Hannah Schaper: Stay Curious and Show Initiative

During the hectic weeks leading up to the thesis submission and defence, I hardly realised that my time as a degree seeking student here at the University of Tartu is indeed coming to an end. Writing this blog post now, I begin to understand what I have experienced and learned during my time as a student here and in what follows, I would therefore like to share with you some of the best moments I’ve had during my two years of being an international degree seeking student at the University of Tartu, and how these moments changed me as a person.

IRRS students

After the thesis defences of the International Relations and Regional Studies programme in front of the Johan Skytte Institute. Photo credit: Maili Vilson.

Studying at the Johann Skytte Institute of Political Sciences

Needless to say I learned a bunch. My studies certainly made up the core of my student experience here in Tartu and I particularly enjoyed my programme’s flexibility as it allowed me to focus both on International Relations as a discipline as well as on a region of my choice. Apart from the fact that I know substantially more about the topics of International Relations and the post-Soviet space as a region than before starting my MA degree, studying here in Tartu has really helped me grow not only on an academic, but also on a personal level.

One study-related event, I particularly enjoyed in this context, was the Tartu MUN – the Model United Nations simulation, which had been hosted by our institute for the very first time in May 2016. It formed part of my course on Diplomacy and together with students from all over the world I got to discuss some of the most pressing issues in international politics at the time. Taking up the role as a delegate from Poland, I was debating the issue of refugees in the UN’s Human Rights Council, with my fellow delegates. This was certainly a valuable experience, as it allowed me to exercise in practice, what I had studied before in class.

Similarly, another great moment in my time as a student was when one of my final term papers ended up being published by the Estonian Centre of Eastern Partnership. It was a rewarding feeling to see my work bear fruits in this way, and I gained some valuable insights into the process of drafting policy papers. It was a special moment for me and I don’t think it happens too frequently that your homework finds such a broad audience.

Moreover, the study trips I got to take part in were another impressive part of my student life in Tartu. As knowledge comes in all forms and shapes, they helped me get a better grasp of the topics I studied in class. During my time as a student at the UT, I travelled to Russia, Israel, and Colombia in order to attend a winter school, take part in a practical field trip, and to conduct research for my MA thesis. While elaborating on all of these fascinating journeys would unfortunately take up too much space here, I have summarised my trips in another post. Feel free to check it out (http://isa.ut.ee/blog/your-journey-around-the-world-begins-in-tartu-hannah-germany/), if you happen to be interested in learning more about this part of my experience here in Tartu in particular.

Most importantly, however, is to note that we could always count on our professors to encourage us along the way and to support us to make that extra step. Attending classes, nevertheless, is not everything that gives a student life meaning and to enjoy my time in Tartu to the fullest, I constantly tried to explore other avenues as well to challenge myself and to acquire new skills.

Trip to Pyatigorsk

During my trip to Pyatigorsk, Russia, to attend a winter school on the future of civil society in the Caucasus region. Photo from a personal archive.

Giving back to the community around you

I initially started as an Erasmus exchange student to the University of Tartu in the autumn of 2014 and after returning to Tartu in late summer 2015, I sought a way of enriching my student life next to my studies and to find a possibility to help other students enjoy their time here just as much as I did during my exchange. Therefore, I joined the International Student Ambassadors or ISA (a great abbreviation here in Estonia). I have been a board member of the ISA for two years now and it is incredible to see how much we have developed our visibility and outreach over the course of these two years. As a student organisation, the ISA consist of international degree seeking students of the UT and assist the university’s marketing office by introducing the UT to prospective new students from outside Estonia, while also organising events for students here in Tartu. One of our main aims is to bring the international and Estonian student communities closer together (http://isa.ut.ee/).

By now we organised events in cooperation with several other organisations and established cooperation with the city government of Tartu’s cultural department in order to improve the cultural experience of foreigners living in Tartu. My favourite ISA events, out of the ones I was personally involved in organising, certainly were our charity football tournament, and our Estonian sign language café. During my time as an International Student Ambassador, I learned how to work in international environments, how to manage groups, and how to plan and execute events. Seeing your initial idea turn into a real life event, during which the people attending are having a good time, is a great feeling! I am proud to having been a member of this diverse group of students, who are ready to make ideas happen, and I can’t imagine what my time here in Tartu would have looked like without them.

The ISA organising team of the charity football tournament. Photo from a personal archive.

Staying curious and showing initiative

Overall, I am happy about the opportunities I had here in Tartu, which have all taught me something about what kind of person I am and how to improve myself. This has often happened by putting me into situations, which were completely new to me. One of these opportunities was my volunteering experience with the organisation of sTARTUp Day in December 2016 and Tartu’s startup scene in general. Bootstrapping, hackathons, accelerators, incubators, venture capital – the list of words I had never actually come across before volunteering with the sTARTUp Day team could go on for a while. Due to my study related background, I had little experience with marketing or event management before, but I enjoyed getting to know a completely new world all within Tartu.

A similar experience was when I presented my study programme at the master’s open day of my institute. This presentation was supposed to take the shape of a short two minute “pitch”. In order to support us in this endeavour, the UT Idea Lab invited all the selected students to two training sessions. After the whole process of drafting, presenting, editing and practicing (a lot!), the feeling of finally standing on stage in Tartu’s community centre SPARK to perform my pitch, was certainly worth overcoming the initial hurdles and nervousness. The UT and Tartu provided me with many opportunities to get to know something new; I just had to seize them.

Pitching my study programme at the Skytte Institute’s master’s open day at SPARK. Photo credit: Anna Burduli.

Tartu – my home away from home

Tartu is a student town with a long history and a genuine student culture, which you can still feel today. Apart from climbing over the arch of the bridge, which I might or might not have done myself, one of my favourite events certainly is the week of the spring semester’s student days. During these days I really got to experience the fun side of being a student in Tartu. Starting with a free breakfast at the town hall square and the magical night song festival, where everyone gets together to sing old and new popular Estonian songs, and eventually culminating in the Walpurgis night celebrations, these student days offered me a whole week full of unforgettable experiences. This year my favourite event was the traditional boat race, in which the ISA took part in as well. Coming in fifth with my team and winning the prize for “the most comfortable boat”, made participating even more memorable. Every single time I am impressed by how well this week full of activities is organised and how the organisers truly follow the aim of making sure everyone has a great time. Unfortunately, I never have enough time to participate in all the events, I am interested in!

The ISA during the traditional boat race during this semester’s spring student days. Photo credit: Katharina Heß

Submitting your thesis is a rewarding feeling, and even better when you get to share this moment with a friend! Photo credit: Jason Mario Dydynski

Looking back it is hard to believe that all these moments and experiences have been squeezed into only two years and for all these opportunities the University and the city of Tartu have offered me, I am profoundly grateful. You can make a home anywhere you want in the world, just dare to make that step and keep an open mind to the specifics of other cultures in the process. I will miss Tartu’s long and beautiful sunsets, its old wooden houses, the little Christmas forest at the town hall square, the magical white nights and so much more. Saying good bye to this place and its people will be one of the most difficult moments in my life, but I feel ready to take on whatever new chapter life has in store for me now. My time in Tartu has been challenging in all the best ways, and no matter where I’m heading next; Tartu will always have a special place in my heart!

This entry was posted in Estonia, Social sciences, Student life, Studies, Tartu and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.