When I woke up in Brussels, Europe was never the same again.
It was the last day of the EU-funded study trip to Brussels when Brexit came to realization in June 2016, sparking debates on the future of Europe as we sat at the breakfast nook in Saint Nicolas Hotel. We didn’t expect our meeting with officials at the headquarter of European External Action Service would conclude with such historical event. But it was already written. So did my unfinished journey in Estonia.My choice of studying in Estonia seems to be an unshakable destiny as I have a glimpse of the inexplicable past.
Two years ago, I had an exchange semester in Denmark as a student journalist, witnessing the biggest migrant crisis for decades to come. Six months later, I went to Europe again for a study programme on European affairs, followed by a week-long visit to Estonia to overlook my study options. And now, here I’m again.
The year of 2015 was the time when my ties with Europe became inseparable. I remembered it was a dream come true to travel around 21 European countries when I was an exchange student in Denmark, enjoying the greatest degree of freedoms while getting first-hand experiences in interviewing parliamentarians in Brussels. The exchange semester wasn’t just about leaving my trails from central Europe to the Balkans, stretching across the Scandinavian countries, but it also led me to a turning point in life–conducting a journalistic project in the occupied region of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.
Since then, I couldn’t distance myself from what I saw in the occupied region as everything broke out after the end of Ukrainian revolution in 2014. While it toppled the previous government, hundreds of civilians wounded and ceased after three months of protests. When I came back to Hong Kong again in 2016, I found a missing piece of European puzzle which I left behind in the sole Baltic State that I didn’t visit among those 21 European countries–Estonia. I met an Estonian national from the University of Tartu as I was about to finish my bachelor degree.
Excited, I began to connect the dots to formulate my possible path to stay in Europe for good. So I took a comparative politics course about post-Communist countries in Europe which shed light on the most famous movement that restored the independence of Estonia–Singing Revolution. I also enrolled a training course to prepare for a simulation of the meetings of heads of states of the European Council to discuss the refugee crisis in Europe. That’s how I started to think about getting a Master degree in Europe.
With much surprise to those friends who heard about my travelling experience, I went to Estonia for the first time after the Brussels trip in 2016. My Estonian schoolmate showed me around Tallinn, Tartu, and Pōlva, giving me a glimpse of the most progressive post-Soviet country which brands itself as a Nordic state. Among all, Tartu was the only place which could offer me the most relevant program with the best conditions of living as a student–affordable, compact and tranquil (compared to Hong Kong, one of the most crowded cities on earth). I arranged a meeting with an academic staff who offered me much insight on the EU-Russia Studies. Then, I prepared to work in Hong Kong for a year before starting to apply for the MA program.
“That’s it,” I thought. I could imagine living in a city where 1/5 of residents are students, cash doesn’t flow as frequent as the flow of internet usage, and forests are meant to be covered by Wi-Fi. Everything is too good to be true.
So here I’m again. A Hong Kongese crush on Europe, immersing into an ocean of knowledge in European affairs and Russian foreign policies. Apart from traditional academic training on critical thinking, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies also provides a range of opportunities for political science students to plan for their future career paths, including development seminars which have a series of tailor-made coaching sessions for each student to cater their needs.
But the most valuable learning experience lies beyond any traditional setting of classrooms. With a class of students from 16 countries and five continents, there are more than lessons to learn from the peers. Our EU-Russia Studies class is truly global with remarkable stories from each of us, dwelling across the world with different backgrounds from journalism to social activism, not mentioning expertise in numerous academic fields. This is a match made in heaven.
“Could there be a better start of the new chapter of life than this?” I wondered.
I looked out of the window in the middle of the night, imagining the proudest history I was about to write for years to come. Perhaps, one day, when I wake up in the city of Tartu, the world would never be the same again.