Love comes when you least expect it

There’s no question that the University of Tartu is alma mater to a number of Estonians and foreigners, but next to education, many have also found their love here. With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s a perfect time to look past the academic achievements and deep into the hearts of our university family.

Eeva and Ain Heinaru. Swept off their feet

Eeva and Ain Heinaru
Eeva and Ain Heinaru have been together for more than fifty years. Image credit: Annika Metsla

Eeva and Ain Heinaru have been together for more than half a century and celebrated their golden wedding anniversary just three years ago. All that may have never happened if it wasn’t for the eye-catching flat cap that Ain used to wear in his student days.

When asked about when they first met, Ain reflects for a moment. It was so long ago that the exact year eludes him. “It must have been in 1964 or 1965,” Ain finally concludes. However, he clearly remembers the first time they met. “I went to a microbiology practical class and there was a crowd of young ladies there. They took a liking to my funny flat cap and started to throw it around,” Ain says. “One young lady was particularly enthusiastic about it,” he chuckles. The young lady was Eeva.

After that first meeting, Ain and Eeva kept on talking and became a couple. They loved to travel and went on adventurous trips already in student days. Together they also earned money for their travels. “In those days, students used to transport cattle to other countries,” Ain explains. “Mostly it was calves that were transported by train to Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia. There were two of us in the railway carriage, a bale of hay in the middle, and next to us the animals that we had to take care of,” he tells. “That way we could visit Ukraine, Crimea, the Caucasus and Kazakhstan.”

The pay received was used to finance upcoming travels, including also climbing mountains. “For example, we’ve been to Mt. Elbrus. My wife climbed up to 5,000 metres, I went all the way to the top,” Ain recalls. “We’ve also enjoyed our travels to the Askania-Nova nature reserve in Ukraine and to Central Asian cities – these were great fun.”

Since graduation, they have worked side by side at the Department of Genetics of the University of Tartu – Ain as a professor and Eeva as a microbiology researcher. Today Ain is a professor emeritus while Eva works as a project manager at the Department of Genetics. Working together has made them more appreciative of each other and has taught supportive skills. “For many years, I was more away from home than at home. My wife has had a major role in our life,” Ain confesses. “When you’re abroad, you are not even around to help with raising the children.” Ain and Eeva have two daughters, Piret and Maris.

These days, Ain and Eva do not travel as much. Instead, they often visit their country house near Elva that they fixed up as a side hobby. “My wife has created a beautiful garden there that she tends to. You’re in nature, breathing in clean air – this is very important,” Ain says.

What could today’s students do to find a suitable partner from the university? “There’s nothing you can do because love comes when you least expect it,” Ain replies. So all you can do is hope for that to happen. “When young people spend time together, things always happen,” Ain says and concludes that people who are not too alike are the best match. “There must be some differences so that you can complement each other. Living together is a form of art.”

Katrin and Ivo. That special something

Katrin and Ivo Valter
Katrin and Ivo Valter got married in 1992. Photo from a private collection

Katrin and Ivo Valter captured the attention of the entire university family when their youngest son Karl Vilhem mentioned them in his speech at this academic year’s opening ceremony. The reason why he mentioned them was that the Valters family has its beginnings in the University of Tartu, more precisely in its student home.

Karin and Ivo first met in 1990 when Katrin was a second-year dental student and Ivo had just returned from a two-year service at the Soviet army and resumed his studies as a third-year medical student. They met at the newly built student home on Nooruse Street, in a room that Katrin, looking back, calls a luxury suite.

Katrin doesn’t think of their first meeting as particularly special. “There was a random party at the student home, someone knew someone else, and chemistry just happened.” She admits she was at first somewhat intimidated by Ivo, who was an imposing and forthright man. “Just like Karl is now,” Katrin compares her son with her husband.

Katrin is convinced that they would have never met if it weren’t for the university or studying at the Faculty of Medicine.  She almost chose to study pedagogy. “We just happened to be in the right place at the right time. One was attracted to the other and vice versa, and after a couple of years of an on-off relationship, we stayed together,” Katrin recalls.

She remembers the initial hardships. “You’re always thinking that perhaps there is someone even better around the corner. When you are young, everyone thinks that they are so clever, with these big egos. It’s all so rough around the edges at first and suddenly you have to align your life with someone else’s,” she says. “There aren’t many who look into each other’s eyes and stay together for the rest of their lives.” The couple tied the knot in 1992.

When asked about good places for dating in Tartu, Katrin struggles to name any. The couple moved together fairly fast and lived together in a small boxlike room at Nooruse student home. Katrin explains why they dated so little with their need to attend lectures, practical classes, working at the hospital, and tight budget. “When there was a need to party, it was resolved between the walls of the student home.”

Katrin and Ivo soon welcomed their first child and settled into a daily routine. Katrin was a third-year student when her first son was born. “Things like that test the relationship, you need to put up with a lot,” Katrin admits. “When you had a feeling that things were complicated before, then now everything was completely upside down. But these are life’s lessons.”

Before her son was born, Katrin had taken time off but had to resume the studies two weeks after giving birth. Sleep deprivation was the worst – next to feeding, bathing and everything else that having a child involved, she needed to find time to study. Katrin says that everything seemed so difficult at first, but they had no choice. They managed, despite everything. Ivo and Katrin now have four children: two sons and two daughters. The boys both study at the University of Tartu, the girls are in 9th and 11th grade.

Katrin and Ivo Valter
Katrin is convinced that they would not have met with Ivo outside of the university. Photo from a private collection

Their “gang”, as Katrin calls it, formed in the student days, is a close-knit group of friends to this day. All the friends’ children grew up together. “Of course, this is where the belief ­– that the University [of Tartu] is so great – has come from,” Katrin rationalises her sons’ choice of school, and adds that neither she nor her husband have never persuaded their children to choose the University of Tartu.

So how to find the perfect match in life? Katrin says that it is this special something that bonds you. “You are on and off in the relationship, but after a while apart something seems to be missing and you go back. You don’t give up!”

Anna and Stefano. Lives crossed in Tartu

The love story of Latvian Anna Beitane and Italian Stefano Braghiroli began in Tartu, Estonia’s “capital of knowledge”. As a stroke of serendipity, they both found their way to the lecture building at the foot of Toome Hill at 36 Lossi Street.

Anna Beitane and Stefano Braghiroli
Anna and Stefano got married in Modena, Italy last summer. Photo from a private collection

Stefano had been lecturing at the Skytte Institute of Political Studies for a few years when Anna started her master’s degree studies there. After graduation, she took up a position at the institute. Stefano now works as Associate Professor and the director of the master’s degree programme in EU–Russia studies and Anna works as a project manager.

 Be it a coincidence or the strange ways in which fate works, but Anna’s and Stefano’s lives were destined to cross in Tartu. After completing secondary education, Anna continued her studies in the UK. She also wished to pursue her master’s studies abroad and chose the University of Tartu. Stefano’s life followed a similar path as he too had studied and worked abroad before coming to Tartu.

Neither of them had ever thought that Tartu would be the destination that they would come to call home. “Before we fell in love with each other, we fell in love with Tartu,” Stefano says with a smile.

How did a Latvian from the north and an Italian from the south found a way into each other’s hearts? Anna says that even before she fell in love, she felt that they balanced each other. “I wouldn’t call myself a pessimist, but I’m certainly a pragmatist and a good planner,” she describes herself. Stefano seemed much more carefree in life – he was supportive, inspiring and funny. “I felt at ease with him.”

Stefano takes her up on that and agrees that they are like two sides of an apple. He says that Anna guides him towards being more organised. “I used to be quite chaotic.”

Anna says that despite their different views on organising life, they have many things in common, such as interest in politics and history. These interests helped them get on the same page, have deep conversations and become closer to each other.

Stefano says that Tartu has taught them, both individually and as a couple, to see life in a more mature way. Anna agrees that she became fascinated with Tartu because, despite its small size, the city is full of international students and thus openness. “This is one of the reasons why one should stay here – the working environment is so productive!”

The highlight of their love story was Anna’s and Stefano’s wedding held in June last year in Modena, northern Italy. They had long planned to get married in Modena when the coronavirus pandemic completely stirred up the plans. In early summer, as the infection rates slowed down, the chance presented itself again.

They were married in a small circle, with friends Thomas, who is German, and Oliivia, an Estonian, as witnesses.

Anna Beitane and Stefano Braghiroli
Anna and Stefano were wearing the UT student cap for their wedding. Photo from a private collection

Since the paths of Anna and Stefano would probably never have crossed without the University of Tartu, Stefano wished to take a piece of Tartu – a university’s student cap – to his wedding. But fulfilling this seemingly simple wish proved far more complicated than Stefano could have thought because a contest for the new cap design had been recently announced and those of the old design had been sold out. Finally, some student caps were found hidden away at the university museum and Stefano was allowed to take a cap and another one for his bride. “It was important for us to show where we are coming from,” Stefano explains.

Anna and Stefano have no intention to leave Tartu any time soon, so they have taken up learning Estonian. They feel at home here, consider themselves locals of Tartu and are proud members of our university family. Stefano says that since Tartu and the university have given them so much, they wish to give back and contribute to promoting life in Tartu.

Kiira and Lauri. Crossing the finish line together

The academic studies of Kiira Udu and Lauri Habakukk followed a similar path, even though they passed the intermediary stages at different times. This spring, they hope to reach the finish line together – by defending their jointly written master’s thesis.

Kiira and Lauri both used to study social work at the University of Tartu Pärnu College, but not at the same time. Six years ago, when Kiira decided to take up her master’s studies in journalism, she reached out to Lauri, who was already involved in the study programme. And so it happened that by autumn they had already become very close. “At the time I lived in Tallinn and Lauri lived in Pärnu, but we both studied in Tartu. It was this nice triangle,” Kiira reminisces. They met in Tartu every other weekend at the session studies.  

Kiira Udu, Lauri Habakukk, and Herman
Kiira and Lauri are planning to work on their master’s thesis when their son is in childcare. Image credit: Mailiis Ollino

“I remember how once, in the very early days, I was about to leave Tartu after a session. I was sitting in the café, waiting for the bus. Lauri had already left. I looked around and felt so much in love and realised that this must be the right thing,” Kiira happily sighs. “I believe that it was Tartu, the university town and the vibe here, the spirit, that had this effect on us.”

They made the best of their weekends in Tartu and when they weren’t at school or walking on Toome Hill, they used to spend their time in pubs and cafés. “We visited most cafés and bars in Tartu at least once,” Lauri says. Their favourite was the Pahad Poisid Pub in the Town Hall Square, because it was closest to the hostel where they stayed. “And, of course, we often went to Rotund for a quick snack,” Kiira refers to a café on Toome Hill.

“I remember that Kiira once promised me to buy a solyanka soup at Rotund if I agreed to help her. And so she did,” Lauri says, laughing.

Since Lauri was already a second-year student, they attended only a few lectures together. But whenever needed, they helped each other out. “I was great for me, in that sense – if I you haven’t studied journalism before, the first year of master’s studies can be quite terrifying. Lauri was there for me and comforted me, saying that he, too, struggled,” Kiira says.

In the spring the same year, Lauri intended to complete his studies, but the plan backfired. “I had completed all the subjects, had started writing the master’s thesis, had even done the preliminary defense, but then it all came to a halt…,” Lauri reminisces. “We have this joke among us that Kiira intervened and I had no time to focus on my thesis.”

“Love intervened,” Kiira specifies.

Kiira Udu, Lauri Habakukk, and Herman
Kiira, Lauri, and Herman in the snow. Image credit: Mailiis Ollino

Three years ago, Kiira gave birth to their son Herman and they both took academic leave for the following years. “But this year we are determined to see it to the end,” Lauri says. They have started a master’s project for studying people who have experienced email phishing and internet fraud. “The end result will be a comprehensive piece of investigating journalism with added audiovisual material,” Lauri explains.

They plan to write the thesis when Herman is in childcare. “We hope we’ll manage,” Kiira says. “Academically, we are at the exact same level but in everything else, Kiira is far above me. When we’ll have defended the degree and completed the thesis, we will be on par at least in this respect,” Lauri says.

The Estonian version of this story originally appeared in the Universitas Tartuensis magazine.

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