When I started thinking about MA studies, from the very beginning I wanted them to be in English. Now, after two years have passed since my graduation, I have never regretted choosing EU-Russia Studies in the European College, which is now a part of the Skytte Institute.
It would be a misunderstanding to say that my determination to study in English was driven by the simple wish to study abroad and have some cultural variety, and, oh yes, that an English-language-based programme would be the only opportunity for foreigners. Yes, of course, the possibility to study with people from different backgrounds was and is tempting.
I would never have imagined that my relatively small course would include students from Mexico and Japan who would become my close friends. I was also very lucky to have Estonian classmates. I was not limited to hanging out with foreigners. Thanks to one of my coursemates, who also became my close friend, I got to know some things about Estonia and visit some places in Tallinn that probably gave me more time to figure myself out.
So yes – studying in an English-language programme broadened my knowledge of various cultures and the way they function. But also during the classes and just informal discussion it was and still is extremely interesting to hear varying opinions about the things you are used to seeing from one particular angle.
However, one of the first advantages I saw for myself was the opportunity to brush up on my English. I know that a lot of us now believe that our English is already perfect or at least very good, as we had some exchanges during the bachelor’s degree years, we watch series and films without subtitles, and so on. What I mean is to brush up on written English and also be able to express more sophisticated thoughts. There are a number of people I have heard mention that spelling is not their strongest side, or that when they write, they tend to use super long sentences, as it is common in their native tongue. As boring as it may sound, writing essays and making presentations helped me to improve that a lot, especially when I had great lecturers who gave me feedback not only on the content, but on the way I expressed myself.
Both of the advantages mentioned above are becoming more and more relevant to work. Businesses, NGOs, and public institutions are becoming more international. You either work with foreigners as colleagues or as partners, or it is both. Being able to communicate with them in all ways in good English is definitely an advantage. Being able to quickly adapt to some cultural differences is a plus as well.
I am sure that the fact that I was about to graduate from an English-language programme on EU-Russia studies was among the reasons I was selected to my current workplace. It is an international NGO, and one of the main languages of conduct is English, as we communicate with people from different cultures.
Being from Lithuania, a country that shares quite the same history as Estonia, I often hear some complaints that English studies deprive students of cherishing their native language in academia. I believe that support or disagreement with this statement strongly depends on what one sees as the main goal of universities.
I would like to see more researchers and scientists from my country and Estonia well known abroad. I would like for anyone who wants to work on an international team or with international partners to feel confident in their knowledge and language capabilities. I believe that one of the first steps in doing that is learning in English. It gives you an opportunity to work on your MA thesis and collaborate on some other scientific projects with the best specialists in your field, who do not necessary master the language of their country of residency.
From my personal experience, studying in English is not an insult to my native language at all – it is a possibility to acquaint more people with my country, its culture, and even language. And how great it is if you can achieve all this by staying in your beloved Tartu.