Just a few weeks ago, I graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Tartu. I was lucky enough to attend this year’s ceremony in person, an event that felt truly special after spending three out of four semesters of the master’s online. Walking home with a diploma in my hands, I couldn’t help reminiscing about these two years and asking myself, “Where did this time go?” It didn’t actually go anywhere; it stayed in my memory and will be there forever. This time brought many events, friends, experiences, and life lessons that altogether did no less but change me completely. In this article, I’ll talk about three main benefits of completing a master’s program at the University of Tartu.
Upon seeing this subtitle, you may think, “Well, what else is new? It’s a university, after all?” and you wouldn’t be wrong in doing so. It’s quite expected that when applying to the university, you envision yourself in a couple of years as a much more knowledgeable and skilled professional. That was roughly the case for me, too, but my imagination of my master’s program was rather vague. I knew I liked its name, and the courses seemed interesting, but that was all the adjectives I had for it before coming to Tartu. What I couldn’t imagine was how diverse and full-fledged my program would turn out to be.
The thing I like about studies at the University of Tartu the most is how discussion-heavy they are. There is almost no place for out-of-the-book questions and answers at the lectures, quite the opposite — the lecturers always expect you to find arguments for your thoughts, and so can you. It is very inspiring to see your lecturer, the person who’s supposed to know it all, go “Let me think about it” and engage in an equal discussion with you. Coming to the classroom and knowing that your point of view can and will be acknowledged always felt like a privilege.
Another remarkable quality of the studies is an excellent fit between theory and practice. I never thought a student could say this, but I liked taking most of the exams during my program. Of course, there always was a place for pre-exam panic and post-exam existential crisis. Still, during the exam, you could actually see everything that you learned in the course being applied to the presented cases. The projects and exams at the University of Tartu challenge you to think, and this is what makes the studies so effective.
I could keep rambling about all the certificates, papers, Github pages, and other somewhat tangible outcomes of the studies you can receive here. Still, to me, the most important perk of attending any university lies in a different dimension. University lets you learn instead of being taught, it brings you a unique opportunity to master your skills of finding the correct arguments, and it encourages you to think. I’m beyond grateful that the University of Tartu excels in all three.
“Could it BE any more obvious?” you may think again. It probably can’t, but nevertheless, I deem this change equally important to the previous one. The uniqueness of the University of Tartu is that you can still have time for yourself while studying full-time (given that you’re somewhat familiar with time management, of course). I would be lying if I said that I could watch Netflix every evening and always had time to rest on the weekend, while coping with all the deadlines and preparing for all the exams. As for any other student, there have been more challenging and more demanding times for me when even having time for breakfast felt like an outstanding achievement, but on average I could maintain some hobbies and even restart long-forgotten projects.
Thanks to the University of Tartu offering foreign language courses for free, I finally returned to learning German. I enjoyed two semesters of learning the language in a group of students from different programs and countries. After the first semester of taking the course, I wanted to start every other language offered, because such courses are a lot of fun, and they relax your brain after long hours of studies in your regular field. Luckily, common sense kicked in, and I canceled my registrations before German, Polish, and Italian mixed themselves in my head, but decided to take an additional grammar course of German instead.
I also became a regular visitor of the University of Tartu Sports Club. Going to the gym regularly has been on my to-do list forever (if you’re smiling reading this, I’m with you), but there was never a good time to start (still with you). I bought my first pass to the Sports Club as an impulse because it cost much cheaper thanks to the summer prices, but after the first one or two times, I started to enjoy it. On long Estonian winter nights, learning German and going to the gym were the two things that kept me afloat.
Overall, it was here in Tartu that I also came back to reading regularly; I tried painting, hiking, and playing disc golf. Thanks to the lockdown, I also rediscovered my interest in cooking and baking. If you see a person walking around the town with a bag full of discounted baking dishes, chances are that’s me rushing home to try out this new recipe I found last night.
“Now she’ll talk about all the new friends she’s found,” you’ll think, but that’s where the plot twist comes in. Of course, by studying and living in such an international community, I made a few new friends, but I want to emphasize the professional connections one can gather during their time in Tartu.
I already mentioned that the lecturers at the university are open to discussions during the courses. What is truly unique about them, though, is that it’s not a role they play in the classroom; they’re open and friendly outside of it, too. The lecturers at the University of Tartu recognize talent and never let it go unnoticed. If they see the potential, they will gladly invite you to work with them on some research projects or help with the future installations of their courses. If not that, they will connect with you on LinkedIn and help with recommendation letters if you need them. One of the warmest memories I have after these two years is an email from a lecturer I had in the second semester that I received after graduating. I didn’t even expect the lecturer to remember me, but he was kind enough to write a personal email congratulating me on my cum laude diploma.
In Tartu, you can make great connections not only at the university. The city is filled with inspiring people that can be found in student organizations, volunteering projects, and general city events. Just the fact that you can attend the sTARTUp Day and meet people from international companies like Airbnb, local startups, and even the Estonian government speaks for itself.
I have to admit that when I was packing my suitcase to leave for Tartu, I knew that the upcoming two years would be great. I also have to admit that I couldn’t even roughly imagine how great they would turn out to be. The University of Tartu gave me an education, but it also gave me growth, confidence, people, and memories for life — much more than I could ever ask for.