Student Experience: University of Tartu in Estonia

One of the great things about studying abroad through OSU is that you have so many options. On the flip side, all the options sometimes makes it difficult to narrow down your choice to one… Read why Nick chose to study in Estonia and why other OSU students should also!

Nick's Estonia PictureMajor: Political Science
Minor: Russian Language & Literature, International Studies, Geography
Location: Tartu, Estonia
Program: Reciprocal Exchange

Why did you choose to study at the University of Tartu?

To be honest, it was incredibly random. Without going into details, UT stood out at the conclusions of a SWOT analysis of other places I compared in Central & Eastern Europe. It is a great mix of modern, historic, affordable, comfortable, with an excellent academic program to compliment its natural and urban beauty.

What was the university like? And Tartu as a city?

I can’t emphasize enough how cool the university’s history was. During the winter, there was a vivid social scene, but a lot of studying going on due to the harsh winters. I’d never seen so much snow before. Once it melted and summer arrived, I had never seen such phosphorescent green grass and blue skies. Every activity was moved outdoors, including studying, socializing, eating, and so on. Tartu still has a few old Soviet scars, but by and large, it looks and feels just like a German or Swedish city. Just a lot cheaper.

What was a typical day for you when studied in Estonia?

I would wake up and walk to class through a modern district, a park, across the river, through the historic town square, and up the hill. Not as long of a walk as that sounds. My classes were in English, and all really interesting. Then I’d find some friends around my faculty and go grab the lunch special somewhere and eat out on the square. Then I might study or attend an event later that day. I also flew to the Netherlands once a month and squeezed several other trips in—I was practically always on the move. I had a lot of friends in Tallinn, which was an hour and a half away. Estonians are easier to befriend than their reputation.

Describe your academic experience abroad.

I was taking courses on Russian language, E.U.-Russia relations, and European sociology. My professors taught from a very interesting perspective, especially regarding the Soviet Union. My professors had diverse biases also, ranging from being anti-Moscow to a level of acceptance about the past. I also learned a vastly different point of view regarding nationalism and state-building. We had several great academic events, including an official state visit of the Polish president, and an in-class visit from a Hungarian minister. If you want to understand what happened in foreign relations after 1991, Tartu is the place to go.

Where did you live?

I lived in a really cool modern building that housed international students at 22 Raatuse Street. It was an 8 minute walk across the river from the university and even shorter walking distance to anything you would need. My rent for my “own room” was about $200 / month. There were several other study abroad students who ventured out on their own and found really cool loft spaces around town for pretty cheap, as well. If you’re going for just one semester you won’t have the flexibility to go off on your own, though, because you’ll want to arrange housing in-person if you’re going “off campus.”

What was the most interesting cultural experience you had abroad?

Tartu attracts a lot of students from Germany and other European nations, more than the U.S., because Estonia is very hot right now in Europe. I appreciated being able to get away from American-ness and have a fairly immersive European experience that was analogous to what you’d also have in the Czech Republic. I’ll confess that the town McDonald’s had about a once-monthly place in my dinner rotation, but I was just really able to immerse myself in the modern-day Eastern European experience. At the time I was focusing a lot of my academic career on Russia, and it brought me closer to that. What I didn’t expect was that I’d leave, instead, wanting to focus my career on beautiful cities.

Why should OSU students study at the University of Tartu in Estonia?

You should go because it’s different. You will grow more mature by venturing off the beaten path of usual study abroad destinations, and you’ll get to see such an underrated part of the world that few get to see. You can always go to France. It’s cheap, the city is beautiful, the people are attractive, and it’s a very good university. You’ll feel like you’re in France and spend a third of what you would there. Tallinn, the capital, has pretty good, thrifty access to almost anywhere in Europe you’d want to travel to. If you do go, my advice is to seriously consider going during the Fall semester, or bring a good winter coat!

Written by: Nick Emenhiser


Newly Weds Down Under

All kinds of pairs decided to study abroad, even newly-weds.

When I transferred to OSU my sophomore year from a small private university, I knew I wanted to check into the study abroad options here. However, apart from just being a transfer student, I was a Non-Traditional student in that I was married. Megan Photo #3I still remember going to the study abroad office to ask if there was any chance married students could study abroad. I expected discouragements and explanations of how difficult it would be to work that out. Instead, the study abroad advisor encouragingly replied, “Of, course you can. Married students study abroad all the time.” I was shocked and elated. Still, some part of me expected that studying abroad would be much harder and maybe even impossible for Non-Traditional students like my husband and I. Nevertheless, this was the first step that led to my husband and me studying in Adelaide, Australia for the spring of 2012.

Throughout the process, I was surprised by how little being married actually seemed to cause any problems at all. Most of the obstacles we faced were typical for all students, and everyone seemed more than willing to work with us. Concerns we did have, however, included issues such as finances and living arrangements. To deal with the costs of studying abroad, both my husband and I applied for a number of OSU and outside study abroad scholarships. We were shocked by how many we received. Especially helpful was the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, which I received. This is a substantial scholarship and made the difference in us getting to go. We were also concerned about where we would live and did not know if we could live on campus. We had both always been interested in doing a homestay. Again, I expected to be met with discouragement when I emailed the Australian Homestay Network, and again, I was instead met with acceptance and support. Over and over again, I was amazed at how Non-Traditional status did not limit our options.

Finally after months of preparation and 17 hours of traveling around the world, we arrived in Adelaide in late January of 2012, just two days before their annual celebration of Australia Day. Our homestay mom met us at the airport and gave us our first introduction to Adelaide. My first impression was “wow!” There were beautiful beaches, mountains and a bustling city all within 20 minutes of each other.
Since classes didn’t begin for another three weeks, we had plenty of time to explore Adelaide and its surroundings. Coming from a very small rural town (seriously, we have one stop light!), I fell in love with the city of Adelaide. Adelaide is not huge in the overall scheme of large cities, but it’s clean and it’s beautiful and I loved it! In those three weeks, my husband and I also got to swim with dolphins, kayak with dolphins (can you tell I like dolphins?), feed kangaroos, visit an old German town in the mountains near Adelaide, and much more.

Megan Photo #1

Perhaps some of the most memorable of the experiences came when things did not go quite as expected. For starters, we arrived in late January, the height of the Australian summer and we arrived in the middle of a heat wave. I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life, so I’m used to HOT summers. However, I’m also used to air conditioning… and our homestay mom’s aircon (as the Aussies call it) was broken when we arrived. That made for several sweaty weeks. Other “unexpected events” included numerous bus and train debacles (I didn’t get a bus schedule figured out the entire 6 months!), a few interactions with some new foods (I confess I ate kangaroo and worse, I liked it!), and various unexpected “adventures”.
Megan Photo #2

I got to travel along the south coast of Australia and see the Great Ocean Road. I took a road trip into the outback and saw a view of the stars like no other. I even got to spend three days diving the Great Barrier Reef in my first-ever diving experience. Though it’s cliché, studying abroad was truly the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I learned so much, both from my challenging but truly enriching courses and also through the array of experiences themselves. None of it ever would have been possible if I had not asked. Studying abroad was not only possible for me and my husband, but I learned that ANYONE can study abroad and, after my own experience, am convinced that EVERYONE should!

Written By: Megan Bennett