We are starting a 4-part series on student life by Rūta Petersonaitė, a fourth year student of publishing at Vilnius University, who is currently spending this autumn semester in Tartu. Don’t want to miss the coming parts? Subscribe to our blog by email or RSS.
I am probably not the only one to recall the last days before leaving for Tartu and the so-called exchange student adventure! Those days were filled with packing and checking the list of things I should not forget (some national gourmet food and drinks, a camera, disco T-shirt, etc.) and listening to the final counsel of “post-Erasmus” friends:
“You will probably spend 50% of your time studying and 50% discovering the Erasmus Universe. I’m not sure if you will spend more money on study books than on parties and traveling, and in any case, it’s not that important where you go, but what you are going to do there. On Mondays you will have pasta, Tuesdays croissants and Wednesdays “Eisbein mit Sauerkraut”. You will probably fall in love with somebody, spend time crawling from pub to pub (metaphorically or literally) and your number of Facebook friends will increase by 30% – just be open-minded and your year abroad will be a time to remember”.
This semester the University of Tartu is hosting a record number of international students – 680. This fact begs the question as to what reasons brought them here, and with two months already behind them, it would also be interesting to know whether their expectations met with delightful or awkward surprises, what they think Estonians are like and what are the “must-dos” of Tartu in their point of view.
CHRISTIAN: I chose Tartu because the exchange programme between my home university (Universität Augsburg) and “Tartu Ülikool” was new. No one from my faculty had been here before and it was something unique.
BRITTANY: Tartu was on my list of universities I could attend, but I wanted to go somewhere off the beaten path. A lot of Americans study in the UK or more glamorous places like Italy or France, but I wanted a different experience! I applied to schools in Poland, the Czech Republic and Tartu. I got accepted here, so here I am! I think Estonia is the “hidden treasure” of Europe.
TRISTAN: I had a lot of opportunities to study abroad, but I chose Tartu because I have been in Estonia before. Last year I spent one week of my holidays in Tallinn. So I had a small, positive impression of Estonia before I decided to come study here. Furthermore, there are a lot beautiful places to visit in Estonia and in the countries close to it.
MARCO: I chose Tartu for many reasons. First of all, it’s the only university I could choose, which has such a good level of Russian language lectures. I also chose Tartu because a friend of mine was here last year and really enjoyed the life in Tartu. And last but not least, I want to experience a real WINTER.
DOMINIKA: I chose Tartu because it is something new for me, a place where I have never been, and also because my university proposed it to me personally.
The first month in a nutshell
CHRISTIAN: Making friends, enjoying the Estonian summer, learning Estonian.
BRITTANY: Parties, traveling, new friendships and adventuring.
TRISTAN: Exciting, interesting, funny.
MARCO: Organized, wonderful, rainy.
DOMINIKA: Incredible, amazing, friendly people, nice atmosphere.
The most delightful surprise
CHRISTIAN: When I arrived in Tartu it was +35 degrees! But now the weather is more Estonian, with rain and snow. I was surprised that the whole city is like the campus of the university; it shows that the university is really important to the city. Tartu also looks young and modern because of so many students.
BRITTANY: How quickly strong friendships developed: we went from being complete strangers to being like family very quickly! It is nice to live around other international students because we all are in the same situation: we are in a foreign country, we miss our family and friends, and we are trying to get used to a different culture. It is a really cool way to develop special bonds and friendships!
TRISTAN: All the things that you need for living are not far away.
MARCO: The University of Tartu is better organized than my home university in Italy.
DOMINIKA: Before coming here I didn’t know anything about it and I expected it to be sort of like the end of the world, so I was surprised that Tartu is such a beautiful city and also that so many people speak fluent English.
The most awkward incident
CHRISTIAN: I was disappointed about the clubs in Tartu, because here are a lot of nice pubs but the clubs are not what I expected from a student town.
BRITTANY: I remember one time I was in a store when I first got here before I knew any Estonian at all. I had a question and I just walked up to the lady working and asked in English. She looked at me like I was crazy! I could tell that she was irritated that I assumed she spoke English, and I felt bad for making that assumption. I do not want to appear to be the “Ugly American” who thinks that everyone should speak English just because I don’t speak Estonian. Also, I am taking Estonian language classes, so that helps a lot with simple phrases!
TRISTAN: I have more things to do for the university than I expected on my semester abroad.
MARCO: The division that sometimes appears between Estonians and Russians. I knew that, but I didn’t expect it to be so strong.
DOMINIKA: I didn’t expect to have so much homework!
Who is the typical Estonian?
CHRISTIAN: The typical Estonian is really quiet and a little bit shy, but when they drink a bit they become more open. I have, though, met a lot of open-minded Estonians who are interested in foreign students and who have traveled, worked or studied in different parts of the world. They especially try to go abroad for exchange semesters and internships.
BRITTANY: I have noticed that the guys are very, very tall and the girls always wear high heels when they go out! I was expecting people to be introverted and shy, but every Estonian I have met is very nice and curious about where I come from. Everyone (mostly the girls) is always very nicely dressed, even on rainy days!
TRISTAN: Estonians are more closed in comparison with the southern mentality, but it does not mean that they are unfriendly or not interested in meeting new people. In general, Estonians are helpful people.
MARCO: Slow, but of course it really depends on the person. Estonians are also precise and accurate in doing things. Estonian women are beautiful.
DOMINIKA: For me the typical Estonian is blonde, slow, reserved but nice!
Must-see in Tartu
CHRISTIAN: See the Fountain of the Kissing Students, the University Main Building and the historical student lock-up under the roof of there. Go to Zavood, Gen Klubi and Trepp.
BRITTANY: I love the Cathedral Ruins! I walk past them several times a week and every time I am amazed by how beautiful they are! I cannot wait to see them covered in snow!
TRISTAN: The nice old town.
MARCO: Tartu University, the Emajõgi, Toomemägi and all the buildings on it.
DOMINIKA: The University Main Building, for sure!
Must-do in Tartu
CHRISTIAN: Cross the bridge by walking over the arch to become a real student of Tartu. Play BeerBingo in Illegard and go to karaoke night in the Gunpowder Cellar on Monday to see Estonian passion for singing. Also, go to a traditional Estonian sauna in the countryside. Finally, drink A. Le Coq Beer and do not like Saku, because it is from the North 🙂
BRITTANY: Walk over the concrete arch on the bridge leading to the main square!
TRISTAN: Enjoy the atmosphere in the pubs of Tartu and meet friends and new people there.
MARCO: Live the real students’ life but do not miss lectures as well.
DOMINIKA: Cross the bridge over the arch!
Must-know phrases in Estonian
CHRISTIAN: “Palun üks Alexander ja üks küüslauguleib”.
BRITTANY: My Estonian is still very limited, so “Terviseks” is very commonly used, but “Üks õlu” is important too! And of course “Tere” and “Äitah”!
TRISTAN: “Tere”, “nägemist”, “aitäh”, “palun”, “Palun üks…” “Kas sa räägid …keelt”?, “terviseks”.
MARCO: “Üks õlu, palun”!