“It’s one of these Baltic states, right?”

Where do you want to go?!
It’s one of these Baltic states, right?”

Here we go. These were the questions that most of my friends asked me when I told them about my upcoming Erasmus exchange in Estonia. What people usually tried afterwards was to match the capitals of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia with the respective countries. Most of them failed (No, Riga is not the capital of Estonia).

Now, more than half a year later, I can say that spending one semester of my master’s in Estonia has been a fabulous, enriching experience.

In order to find out why, let’s start with you. What is it that you like most about being a student? Is it the Wednesday parties? Countless afternoons in the library? Discounts for everything? The dorm life? The feeling after finishing an exam? Or rather some inspiring lectures that stick to your mind longer than you would have ever thought? Regardless of what it is, you will most likely find it in Tartu, just as I did.

The author with the Chief of State Protocol, Mr. Lauri Bambus
Me with the Chief of State Protocol, Mr. Lauri Bambus – one of the inspiring personalities I met during the diplomacy class, led by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Marina Kaljurand. Photo from a personal archive

But how to choose your Erasmus destination?

For sure, that’s not an easy question, and there are certainly different factors for everyone to consider. Some are seeking the warmest temperatures in winter semesters, while others the cheapest beers. Some are looking for the most reputable universities and others for easy grades. However, I was looking for all of that and a truly exceptional experience, something special.

And so, I decided to apply for Tartu.

Estonia has all the aforementioned hygiene factors to offer. Beers are reasonably priced here, and while temperatures are pretty bad in winter, summer awaits you with long days, white nights, and warm (but not too hot) temperatures.

The country is well known for its E-Government system and the strong focus of the economy on digitalization overall. And yes, it was exciting to experience all of that myself. A vital part of Estonia’s progressive ecosystem is the University of Tartu, which is among the top 1% of the world’s universities. Thus, the lectures I have had the honor to take part in were exceptional. With dozens of English-taught courses, the choice was huge, and:

All the classes I attended were taught by inspiring personalities.

Where else do you get the chance to attend a lecture on diplomacy by the former Estonian ambassador to the United States and Russia as well as former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia? Or to engage in discussions on business process management with one of the top 1% of the most cited scientists in the field of computer sciences in the world, who is at the forefront of AI developments in the field? Or to discuss the Baltic Sea Region economic development with key opinion leaders and advisors to the European Union?  At the University of Tartu, you can.

A group of students
When the days get longer in spring, Tartu’s life goes outdoors, and many students spend the evenings in one of the beautiful parks or outdoor bars. Photo from a private collection

Furthermore, in addition to the academic curriculum, Tartu is the perfect place to discover the region. Explore the cold north in Finland during winter, or experience political and historic tension when heading east to Russia. In summer, Estonia awaits you with endless days at the beach or in the forest on over 1000 islands, with all their nature, peace, and tranquility. There’s something to discover everywhere!

Now, a few months after returning home, my semester at the University of Tartu has been a truly memorable experience. With outstanding lectures given by inspiring personalities, combined with a vibrant life outside the university, Tartu makes the perfect destination for an exchange semester. And when someone talks about “these Baltic states” again, a few stories from my time in Estonia put a spark in their eyes. Now, instead of matching capitals with countries, they usually open Skyscanner to start their own adventure.

Yanis Hamdali spent his spring semester of 2018/2019 as an Erasmus exchange student at the University of Tartu. His home university is the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany.

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