Gabriela Küsters is an Erasmus student from the University of Applied Sciences in Holland. Gabriela also works as a website reporter at her home university and studies journalism and newswriting at the London School of Journalism.
Study abroad is perhaps one of the most thrilling phases of a student’s academic career. It is the time where scholars say farewell to their home countries and embark on a long journey of innovative discoveries and excitement. Although most students are unaware of what to expect in this new phase of their lives, they are definitely certain of one thing: Their Erasmus experience will be one they will certainly never, ever forget.
Although Erasmus is supposed to be just another average school year, students do take advantage of it to party excessively, study less and travel more. Tartu is obviously not any different. Although the University of Tartu offers a vast range of excellent courses taught by tremendously competent lecturers, the Erasmus Committee has the same ideal as any other Committee in Europe: To make students experience different cultures and have the time of their lives.
It was by following this legacy that the Committee organized the GO SOUTH trip. On the 10th of September, The ESN group packed up all of the international students in two buses and took them to visit the magical places in the southern part of Estonia. For the small sum of 17€, students enjoyed a whole day of entertaining activities and pleasurable sightseeing with their peers.
Along with the beautiful morning sun, the ESN buses came to pick up all of the international students residing in the massive hostel on Raatuse. Although it was only 9:00 in the morning on a Saturday that followed a Friday night of extreme partying, all of the scholars were looking sharp and excited for the big trip. Packing nothing more than some snacks and a camera, the learners got on the bus one after the other with smiles of enthusiasm that could brighten up any November evening.
Once everyone was settled in their seats, the bus finally took off and the adventure soon began. Ten minutes after departure, it was clear that the students were no longer in the historical city of Tartu. Only wooden houses in vast meadows surrounded by windmills and tall trees were seen, and it was clear the bus was now heading into the countryside.
After driving on a steep and narrow road that managed to make most students on board nauseous, the bus finally made its first stop in Põlvamaa. It did not take long until the first tour guide appeared to describe the place as “life in Estonia in the ancient times”. Looking astonished and surprised by the brightness of the green colors of the trees and fields, the scholars patiently followed the guide, listening carefully and cautiously to everything that was being said. The students were so caught up in what was being said that the only sound that could be heard other than the guide’s voice were the sounds of the shutters of innumerable cameras.
After spending about two hours in the beautiful, historical village of Põlvamaa, and learning about how the school system and courts worked in the old times, the ESN crew packed the whole group onto the buses that soon headed towards the next stop.
Half an hour after a loud and noisy drive, the scholars soon quieted down to hear the announcement that the next stop was just ahead of them. Bulging their eyes and chattering in amusement, the students carefully made space within themselves to see what the next stop looked like through the bus window. As soon as the bus stopped and the doors opened, several young adults jumped off with an amazing expression of interest on their faces. It was like they were once again experiencing a taste of childhood curiosity.
It was not long until the next tourist guide approached the group to tell wonderful stories of Setomaa. After a long explanation about how ancient Estonian farmers used to live and what their customs were like, the group made a little pit stop at the local gift shop where many students purchased dried fish from the area. Apparently, it is a big custom in south Estonia, and according to many scholars, it is also very delicious.
Once the tour through the many ancient houses in Setomaa was over, it was now time to have lunch. Lunch was served in Setomaa itself, making life easier for all of those who were extremely famished. The students left the historical courtyard, followed the delicious smell and wound up sitting at one of the beautiful wooden tables in what looked like a small, but very cozy restaurant. After everyone took their seats, the ESN crew soon started explaining about the meals that were about to be served to the students. The meal provided to the scholars was a traditional Estonian dish that, contrary to what many of the them believed it to be, tasted absolutely delicious.
Once the students were nicely fed and their stomachs fairly full (thanks to the exquisite Estonian cuisine), it was now time to burn off the calories acquired at lunch and do some exercise. After driving for nearly an hour to the next stop, the bus finally arrived in what seemed to be the closest thing to a mountain in Estonia: Suur Munamägi.
Once all had climbed its 318 meters all the way to the top, the crew encountered a beautiful and modern observation tower. It was a matter of minutes until an enormous line was formed by all of the curious students that wanted to take a look at the 346.7-meter high view and the incredible 50-km radius line of sight. As soon as the commotion was over, the ESN crew, along with the group of students, decided it was time to appreciate the view with a delicious scoop of ice cream purchased right there, in a little delicatessen, at the top of the mountain. Once several pictures and snapshots were taken by the scholars and by the Erasmus Committee, it was now time to head down to the foot of the mountain and get, once again, on the bus.
Exhausted from all of the climbing, the scholars sat back in their seats and enjoyed the ride to the next part of the trip – the supermarket. Although it was just a few hours after lunch and a couple of minutes after the delicious ice cream, the students soon managed to disappear amongst the many shelves of the store in the pursuit of something to eat. The stop lasted just long enough for the group to recharge their energies and boost their sugar levels.
Once that mission was complete, it was once again time to enter the bus and travel a little bit more. In a matter of minutes, the students soon reached what was supposed to be their last stop of the trip, the city of Võru. Tired and worn out by the rest of the journey, the scholars stayed long enough just to take some pictures and enjoy what was known by Estonians as the “beach”.
Obviously, it was nothing like a real beach, but a lake that combined with the beautiful sunset and native animals to provide the perfect ending to an exciting and productive day. Once the sun had set, the chilliness rapidly reached the students’ bodies, forcing them to return to the bus and call it a day. Beat by all of the excitement provided by the ESN, the scholars sat back on the bus and allowed themselves to fall gently asleep while the bus drove back to where it all began, the Raatuse Hostel.
When the bus finally arrived to its initial departure point and the students finally awoke from their deep sleep, only one thing was on their minds – the question that everyone wanted an answer to: When is the next trip going to be?
The Go South trip was a magnificent experience for all foreign students as well as the ESN Committee. It was certainly a day worth remembering.