of Geoinformatics for Urbanised Society (MSc) at the University of Tartu.

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