Somewhere in the North: Why Nobody Came to Visit Me

Karin Pointner, who spent her Erasmus semester 2006/2007 in Tartu, won the first prize in Erasmus essay competition, organised by the OeAD (Austrian agency for international mobility and cooperation in educaton, science and research) in autumn 2011. Karin’s essay came in best out of 200 submissions and was read to 300 people on May 3 during the “25 Years of Erasmus” celebrations in Vienna.

Erasmus essay by Karin Pointner
Stefan is currently in Spain. And you can see that. Everyday Stefan pleases the Facebook-community with party, beach and sunshine pictures while we, staying in Vienna, cannot even see our own hands through the fog and deal with minus temperatures in November.  By now Stefan is commenting on his pictures in Spanish.

Recently one of his friends asked: “Did you only go to Valencia for partying “and got immediately four “likes”, one of them from Stefan himself. Cheap weekend-trips to Valencia are selling like hot cakes and bring Stefan the Erasmus-Spaniard-by-choice visitor crowds and recreational stress one can best stand with Sangria.

Nobody came to visit me during my exchange semester. No wonder, because not even my own parents were sure, in which city I was studying for half a year – Riga? Tallinn? Vilnius? Moscow? Helsinki? For sure I was “somewhere up there”.

My friends only shook their heads when I explained that I would live for some months in the small Estonian town of Tartu. Although “small town” for the “small state” really is an understatement – Estonia is a village and Tartu with its 100.000 inhabitants the corresponding tavern, because Tartu is the university town par excellence.

Even I started to smile at Tallinn´s risible university life during my stay, which brings us back to the subject: Yes, Tallinn is the capital of Estonia. Estonia, that’s the most northern one of the Baltic States, on the map not even one centimetre away from Finland. Everyone knows Finland: Moose, Helsinki, Nokia, Moomins, and sauna taking Finns that are not averse to alcohol…But Estonia? Don’t they all speak Russian there?

Tallinn in winterIt feels like I have already explained about a thousand times that TALLINN is the capital city and not Riga, a thousand times I confirmed that Estonia is part of the European Union, that Estonia really has less inhabitants than Vienna, uncountable times I tried to explain the language is called “Estonian” and most of all I had to explain to my friends, colleagues, relatives and people who like me, why of all things I picked Estonia as my Erasmus-destination and not a nightlife-district in Spain, the Toscana heat or at least trendy Berlin.

Yes, I admit, it´s not easy to understand, why a student in her right mind is already dealing several months in Vienna with the 14 cases of the Estonian language. A language, which is only spoken by about 1 million people, and where one can have fun with letter combinations like üü, ii and öö.

At least the Estonian tere is quite close to the Austrian word dere (“Hi”) and the words müts, reisibüroo and piljard makes one sense that there is a slightly German influence. That it means, that you go to the beach and not to the Estonian border if you go to the rand (“Rand” means edge, border in German) became clear to me during our hiking tour around the Pühajärv. But the word I used the most was terviseks and it doesn’t have that meaning one can assume because of the last syllable. You don´t only say terviseks if someone has to sneeze, but especially when you have a toast with a glass of vodka, equipped with a pickle in your left hand.

I also participated in various summer excursions – we did everything the Erasmus-heart can wish for, from going to the sauna, a treasure hunt in the forest, a weekend trip to the island of Saaremaa, to a  visit of the KGB-prison cells – I met thousands of students from all over the world – the Brazilians saw in Estonia for the first time in their lives snow, the French drove us crazy with their charm, the Italians were the best spaghetti-chefs when we were hungry after hanging out in the bars, the Polish students showed us, that you can also have vodka for breakfast and the Germans proved that you can really study instead of partying.

I danced with crazy Estonians through the city, I attended interesting lectures, I travelled to Stockholm, Helsinki, Riga and St. Petersburg, I build up friendships that last until today, in short: I lost my heart to this tiny state in the North!

After my return I was in Estonia again several times – I had an internship in the Estonian-German-culture institute, I drove by car from Vienna to Tartu (with stops in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia), I wrote my 200-page thesis about Estonia´s development cooperation and spent several weeks doing research there.

I also realised or was reminded which wonderful people live in Estonia, how many exciting stories this country has to offer, how important my friends there are to me and how great it is to have spent the Erasmus-semester concerning the motto “better to study extraordinarily” or how the Estonians say “Igal südamel oma paik”, every heart has its place. And one part of my heart is definitely at home in Estonia. Karin “likes that”.

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  • It is always fun to read such stories when someone from south find out that our country is not just all about polar bears : )