So Long, Farewell

Drew Smith is a senior biology major from the Arkansas State University in the United States.  He is an active blogger and videographer. Drew’s Twitter bio: “Studying for a year in Estonia. I don’t know, maybe you should try looking it up before you ask where it is.”

My, my how a year flies. It’s here. My time in Tartu has finally come to its unfortunate end. The last day in the City of Good Thoughts. How do I wrap up something that I don’t want to end? Maybe I won’t. You know what? It’s decided. I’m not saying this as a goodbye, just as a “see you later”..

Drew Smith

Passing the Town Hall Square in Tartu (me on the left).

Estonia is one of those places that goes unnoticed until someone tells you about it, and once you’ve heard about it, Estonia is everywhere. It’s in THIS list, THIS talks about the University of Tartu, and THIS list puts Estonia as the country with the cleanest air in the world, while THIS list rates Estonia as having the freest internet in the world. They have one of the coolest, most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard in “The Singing Revolution” – which if you haven’t seen yet, you are currently living significantly less inspired than you could be. Most of these things are just lists though. They add to a country’s repertoire, but ultimately mean nothing without actually seeing it first hand.

Simply reading that Estonia has the cleanest air in the world will not give you the sweet sweet nectar that is Estonian air – pouring into your lungs like a crisp, cool glass of water on a hot summer’s day. Reading about Estonian’s internet won’t help you experience true connectedness, just like reading about their educational system won’t give you a world class education (although, to be fair, reading does improve your intelligence so it’s at least helping a little bit). And the pictures will only make you look at your life as the ghost of what could have been.

What are you going to do, just look at pictures of Estonian girls and call it a day? (that kind of sounds ok?) NO! You’re going to find your way to Estonia, grab a beautiful girl by the hand, say something clever and put her number in your phone, which now has free wi-fi everywhere you go. – (In Estonia, you don’t actually have to say “beautiful girl” because it’s implied that the girl in question is indeed beautiful) – Congrats, your life is now moving closer to where it should have been all these years.

If your opportunity to study abroad has passed, and you haven’t spent at least one semester at the University of Tartu, then I feel bad for you. I’ve spent at least one year at 4 different universities now, and the University of Tartu takes the cake. There’s no question which one is the best. I’ve attended state and private institutions in the US, and none of them even come close. The education, the students, the administration, the teachers, and the student life – they win by a long shot in all categories. Why? Well I could go on forever about this, but in short – because they actually care about the students’ well being. We aren’t just another number here. They see us and treat us as actual people with names and futures. They understand that we are the future and that by helping us, they are helping themselves and the world.

This seems like a simple concept, but you would be surprised by how many people at different universities truly don’t care whether you succeed or not. To many universities, you’re simply a number that will either help or hinder their statistics. When I came here I was just a guy with a blog and a camera, but the University of Tartu gave me a lot of encouragement, and not to mention a job, to help me really improve my writing, my goals, my video making, and my resumé.

Speaking of treating people like people, let’s talk about something. When someone says “save the world”, what do you think of? Super heroes, right? Yeah me too. It’s actually pretty easy to save the world though. There are lots of rules you can live by and little things you can do, but one thing you must absolutely do is be kind to people, and treat them like the human being that they are.

There are lots of more eloquently phrased quotes that I could insert here to really drive the point home, but you can Google those on your own time. Instead, I want to give you an example of how it is actively working on a massive scale. For the past 10 months I have lived in an international community. Just about every nationality was represented on my floor. Now I could have just been a xenophobic, nationalistic prick that most other countries associate with Americans, or I could have opened up and allowed myself to learn from all of the wonderful cultures around me.

The first option is the easy way. You don’t have to admit any faults, you can keep thinking that you’re the best, and you don’t have to do any of that tough learning stuff. In fact if you’re reading this and you would’ve chosen the first option then, well, congratulations! This is probably above your reading level and you should maybe go sit down in the corner with a coloring book to let your head stop hurting, champ. For everyone else, I’m sure you know that the second option sounds like the obvious answer, because I worded it so much better. You would be surprised though, because there were actually a few people here that did take that first approach. The second option does, however, require that you almost deconstruct everything you’ve ever known to allow a more worldly and accepting position to take place. Not an easy task.

This is where world peace begins

Kindness is just the first step. You think the path towards peace is paved with xenophobic people simply being nice to each other? No, it takes people who are ready to allow themselves to invest in another person and culture enough to truly understand them. That’s not easy, but the payoff is huge.

The students that allow themselves to be uncomfortable for a short while in order to travel and study abroad, are the ones that are truly bringing the world closer to peace. The University of Tartu is doing everything they can to facilitate this process. Basically, the University of Tartu is saving the world.

For now, I leave you with this video. I present to you, the University of Tartu:

Oh yeah, my goal is to return to Estonia for Laulupidu next summer. Hopefully I can make it that long without the Estonian air.

A longer version of this post originally appeared on my personal blog.

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