International students of the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy regard Estonia as the place to make your dreams come true

Eight international students started studies at the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy this autumn. Three of them are exchange students who stay here for one semester only and then continue studies in their home country, and five study Sound and Visual Technology in the two-year English-taught master’s curriculum at the academy.

Students of the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy.
Students of the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy, Rufat Mustafayev from Azerbaijan, Jason Alexander Greenberg from the USA, Maren Irmelin Munthe-Dahl from Norway and Qumrosh Abbas Khan from Pakistan consider Estonians as friendly people and Estonia as a place to realise their dreams. Photo by Marko Saarm.

The master’s students of Sound and Visual Technology come from Azerbaijan, the United States of America, Russia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Erasmus exchange students are from Lithuania and Norway and they study dance art, handicraft and metalwork. Krista Tamm, the academy’s International Relations Specialist, explains that besides their major discipline, international students also learn the Estonian language and culture.

We decided to find out what made these people come to Estonia and Viljandi and what they plan to do while they are here.

Rufat Mustafayev from Azerbaijan started his master’s studies in sound technology. He said he had applied to several European universities, including the Polytechnic University of Milan, but still chose the programme offered in Estonia, because it covers both visual and sound technology. In Italy, he says, it is possible to study music and acoustic engineering. “I decided in favour of Viljandi because in this industry, sound and visual art always work together and it would be good if I had experience in both fields before I start work,” Mustafayev explained.

He has previously studied in Turkey and Azerbaijan, and while pursuing his bachelor’s degree, worked as a volunteer at a Formula 1 stage and at European Football Championships. “By the end of my studies I already worked for those companies,” he says with pride. He is an active student, which is confirmed by the fact that Mustafayev has helped coordinate Erasmus projects in his homeland and often visited Turkey and Georgia in connection with these projects.

Of the two years he will study in Estonia, he plans to spend one semester in a Berlin recording studio to study how to create audio design for video games. This is his dream.

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When the university mascot becomes a theme for memes

Last academic year, the University of Tartu organized a mascot contest that attracted a total of 97 submitted designs. The university family selected “Tiksu” by Lennart Rikk as the winner. The design of the mascot has now developed further, and at the end of August the live version of Tiksu was introduced. 

Mascot Tiksu participating in the opening event of academic year.
Tiksu. Image credit: Andres Tennus

Legend says that Tiksu is a mystical bird said to have accompanied students at the window of a lecture hall for three autumn and spring semesters, and nobody really knows its species or origin. By nature, Tiksu is a curious and charismatic bird who wishes to represent the values and interests of the university family. Tiksu is now part of the university family and can be seen in some lectures and events all over the campus. 

The first big event that Tiksu participated in was the opening of the academic year on 30 August. The mascot had just got ready a couple of days before the big debut. As with any freshman, Tiksu was excited, nervous, and even a bit scared to start its journey in the best university of Estonia. The rector and the rest of the university family welcomed the newbie warmly. However, students noticed that Tiksu was a bit worried and overwhelmed by the big life-changing event. One could predict that the university family would need time to adapt to Tiksu or even be confused about the overall idea of the mascot. What actually happened was unforeseen by Tiksu’s support crew, not to mention by the bird itself. 

The blue bird became famous overnight. Students found Tiksu to really represent the average scholar, and lectors saw many similarities between Tiksu and the freshmen. Additionally, the meme community loved the bird and saw it as inspirational material for creating student art. The rest is history. Tiksu has now been called a depressed queen, the students’ spirit animal, as well as the cutest chick of Tartu. Even our rector, Professor Toomas Asser, wanted to have a photo with Tiksu. For our Estonian-speaking readers, we recommend reading this humorous article on Tiksu’s well-being.

Image credit: jojouhanna
Meme about Tiksu. Image credit: Peedu Tuisk
Image credit: Peedu Tuisk

The need for a mascot

You might ask why the University of Tartu needs a mascot and what’s the overall idea behind Tiksu’s blue feathers? In fact, Tiksu’s mission is to motivate and support students during their academic journey and increase the cohesion of the university community. Additionally, Tiksu is here to hold up the achievement of the university’s goals and help popularize education and research.  

Many important tasks, right? Indeed, but our mascot is ready to tackle them all! Keep your eye on the University of Tartu’s social media accounts, as Tiksu certainly has many surprises to share. 

*Use of the Tiksu mascot is organized by a team of volunteers led by the university’s marketing unit. All students and staff of the University of Tartu are welcome to apply to become a volunteer. If you would like to try what it is like to wear a mascot suit or to lead a team of volunteers, write to the marketing unit of the university at

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The one event which changed my perception of Estonians

People playing games outside.
Fun activities with the crowd. Photo credit: Gerlin Gil

Weeks back I got an email inviting me for the Summer University 2021 – an event organised by the Federation of Estonian Student Unions (EÜL). I was to attend in my capacity as the President of the Association of African Students, Estonia (AASE). I was excited about the opportunity to travel to another part of Estonia, but I wasn’t looking forward to much networking with native Estonians, as my previous attempts have failed rather woefully. (Long story short: When I moved into my dorm space in last November, I was eager to make friends and tried picking up conversations with random strangers. I was particularly looking out for Estonian students, but discovered soon that most Estonians are not into small talk.)

The Summer University event was to be held for two days from 21–22 August at Voore Guest house in Jõgeva County. The Tallinn contingent of student representatives set out from Tallinn for the 2 hrs 30 mins journey. I and one other African student representative were received at the park by the Project Manager, and other than the occasional eye contact and polite nod, the journey was a quiet one for me, just as I expected – but this perception would soon be shattered by the affairs of the following 48 hours.

As mentioned at the beginning, the event was organized by EÜL, which is an umbrella organisation of students whose aim is to stand for the rights, needs, and interests of students at the national level and to support student unions in carrying out their work. The Summer University was very timely, as it addressed several topics that have bedeviled our various associations. Some notable issues and highlights of the event include the following:

  1. A discussion session on discrimination of international students and how student councils should react;
  2. A workshop on mental health without borders presented by Kristel Jakobson;
  3. Presentation on the situation of international students by the representative of Eero Loonurm – Mari Liis Jakobson;
  4. Deliberations on how to help students and chat about the way forward; and
  5. A presentation by representatives of Integratsiooni Sihtasutus (The Integration Foundation) on multicultural society.

AASE made a case for the struggles of African students (especially new students), notably visa applications, accommodation, opportunities in the job market, and integration into the society, and at the end of the first day, it was clear to me that although international students have peculiar struggles, there are many challenges faced by all students, including Estonians.

I was shocked when (during the event) I had people walk up to me to pick up conversations. I was lucky to be paired in a room with an Estonian student who is probably the most energetic soul I’ve met since moving to Estonia November last year. He was versatile and told me the history behind everything. 

Group photo of the participants.
Participants of the Summer University 2021. Image credit: Gerlin Gil

We had fun field activities, and in no time I had found a basis for conversation with students interested in geopolitics and my home country, with a brilliant chap working in an awesome startup, recommendations for where to find suitable internships, and suggestions on how best to learn the Estonian language. We spent most of the late evening at the sauna and playing games, and I think I picked up more Estonian words in one evening than I have in my last six months of trying to learn at home. I took one valuable lesson home: Estonians are not difficult people provided you are willing to identify areas of mutual interest and are prepared to meet them halfway… in the sauna. 😊 So if you haven’t found a “common language” with Estonians, please don’t lose hope; rather, be ready for surprises.

The Summer University was a part of EÜL’s project, “Growing Ties: Student Democracy in a Transnational Era”, which is supported by Mondo, the European Commission, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Estonian Ministry of Culture, and the National Foundation of Civil Society (KÜSK).

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How to adapt in a new environment?

Image Credit: Mohamed Hassan

As humans, we are able to adjust in constantly moving environments, but it sure takes time and effort. Every individual experience shapes how one adapts in a new environment and overcomes the stress related to the adjusting period. In this article, the focus will be on how to adapt in new situations, including in university, and how to manage study-related tensions.

A new academic study year has begun, and most students feel that they are in a traffic jam full of obstacles, challenges, novelties, and uncertainties, emotionally overwhelmed by all these stressors. However, it is absolutely OK to feel all that, because whether this is a first time experience – being away from home or going back to study after a break – starting university life is a time of great change, but at the end of the day you will learn how to cope with these changes.

Adjustment to change

The ability to adjust to new situations or environments is an important phase in one’s development. Based on the context, this term is interpreted differently. Within this topic, adapting is a process by which an individual is able to cope with the demands/requirements of the external and internal environment, one of which is stress management (Kallasmaa, 2003), as is the process of matching, establishing, and maintaining relationships.

When entering university or starting a new academic year you might face unexpected challenges. To understand and better describe what one is experiencing through the adapting period, several theorists have differentiated phases of adjustment. For example, cultural researcher Geert Hofstede distinguishes four main stages in the adjustment to an unfamiliar environment. The duration and intensity of the stages depends on the person and to what extent the new environment differs from the person’s original place. In addition to the four main stages, the fifth also deserves attention.

Chart which shows adjustment stages upon entering university.
Adjustment stages upon entering university. Chart Credit: Counselling Centre of University of Tartu

1.     Euphoria or “honeymoon”. In this phase, the person feels positive and excited about the new environment, and has high expectations for the future. This is experienced by a person who has wanted to go to a new cultural space, and coming to university is usually just such a free choice.

2.     Disappointment or culture shock. The first difficulties and crises. The new situation may not fully meet expectations; one may not succeed in building relationships and is confused by having to manage large amounts of information and new rules of conduct. This leads to dissatisfaction, impatience, anger, sadness, feelings of loneliness and incompetence, etc.

3.     Acceptance of, getting used to, learning from the new situation. Gradually, one develops an understanding of the rules and norms; is no longer afraid to experiment; is more social and open again; the sense of humour re-appears and a certain psychological balance emerges.

4.     Adjustment or integration with the new culture. One feels confident in the new environment and copes well; the sense of belonging has increased. Self-definition is clarified and the person acts purposefully.

5.     Reverse culture shock may occur on returning to one’s home culture (or city). One may find that things or people have changed, or they themselves have changed to an extent that they no longer adapt to their former life environment.

Hereby, it is important to emphasize that adjustment stages are used mostly in a cultural context where one leaves a home country (city) and starts a new phase in a new culture. Nevertheless, these phases can also be applied to university life.

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Why I didn’t hesitate?

Trinity sitting on the bridge of lake Pühajärve.
Early morning quarantine trip to lake Pühajärv. Image credit: private collection

I believe all students have found themselves looking at their timetables and wondering which lecture will be taken to the online format sooner or later. September starts in a few days, but the coronavirus situation is not much brighter than last autumn. Fortunately, we now have the opportunity to get vaccinated, and thanks to this, I’m more hopeful when thinking about the upcoming autumn. 

When the pandemic took the stage in 2020, the situation was rather desolate precisely because we knew so little. As a new medical student, I had to figure out a way to study to become a doctor at home in the company of textbooks. In addition to the major changes in the organisation of studies, I had to think about how to protect my family from the virus. One of my family members has immunodeficiency, which means that from the moment the emergency situation was introduced, we almost never left the house. Couriers helped to fill the fridge with groceries, we searched for the emptiest hiking trails and kept contact with friends only by video bridge. Ideally, it was supposed to be the reality of all people to curb the virus, but, naturally, there is a limit to how long a social creature can stay in total isolation. We managed to do that for more than two months, because life depended on it. 

Summer brought along somewhat different normality, although we knew that a new and stronger wave would come in the autumn. In the autumn semester, contact studies indeed resumed for the most part, but all around us, preparations were made for the imminent distance learning. However, the motivation to study at the university also largely depends on the people around us, who will most likely be our future colleagues, and this is why distance learning is not the best option. Besides medical studies, I have a great passion for dancing, and in early autumn, I took part in the rehearsals of a dance performance, but had to stop that because the risk was too high. I needed to avoid falling ill, and, even more so, taking the virus home with me.  

When the news finally came that COVID-19 vaccines were on the way, I felt a childish pleasure, like getting a Christmas present. Although I knew the vaccine would not reach me any time soon, it gave me hope that we can return to something resembling normal life at one point. In March, medical students got the opportunity to get the vaccine, first those whose studies took place at the hospital already, and then the rest of us who wanted the vaccine. I, too, received my first shot in March. It never crossed my mind not to get vaccinated. I have also taken the flu vaccine every year, as vaccination is one of the most effective ways to protect myself and others from various vaccine-preventable infectious diseases. Thanks to this, I can now feel a little more relaxed at home because I know I’ve done everything I can to protect my loved ones. 

I want to point out that while it is important that we all receive a quality education, build strong relationships and have access to everything essential, it is even more important to keep people around us safe. Especially those who would like to protect themselves, but whose well-being largely depends on the people around them. Therefore, it is everyone’s responsibility to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and, by that, help and protect others. 

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My story of finding a job in Tartu

Sooner or later, we as students face a new, challenging task in our lives – finding a job. Some get lucky and have success during the first years of university, some need to fail 1000 interviews to succeed in one, while others do not care about finding a job until they graduate. 

I am not a career expert, but I am a student of Tartu University (Innovation and Technology Management Program) who works at the Estonian company Fortumo as a Product Owner. In this article, I will share my story of finding a job in Tartu, as well as some advice from other international students. 

For your convenience, I structured my story into two parts: learning about work opportunities and getting hired. Enjoy the read!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_2052-640x480.jpg
Me at the office. Photo credit: Private collection

Learning about work opportunities

I will share the truth. I did not want to look for jobs at all when I was starting to study Innovation and Technology Management for three specific reasons: 

  1. I had a part-time job at NMS as a project management assistant. 
  2. After 2.5 years of working full time and studying full time in Kyiv, I wanted to have a proper student life. 
  3. I was afraid that the study workload would be too high to combine it with full-time work.
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How to study smarter? Tips for newbies (and oldies too)

Studying at a university is a privilege not all people get to experience. Thus everyone that has the opportunity should take full advantage of it, meaning they should focus solely on studying. Still, many people fail to do so and end up graduating university with the lowest possible grades to pass or even dropping out before the last year. What makes it hard to focus on studying and how to avoid getting lost during the process?

Person reading a textbook.
Image credit: Pixabay

As a university student myself, I have faced many obstacles in studying that I find to be common problems associated with studying at a university. The first aspect is a change of environment. Most people step into university (and adult life) straight from high school, which brings a lot of changes. Many move out of their family home, become independent for the first time, get a job, and have to become responsible basically over a night. This all comes as a shock and creates more problems than just dealing with school, taking away from full dedication to studies.

With the change of environment comes a change in the workload and the responsibility to keep track of every assignment that must be done. In Estonia, teachers remind students of their homework, exams, or other projects on a daily basis, whether it be in the classroom or via the internet, so it is easier to remember everything that must be done. In university, though, a student is left to their own devices. No more reminders by professors, small tests to fully understand the subject, or group projects with your closest friends that are more fun than hard. The amount of work is shocking to some and can be hard to comprehend. Due to the amount of work, it is easier to forget certain assignments which could lead to failing a course entirely. Keeping track of everything is much more difficult, and the heavy workload can cause a drop in the average grade, because students are okay with half-done jobs.

I think that university is the best time to find friends and enjoy being young. You have no strings attached yet, but are old enough to take care of yourself. So, socializing is a must and a joy. What makes matters difficult is finding it hard to find balance between going to bars and parties, but still focusing on studies as well. It is possible to pull all-nighters between parties, schoolwork and lectures, but it is not a permanent solution. Some can get lost in the swirl of partying and forget why they have come to university in the first place. After getting off the rails of keeping track of studies while also being social, it is difficult to get back on.

At first glance, these problems seem to be more related to personal life, but they all actually affect the way a person studies and how they perform in school. But since they are all a natural part of life, a person needs to find balance between them and try to keep their eyes on the “prize”.

But how can a new student find balance without the experience to do so? Well, I have some tips.

  1. Stay ahead of the curve

One of the biggest mistakes students make is not keeping an eye on all of the courses that they have taken, which leads to discovering a 1000-word essay or a presentation that is due the next day, while they actually should study for an exam. In order to avoid such an instance, I recommend taking some time off at the beginning of a semester to write out every assignment that has to be done in every course, even better if the student takes time to plan out when they will start with the bigger assignments (this is easier towards the middle of the semester; by then all changes in the assignments or deadlines should be agreed on), so they have it easier when the storm of exams hits. Then they have a clear view of everything, they know when they have the time to do the assignments, and after they’re done, they can cross each one out, which is highly satisfying.

library shelves
Image credit: Pixabay
  • Rustle some paper

In today’s world, it is common to write important dates into a phone or computer in order to do it quickly and to save room. I, however, find it much more beneficial to write everything down on paper, even better if it is a notebook or calendar. I also find it therapeutic to be able to cross something off a list after I’m done with it. I always recommend buying a calendar in the beginning of a schoolyear to keep track of everything that must be done.

  • Smaller and bigger plans

While on the subject of planning assignments and writing everything out, I recommend making a plan at the beginning of every week (or even day) of what should be done and on which day it will be done. This way a student can see if an assignment takes up more time than thought or if some housework needs some time in a busy calendar. It also gives a good feeling to have done everything on the list by the end of the day and makes it easier to see how much work has to be done each week in order to be on top of the game. However, if a list is made, then it should also be followed! Writing out important assignments is not equivalent to actually doing them, so you cannot rely on getting motivation from making a list.

  • Take it chill

Even though it is important to focus on studying, it is equally as important to take some time off to just relax. And by relaxing, I mean actually relaxing; this does not mean housework or other responsibilities outside of school. I find it extremely important to have some down time in between studying to watch a funny show, go for a walk, see your friends, or eat something tasty. We need to remind ourselves that all of the work that we do will be rewarded, even if the reward comes from ourselves. Even though one must be careful with how much they reward themselves and if they actually deserve it, work should always be rewarded with something.

  • Don’t forget those around you

I find it very easy to forget to socialize while in the studying zone, but I also find it important to take some time off of studies to see friends or family. It can be very beneficial to vent to someone about the load of work that must be done or just to listen to what others have done or have coming in the future. Humans are social beings; why do we tend to keep our problems and thoughts to ourselves? After all, sharing is caring.

University is a great time in an adult person’s life, and thus every single student should enjoy it to the maximum. This is absolutely possible, even with keeping track of schoolwork and getting good grades. Balance is all it takes to be on top of your game. Pick up balancing schoolwork and other fun things, you’ll find it beneficial!

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