When asked if I would be interested in keeping a blog about my exchange to Estonia, I was roughly half way through my year abroad and the thought had never occurred to me. How do I do the previous semester justice while still being able to do a relatively normal blog? After a 17h bus ride back to Tartu, Estonia from Warsaw, Poland and talking with some friends, what seemed that the most logical option was to do the previous semester in brief before focusing on current goings on in Tartu. So in brief. . .
My name is Ian and I am currently in my fourth year of study in a combined major of history and political science and am on academic exchange at the University of Tartu in Estonia. The most often asked question was ‘Why Estonia?’ Quite simply put, there is no good answer as to why. I walked into the International Services and Programs Abroad Office, asked where can I go, was showed the ISEP website, which had a rather comprehensive list of schools around the world, saw they had one in Estonia (the only previous knowledge I had of Estonia was from a course on Russian Politics) and said let’s go with that. So after a summer of working at Walt Disney World in Orlando and in general, not being home for a terribly long time before heading abroad yet again, I departed from Toronto to start the terribly long journey to Estonia. Leaving Toronto with my mother (yes, I went with my mother, the company and the ability to bring a lot more stuff, however unnecessary it was to bring, was nice), we entered Europe at Frankfurt with a connection to Riga before finally flying into Tartu on a little propeller plane.
Tartu is not a terribly big city by any stretch of the imagination, only about 100,000 people and the population fluctuates as students go home for breaks, yet it is the second biggest city in Estonia. The start of my year abroad essentially began by wandering into the town square, locating the main university building and the dorm where I would spend the next year, and assuming I had the city figured out. This would prove to be the case during the day, but after dark I could get lost quite easily due to there not being as much lighting as one would expect, especially since in the winter months there is a definite lack of light with the sun starting to set rather early in the afternoon.
With classes 3 days a week and all located in the exact same room, I would have plenty of time with which to get the most out of my first semester, both in terms of travel and socializing with the other exchange students.
The first semester, I did a fair bit of traveling, going to Tallinn (the capital) several times, once to see an international soccer match between Estonia and Slovenia for the Eurocup 2012 Qualifiers, Helsinki, as well as a nine-day trip to the Netherlands and southern France. There were also several small trips around Estonia with the big one being what was supposed to be a two-week trip to Israel with a few days spent in Jordan to go see Petra. This trip proved to be both incredibly stressful (very expensive and perhaps not the most backpacker friendly conditions) yet very memorable. I also in this semester managed to be one of those lucky travelers to be in Frankfurt during the debacle over Christmas.
Obviously, I am unfortunately omitting quite a bit, but condensing the past months into a few paragraphs is quite daunting. But with that out of the way, the beginning of second semester:
Most of the exchange students from last semester are all back at their home universities, so there are only a few ‘veterans’ from last semester among the sea of fresh students. For us seasoned exchange students, we are seeing a definite increase in daylight. I am writing this at 5:40pm EET and it would be quite easy to navigate one’s way through the icy side walks to one of the many haunts of the exchange students, including one of the greatest fast food places ever, Metros. It is really just like any standard Subway or Quiznos without anywhere close to the selection, but all the taste, for about half the price. Conveniently, it is also located quite close to the residence (Raatuse) with the only major obstacle being the sidewalks, which can at times be pure ice.
Having just returned from Poland where I spent the last few days, and having missed no class as some courses operate in blocks, playing catch up with all the readings will be quite enjoyable, especially since all my courses are part of an English language MA program the university offers.
I think I have rambled on long enough, now to see about a trip to Serbia for May to accompany Russia and Sweden in April.