I arrived in Tartu just over two weeks ago as part of my Erasmus, and, after a few days, I was surprised and frankly overwhelmed with one particular aspect of living here.
Personally, I have already experienced going to a new city for studies, so I sorted out most of the basic necessities quite quickly. But there was one thing I was not really prepared for.
So. Much. Time.
See, at my home university, I am usually the kind of guy who combines studies and work in heavy doses, so I wake up, get out of the flat, and do not return till 7 PM at best. But I actually like this lifestyle and having lots of things to do proved both effective and useful to me. In fact, the less I have on my schedule, the bigger the chance I won’t finish it by the end of the day.
There is so much to do; even lectures count on the fact that most people do not read all the literature. It is for this reason that I usually don’t spend much time at parties or similar student events.
But in Tartu (and probably any other city in the case of Erasmus) it is an entirely different story: only one or two classes a day, dorms a 10–15-minute walk from the university, less study work to do, and, most importantly, a bunch of new people that strive precisely for parties and student gatherings of any kind.
When you think of it, this aspect of Erasmus studies kind of makes sense. The majority of people who come here have no idea what to do in the city, so they are happy to accept a helping hand. And, guess what, one of the first helping hands that foreign students encounter is the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) – an organization whose student events are among other things quite a lot about partying.
This can work just because of the fact that Erasmus students have way too much time on their hands and, of course, partying is the easiest way to fill it up. Or waste it. As an Erasmus student, just ask yourself if you encountered this many parties at home.
Thus, if you are just a big party person or you want to experience a different and maybe more exotic Erasmus than the one based on partying (like me), you will have to make an extra effort to escape this stereotype. Personally, I believe one should not just try to fill up their time somehow. That will inevitably lead to a waste of time.
So, I would like to present a few methods that proved useful to me in that short time. They are primarily meant for people who already feel they need a change to their lifestyle.
Firstly, find a routine as quickly as possible. With parties, new friends, or possibly classes starting late it is very easy to get lazy. Getting a routine will prevent this at least partly. You can start by setting fixed times for getting up and going to the bed and allow yourself a different regime on a fixed day (or days) reserved for a beer with friends of that party. But I cannot stress the fixed day enough. If you decide to just go to any party that comes along, you will fall into the stereotype we discussed.
And try not to be too generous with the times for waking up and going to bed. Your days will be objectively longer; therefore, you will have more opportunities. If you fail for some reason to establish a time for going to bed, then personally I find the time of waking up more important.
Secondly, plan every activity and mark them in your calendar. Planning is easier than ever, yet I feel like lots of people forget they have calendars with them all the time. You don’t have to have only lectures or compulsory stuff in there, quite the opposite – if you put all the activities that you initiated in there too (gym, work time, travel, or anything with a fixed time) you will be more motivated to actually do them, even though you won’t be punished if you don’t. That’s purely psychological. If you don’t have a fixed time for an activity, set it yourself and don’t just go there whenever. Again, this would be a starting point to fall into stereotypes.
And, go even further – each evening, you can reserve a few minutes to evaluate what exactly and in which order you will do things the next day.
Thirdly, identify free time and use it wisely. After getting everything in your calendar, you will probably see that you have way more time than you thought. But even when you go through these steps and you now wake up early, go to all the things in your calendar and you learned that not every party is worth it, now is probably the hardest step. Find out meaningful activities to fill the remaining time with and maintain them.
This could be many things, but remember it is worth it to make an effort to find them and not go after the first thing that pops up. Among activities that are specifically designed for students, try to step out of the bubble and look for events that maybe do not even target students.
It is these kinds of experiences that distinguish experienced students from inexperienced students.
Personally, I said to myself I wanted to do all the thing that I have been postponing for a long period of time. If you keep some kind of bucket list, see if there is something that you can accomplish during Erasmus. In general, I try to do things I hope I will be able to gain from more even after I leave Estonia.
Use the time to think about your life goals, evaluate your future. Meet with people you think you can connect with even after your Erasmus ends. Acquire new habits that will help with more than just staying busy during Erasmus. In general, try to see the bigger picture.
Moreover, you don’t have to be in it only by yourself. There are tons of methods for keeping track of your progress, such as more traditional ones, like bullet journals or written to-do lists, or more technological ways through a wide variety of productivity apps, apps for tracking habits, or multi-purpose assistants (my personal favorite is Elisi). But, remember: the first thing to do is to establish a routine.
Jiří Svoboda is an Erasmus student from Czech Republic. He studies at the University of Tartu in spring semester 2020.