Laziness and Erasmus go together well. So how to make the most of your study abroad?

Jiří Svoboda

I arrived in Tartu just over two weeks ago as part of my Erasmus, and, after a few days, I was surprised and frankly overwhelmed with one particular aspect of living here.

Personally, I have already experienced going to a new city for studies, so I sorted out most of the basic necessities quite quickly. But there was one thing I was not really prepared for.

So. Much. Time.

See, at my home university, I am usually the kind of guy who combines studies and work in heavy doses, so I wake up, get out of the flat, and do not return till 7 PM at best. But I actually like this lifestyle and having lots of things to do proved both effective and useful to me. In fact, the less I have on my schedule, the bigger the chance I won’t finish it by the end of the day.

There is so much to do; even lectures count on the fact that most people do not read all the literature. It is for this reason that I usually don’t spend much time at parties or similar student events.

But in Tartu (and probably any other city in the case of Erasmus) it is an entirely different story: only one or two classes a day, dorms a 10–15-minute walk from the university, less study work to do, and, most importantly, a bunch of new people that strive precisely for parties and student gatherings of any kind.

This is how may calendar looks like with only classes and gym. There is so much time. Photo from the personal archive

When you think of it, this aspect of Erasmus studies kind of makes sense. The majority of people who come here have no idea what to do in the city, so they are happy to accept a helping hand. And, guess what, one of the first helping hands that foreign students encounter is the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) – an organization whose student events are among other things quite a lot about partying. 

This can work just because of the fact that Erasmus students have way too much time on their hands and, of course, partying is the easiest way to fill it up. Or waste it. As an Erasmus student, just ask yourself if you encountered this many parties at home.

Thus, if you are just a big party person or you want to experience a different and maybe more exotic Erasmus than the one based on partying (like me), you will have to make an extra effort to escape this stereotype. Personally, I believe one should not just try to fill up their time somehow. That will inevitably lead to a waste of time.

So, I would like to present a few methods that proved useful to me in that short time. They are primarily meant for people who already feel they need a change to their lifestyle.

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Snowy days have decreased substantially in Estonia

In the end of December 2019, there was no snow in Tartu. Instead, liverworts (Anemone hepatica) were blooming at the UT Botanical Garden. Image credit: Inga Külmoja

Geographers of the Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences of the University of Tartu have released a study indicating that the snow situation in Estonia has substantially changed in the last decades. While our grandfathers and grandmothers could often sled in the beginning of April as children, the kids of today can put away their sleds in the middle of March. There’s just no snow.

Air temperature has risen by two degrees

Snow cover depends on the air temperature. It lasts when the temperature is near zero, which is quite characteristic of the climate in Estonia. As the average air temperature has significantly risen in Estonia during the last decades — nearly two degrees, compared to the post-war years — it’s natural that there has also been a noticeable decrease in snow cover. Presuming that the climate keeps getting warmer, analyzing changes that have taken place allows for making trustworthy forecasts about the condition of snow cover in the future.

Snow thickest at the end of winter

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How Lyudmyla leads semiotic research in a Moscow agency

Semiotics is the study of signs and sign systems (e.g., languages, music, advertising, road signs, etc.). It is an investigation into how meaning is created and how meaning is communicated through signs. You can study semiotics at the University of Tartu.  

In the beginning of 2017, Lyudmyla Zaporozhtseva moved from Kiev to Moscow. After a successful collaboration with the Enjoy Understanding marketing research agency, she accepted their invitation to work as a full-time expert in semiotics. It was a new position, created for Lyudmyla. Three years on, she leads a semiotic team in this agency.

Lyudmyla told UT Blog about how the agency works, what her daily work looks like, and how she feels about her recent PhD defense at the University of Tartu.

Image from personal archive

The role of semiotics in the agency

Enjoy Understanding uses traditional qualitative methods along with semiotic research. Having semioticians on the team in a marketing agency is rather unique. In Estonia, where the semiotic tradition thrives, few marketing agencies use a semiotic framework. Ordering semiotic research isn’t mainstream in other places either.

Lyudmyla admits that three years ago, when she started work at the Enjoy Understanding agency, it was much more difficult to convince clients to use semiotics. Now the situation is changing. Big clients with head offices in Europe already know about semiotics and want to apply it for building a cultural strategy of a brand. Clients who do it once often want to do it again.

Lyudmyla and her team are involved in the majority of the agency’s projects, even if no extensive semiotic research is needed. It is common to discuss all incoming work together and provide feedback to each other. For instance, when they start working with an insurance company, it is useful to look into the concept of safety – what safety means, how it is expressed, etc.

Lyudmyla’s work implies going through a lot of cultural evidence. Image from personal archive
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Contest for international students: My Tartu Roots/Routes

UPDATE, 25 February 2020: the contest is over.

The winners of the contest “My Tartu Roots/Routes”

Congratulations to the winners and a big thank you to all the participants! The first prize is a 3-day guided bus excursion to Saint Petersburg. The second, third, and forth prizes are university hoodies. All content participants will receive 10% discount for the Saint Petersburg trip and 5% discount for a 5-day guided excursion to Moscow and Saint Petersburg – just tell your name at the Fromte Travel to get the discount.

* * *

Do you enjoy writing, taking photos, or making videos? Maybe you love all the above? Take part in our contest! Even if your English isn’t perfect – don’t worry. Be creative! Feeling interested? Not yet? We have some cool prizes for you!

  1. Prepare your contest entry on the topic “My Tartu Roots/Routes“. You can do this in writing, series of photos, video, or a mix of them.
  2. Upload your entry to a social media account of your choice as a public post, so we can see it.
  3. Share the link to your post with us here:


Can I participate? To participate in the contest, you must be a current international student at the University of Tartu.

Contest period. Contest entries will be accepted until 16 February 23:59 2020. The jury will announce the winners on 25 February 2020.

What should I post? The topic for contest entries is: “My Tartu Roots/Routes”. Multiple entries per person are permitted. Entries will be judged based on their originality and quality of expression. By uploading your entry, you confirm that you own the rights to this work and happily agree that the University of Tartu may use it with proper attribution.

How do I enter? Please fill in your name and email address, and upload the link to your entry:

No social media account? Upload your work to:

Prizes. The main prize is a 3-day guided bus excursion to Saint Petersburg on 10–12 April 2020. All participants will receive 10% discount for the Saint Petersburg trip and 5% discount for a 5-day guided excursion to Moscow and Saint Petersburg on 16–20 April 2020. Other prizes include three university hoodies.

Church of the Savior on Blood is one of the main tourist attractions in Saint Petersburg. Image by Georg Adler from Pixabay

We are looking forward to your posts!

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Top 10 Most-Read Stories from 2019

Did you have enough time to read last year? Are you planning to read more this year? In any case, we have compiled our ten most popular stories from 2019 so you can easily find something valuable to explore.

1. 30 Maps of Estonia in 30 Days

In late 2019, Evelyn Uuemaa, a geographer and Senior Researcher in Geoinformatics at the University of Tartu, accepted the challenge to make 30 maps in a row – one each day. She posted the maps on Twitter as a part of the #30DayMapChallenge. Evelyn used open data and open-source software to make the maps. See the story to see them all.

Geographer Evelyn Uuemaa compiled 30 maps of Estonia in 30 days. Image credit: Evelyn Uuemaa

2. An American in Tartu: Subtle differences between living in the US and Estonia

Martin Hayford, a master’s student in the EU—Russia Studies Programme at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, compares living in the US and Estonia. He looks at transport, the friendliness of people, and shopping opportunities. “Overall, what has surprised me the most about Estonia is how similar it is to the US,” concludes Martin.

3. The Pen

This is a short story that won the fifth place in the international students’ contest. The story happened in Karlova, Tartu:

So, I was sitting in front of this building, smoking, in Karlova, and there was this old guy approaching me, presumably drunk, humming while he walked.

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An American in Tartu: Subtle differences between living in the US and Estonia

Most students in the US don’t travel outside their state when pursuing a master’s degree—much less their country. So, whenever I tell someone what I am doing here in Tartu, I am bombarded with a litany of questions. Being that Estonia is outside the current geopolitical understanding of most Americans (compared to, say, the UK), I must deal with even some very fundamental questions: Where is Estonia? (South of Finland, north of Latvia and Lithuania, west of Russia.) Isn’t that part of Russia? (No.) What language do they speak? (Estonian.)

Estonia (Not Russia). Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

But even I—a supposedly informed American—had some questions before I arrived. How do people get around? How do I interact with strangers? Where can I buy [item]? These are more grounded, practical questions, but they are also questions that come up in everyday life. I’ve made a list detailing some of these differences and my thoughts on them.


Walking is the preferred method of transportation. I know that this could be more specific to Tartu, but even in Tallinn and some other European cities I’ve been to it holds true. Everyone knows that us Americans love our cars. The reality is that it’s not so much of a love affair as it is a hostage situation. Especially in the suburbs, every destination is simply too diffuse to get away with not having a car. Even with the help of a bike, oftentimes the distances remain infeasible (not to mention the lack of any sort of bicycle infrastructure).

But in Tartu, everything is within walking distance. Even places you think are outside of walking distance are within walking distance if you’re determined enough. The Police and Border Guard office down Riia is a common destination for students dealing with immigration documents and is oft cited as “out of walking range.” I’ll admit, I took a bus to get there. But I walked home, and it was lovely.

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30 Maps of Estonia in 30 Days

About a month ago, Evelyn Uuemaa, a geographer and Senior Researcher in Geoinformatics at the University of Tartu, accepted the challenge to make 30 maps in a row – one each day. She was posting the maps on Twitter as a part of the #30DayMapChallenge. Evelyn used open data and open-source software to make the maps. Please scroll to see them all. Clicking on a map opens a larger view.

So, here come the maps in the order that Evelyn Uuemaa posted them on Twitter.

1. One year of traffic accidents (2016) in Estonia

The map contains approximately 32,000 data points. Map credit: Evelyn Uuemaa
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