Jayaruwan Gunathilake: From the Tropics to Northern Europe

Estonia was nowhere near my horizon when I first left my home country, Sri Lanka, to study abroad back in 2011. That was nearly four years after finishing high school. Serious lack of higher education opportunities in Sri Lanka essentially led me to leave the country. However, in retrospect, it is probably one of the best decisions I ever made. It was not a trivial decision but a necessary one. If it were only for one semester abroad, it would have been a no-brainer. But leaving one’s home country for an extended period of time is rather different. Back then I was not sure of what to expect – new country, new language, culture shock. It was not all doubts, though – there was definitely enough excitement as well. Thus, I moved to Pennsylvania, USA, in 2011 for my bachelor’s degree.

Jayaruwan Gunathilake from Sri Lanka. Photo credit: Argo Ingver

Four years in the United States may seem like a long time, but it went by incredibly fast. After completing my bachelor’s degree in chemistry, I faced the regular dilemma: graduate school or employment? At first I thought of going to graduate school in the United States; however, there were problems with taking the GRE test on time (standardized test that is an admissions requirement for most graduate schools in the United States). The day I was supposed to take the GRE was rescheduled due to unforeseen weather circumstances, so I could not meet the deadline. Meanwhile, I was also looking for employment without much luck. It proved to be rather difficult, especially as a foreigner with visa restrictions in the United States. In December 2015, I moved back to Sri Lanka.

So how does Estonia and the University of Tartu fit into all this? Well, it was all thanks to the ERASMUS MUNDUS programme. Before that I never thought Estonia would be my next destination, although I’m now surprised as to why very few people have heard about the exceptional opportunities it has to offer. Analytical chemistry has been one of my favourites even during my bachelor’s years, since I initially wanted to pursue forensics. When I saw the EACH (Excellence in Analytical Chemistry) programme in Estonia, I did not have any second thoughts about it. So I applied only to this programme and crossed my fingers. Although it was a little risky not to have a plan B, I could not think of a better programme to fit my needs. Of course, the huge financial support we receive for this programme is also a big plus. It is very refreshing to see such programmes geared towards the demands of specific fields, rather than conventional degree programmes. And so I packed my bags again and moved to Tartu, Estonia, in August 2016.

Jayaruwan is the media manager of UT International Student Ambassadors. They are UT international degree students who represent the international student community and represent the university abroad. Photo credit: International Student Ambassadors

While I was no longer a stranger to living by myself, I was a little skeptical at first; whether I would be able to manage living in Estonia without speaking Estonian or Russian. However, with Tartu being the student capital of Estonia, I haven’t had any trouble communicating in English. During the few months I have spent in Tartu, one thing became evident: Tartu is indeed a vibrant city. There is almost always something exciting happening in the small town square. I adore the fact that you can get to all nooks and corners of Tartu using the public transport system and it costs you virtually nothing. Tartu is an amazing combination of a modern city with no lack of historical places. There is no shortage of monuments, museums, and landmarks waiting to be discovered, and they all tell an epic tale. 

Tartu is not just a pretty place on Earth. The University of Tartu, which is the heart of this small city, excels in many fields and it’s definitely not surprising to see how much effort is put into academia here. This also stems from nearly four centuries of experience. The education system here is quite different than what I have encountered anywhere else. The university offers an excellent learning atmosphere and the professors are very approachable. Despite all the wonderful things, we all need to escape the classroom
once in a while. In that regard, the city of Tartu is a treasure trove. 

Photo: Jayaruwan Gunathilake

As a photographer, it did not take long for me to be seduced by Tartu’s charm. I have taken many walks around the streets of Tartu and it still continues to surprise me to this day. The city looks gorgeous in the autumn and in the winter alike. I have yet to experience this wonderful place during the spring and the summer. Despite the weather, there is always chatter around the kissing student’s fountain and the coffee shops are always filled with students. The promenade along the Emajõgi River, which flows right through the city of Tartu, has been one of my favourite places to be. My camera has been busy for the last few months.

The university and the city of Tartu have already given me many memories within such a short period of time. I only have one quarrel with Tartu so far: the extreme cold during the winter. It is not the most comfortable place for someone from the tropics, but I’m thankful for the time I spent in the United States, for it has seasoned me for such climates. Now I no longer have to utter five curse words for every ten metres I walk – it’s more like two now. I’m also convinced that Tartu’s trees broadcast WiFi. I will uncover your secrets, Tartu, you just wait!

And that’s how I went from the tropics to North America and from there to Northern Europe.

The Emajõgi River. Photo: Jayaruwan Gunathilake

The Kissing Students fountain. Photo: Jayaruwan Gunathilake

Tartu Town Hall Square during Christmas. Photo: Jayaruwan Gunathilake

Would you like to live and study in Tartu, Estonia as well? We are ready for the new year and also for new students! You can now apply to our international bachelor’s and master’s programmes until 15 March 2017. Below is our new official video. Come and get inspired at the University of Tartu!


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2 Responses to Jayaruwan Gunathilake: From the Tropics to Northern Europe

  1. Sachitra Warusevitane says:

    Hi Jayaruwan. First I must say it is a bold decision which very well paid off.I’m an Accountancy graduate from Sri Lanka. Due to lack of solid job prospects here(as you have already mentioned) I am looking for higher education opportunities in the field of economics which dragged me to the masters of quantitative economics offered by UT. To this regard are there any scholarships that I can apply to ? Thanks in advance. 🙂

    • Jayaruwan says:

      Hello Sachitra, thank you for your words. All of your questions regarding scholarships, application procedure, required documents can be directed to studyinfo[at]ut.ee

      They will have more information for you.

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