UT Student Blogger Contest: 5 Best Stories

Our international students submitted 35 stories to the UT Student Blogger Contest. Here are the five finalists and their best stories, as chosen by the jury. The winner will be chosen in a public vote on UT Facebook page this week, and will become the host of the UT Student Blog for one’s study period in Tartu.

The stories are presented in no particular order.

What Irina Saw Out the Window and The Marginality Manifesto
(By Irina Sadovina)

This day in Tartu, like many others, starts and ends at Ruunipizza. Apart from offering heavenly pancakes with honey and nuts, this is, strangely enough, the only place in the whole city where I can actually get studying done. Over time I have turned into the person who hovers outside the door ten minutes before the café opens, anxiously looking in. I don’t know what the baristas think about me. I never ventured beyond a few phrases in heavily accented Estonian, and even though every one of them obviously speaks English, it seems awkward switching to English now. Our lives are already too intimately intertwined, since we see each other every day; I am afraid of additional awkwardness, so I never talk.

Oh, but awkwardness, as you may imagine, seeps in anyway, leaps up from around the corners often and unexpectedly, and gets me embarrassed, horrified and secretly overjoyed. Because I love awkwardness, actually, so most of the time it’s my own fault anyway.

Anyway, back to Ruunipizza, more on awkwardness later. The dark side of my love for the place is the crankiness and vicious possessiveness of the window seat. I’ve occasionally contemplated staring at people who occupied it to creep them out and make them leave, but never actually tried (Ruunipizza baristas, if you happen to read this: I promise I haven’t!). The window seat is absolutely important, because this is my observation point. And there is, as you know, much to observe on Rüütli street.

Awesome character number one (in no particular order): the Balkan Man. He, I am told, is the owner of the Balkan Restaurant across the street (which, incidentally, I have never been to). When the weather is nice, he looks out the window for hours, examining passers-by and either smiling or frowning at them. I have not yet figured out the reasons or consequences of falling into his favour or displeasure. I am pretty sure I am in his favour, mostly because he smiles and waves at me when I sneakily try to take his picture so I can send it to Ana and Anna. I call him Nikita Mikhalkov, because of the uncanny resemblance he bears to the controversial Russian movie director. <…> See the full story…

My Bicycle’s Day in Tartu
(By Rodion Krjutškov)

Inspired by a stencil by unknown artist on the Kaarsild bridge, this short movie depicts one day in Tartu through my bicycle’s eyes.

My Grandmother’s Shoes, My Grandfather’s Hat
(By Krista Käis-Prial)

I was shocked when my Canadian university approved my visiting student application.  To Tartu? Really? Many Canadians couldn’t even point to Estonia on a map.   I’ve also been asked whether a lot of stoners live in Estonia – what can you even say to a question like that? I still recall one of my less educated fellow citizens accusing me of  ‘making the place up’. And now I would be studying in the magical, mystical land of Eesti, where people live in mushroom houses, and dragons roam the hillsides, and fairy choirs hold song festivals in the forest !

In fact, Tartu was my third choice of exchange location – I had put other places first, new places I had never been to before. Tartu was an old place for me. I suppose I had unintentionally written a pretty convincing motivation letter, which the hip young advisor at the Student Affairs Office had been really into. Plus, anyone with basic google research skills can quickly discover that Tartu is a damn fine university. But as the words “VISITING STATUS APPROVED” glared at me with finality from my computer screen, I had a strange sinking sensation in my stomach. Did I really want to go back there again? Did Estonia want me to come back again?

My grandparents grew up in Tartu, leaving after WWII to escape the Soviet Occupation. I still have family here, and I was brought here several times as a child. Hazy memories from 1995: grumpy jet lag, gallivanting with cousins in wheat fields, devouring kohuke, roasting wieners on the fire. Again in 1998: memories of bopping up and down in the back of my relative’s seat-less farming van, surprising myself when random Estonian sentences popped out of my mouth, fully formed.  At 17, I came here to take a summer language course for beginners, having forgotten much of the Estonian of my childhood. Memories of that trip are of a different kind: Jägermeister shots at the Gunpowder Cellar, destroying brain cells, attempting to dry socks on my stove top with disastrous results, schlepping to class in the morning with my first ever ‘I’ll never drink again’ hangover.

Now, in my mid-twenties with only one semester of university left (knock on wood), here I am again. <…> See the full story…

Through an American’s Eyes
(By Andrew Smith)

“Ziiiiiiiip”. That’s the sound that signals the start of my day here in Tartu. It’s the sound of my backpack closing, my jacket warming, and my excitement heightening. It’s the sound that my feet dread, but my curiosity craves. No coffee needed for this American; attending a university that was established before my continent was on a map is stimulating enough. Rain or shine, the weather doesn’t matter because I know that it will change before the day is over. I walk the cobblestone path to my first class, where I will interact with people from all over the world and hear ideas presented from perspectives that I would never have heard from my peers in America. All the while, I am using every ounce of my attention to decipher the words that are being spoken to me through these accents I have rarely experienced. The men often sound like they are speaking with a mouth full of food that is way too hot, while the women often sound like they are teaching “Defense Against the Dark Arts” at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I imagine that it’s difficult to go from a language that sounds so melodic to a language that sounds like the speaker has peanut butter stuck to the roof of his/her mouth and has words like “rural” and “juror”. Still, I power through the days lectures, and upon release I go straight to one of Tartu’s many fantastic cafes for a period of relaxation and reflection. Nothing says “phew” like a cappuccino and a Sherlock Holmes novel. Raatuse 22 is where I call home, and home is to where I am next called. My 100% European flat mates are cooking dinner, an offer which I will never decline. The most common meal is pasta, which is wonderful considering my idea of home-cooked pasta is a bowl of instant noodles. We eat, share stories of our day, and clean up. The day is not over though, because like any good European knows, there are always plans for the night. We weigh the possibilities between any number of great local pubs or one of the clubs. We make a decision, tell ourselves that we’ll only stay for an hour (an obvious lie), and then head out as a group. “Hey look! Is that the hit boy band, N’Sync?” Nope, it’s just the guys from the fourth floor hitting the town. We absorb the colorful and uniquely laid back night life of Tartu as we walk to our destination and entertain the idea of attempting one of the “three things you must do”. Minutes are like seconds when you are with such great people in such a great setting. The only sounds you can make out in between rages of laughter and excited yelling is the celebratory “CHEERS!”. After an hour or two of saying, “No, every American is not fat and no I don’t know why we aren’t on the metric system” to every new person I meet, I head home. The eight hour time difference means that all of my friends and family are just now getting home from school or work, and they are yearning for updates. They can wait until tomorrow, though, because even though I was only in lecture for 4 hours, today I experienced more than I really know how to convey. I can only be moved by Tartu in such a way that my friends and family can see it – an observation which has already been expressed. I settle into bed, and while I close my eyes I think to myself, “ma olen Tartus” – ending my day with a smile.

Stories in Tartu
(By Maeva Carla Chargos)

“A Day in Tartu.”

At first, I tried remembering my most memorable days so that I could tell you how it went, from the morning when I woke up till the evening when I got to sleep… But I realized I couldn’t choose one day in particular. I just can’t. I don’t know which day was the most important for me (the first time I arrived here, on May 8th? Or the day I signed my renting contract for my flat, proving I had now a “home sweet home” in Tartu? Or this day, when I met in France an unknown Estonian girl who became a great friend and turned out to be one of the most amazing and adorable persons I’ve ever met? For yes, she was from Tartu, and she was studying almost the same subjects as I was, and this was my first contact with Tartu.

But really, I can’t decide which day was the most important. I think I’ll just let you choose and make up a great story about it on your own (hmm, don’t make me an immortal and unforgettable hero, though, please… Yeah I know, it’s quite hard not to, but still… I insist…).

I didn’t want to tell you anything about an “usual day in Tartu for an usual international student”. I mean, everyone knows how it goes: you wake up, you eat breakfast, you go to the uni, you find a sandwich and eat it while going back to the uni, you get out of the uni, meet your friends, eat something with them, go party with them or just go back home ‘cause your computer/cat/dog/goldfish misses you (or actually you miss it, aren’t you??), and then you finally get back to where your day started, aka your pillow.

So I’ll just write something else. Something that matters. A little bit than knowing that I love eating these “chocolate and cherries muffins” you can find at the Kaubamaja for breakfast. <…> See the full story…

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