Our big day: It all started in Tartu

A couple of weeks ago we had our big day, a day in a long path that has changed us both and will change our lives forever: a path of responsibility, commitment, respect, and – most of all – love. On 25 July we tied the knot and it was a sunny day of happiness! It was a moment that we had planned and imagined for almost a year, but had been very much threatened – until the final weeks – by the global pandemic and the unprecedented uncertainty related to it. The forced lockdown and the limits imposed by the state of emergency throughout the spring only increased this feeling of powerlessness.

Descending the stairs of Modena’s City Hall. Photo credit: 10 Photography – Francesca Pradella

That’s why when we eventually said YES, despite all these challenges, we felt all the warmth of that summer sun, along with the feeling that for us 2020 would forever be a very special year and – luckily – not because of COVID19. We also felt that there was such an urgent need for good news this year and that this is our big one! The small-sized intimate wedding ceremony took place in the beautiful venue of Modena’s City Hall – in northern Italy – but this is very much a Tartu story.

Anna grew up in the Latvian town of Jelgava, south of Riga. Many centuries ago, Jelgava served as the capital of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. After completing high school in her hometown, Anna moved to Bradford, in the UK, to study international relations at the city’s university. After moving back to Latvia for a short period, while working at the US Embassy in Riga, she started a new adventure in Estonia’s university city of Tartu, where she moved to continue her studies in the master’s programme in “European Union – Russia Studies”.

Stefano grew up in Modena, in central-northern Italy. A few centuries ago, Modena was also the capital of a small Italian duchy named after the city itself. After completing his bachelor studies at the University of Bologna, Stefano moved to Siena for his doctoral studies, which he completed some years later. As with many Italian academicians, he flew first to Oslo, then to Istanbul, and eventually to Tartu as a post-doctoral researcher.

This is our common denominator. The University of Tartu is where we first met more than six years ago, it is the charming and welcoming town where we fell in love, and the place we are proud to call home today.

In front of Modena’s Cathedral (Duomo). Photo credit: 10 Photography – Francesca Pradella

Today, Anna is Manager of Online Learning Projects and Stefano Associate Professor of European Studies and Programme Director at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies.

Anna still remembers the words that accompanied the university badge that she received – as every UT alumnus – on her graduation day back in 2016: Alma mater does not see the colour of your skin or your haircut. All she sees is the power of will and wings of imagination. Once these have been deemed valuable, the eternal duty to obtain new knowledge is presented to you. This duty gives the power to change and be changed, which, like a secret order, is the distinctive sign of each University of Tartu graduate. Tartu and its university gave us the power to change ourselves, improve, and grow – and to be changed by each other.

We have always been touched by the fact that our university refers to its students, alumni, and staff as Ülikoolipere (university family). In Estonian there are two words for family: suguvõsa and pere. The former refers to an extended family that includes also distant relatives, while the former captures the intimacy, the closeness, and the care of the family core – of what matters the most. We are proud to be part of such a rich, diverse, and international family and to be now, ourselves, one Ülikoolipere.

As we walked down the stairs of Modena City Hall wearing our university tekkel and accompanied by our witnesses – our good colleagues and dear friends Thomas from Germany and Oliivia from Estonia – we knew that Tartu is what connects all of us.

With our witnesses Thomas and Oliivia. Photo credit: 10 Photography – Francesca Pradella

If you walk just outside of our institute at the top of Toome hill – between the University Museum and Estonia’s Constitutional Court – a fascinating outdoor exhibition shows how Tartu has been a meeting place of peoples and cultures over the centuries where – among others – Latvians and Italians have met since 1632.

We just learnt that Krišjānis Valdemārs, the spiritual father of Latvia’s First Awakening and a UT graduate, spent his Tartuvian years on Narva mnt. and was in fact pretty much our neighbour. One of Italy’s most famous journalists – Indro Montanelli – spent a few years in Tartu, exiled by Mussolini’s regime, and he – like us and many before us – was also conquered by this unique city and its soul. His office was less than a kilometre from ours. Of all those people across the centuries, some passed by only for a bit, while others stayed and spent their life here, but all were somehow transformed by our city and its university.

Prominent Italian and Latvian Tartuvians, Indro Montanelli and Krišjānis Valdemārs. Images from a personal archive

This is not only our wedding story, but also the story of how today – as then – Tartu is the place where the world meets!

And where it also, sometimes, falls in love, thanks to its university, its people, and its good thoughts!

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