Sarah Wiegreffe is a data science senior at The College, who spent the spring semester of her sophomore year studying abroad in Tartu, Estonia, through the exchange program with the University of Tartu. In today’s blog post, Sarah was gracious enough to share highlights of her life-changing experience in Estonia. Alluding to Estonia’s name in Estonian being “Eesti”, the most popular hashtag by far among international students was #Eestiisthebestie. Here’s why.
Getting to take courses for elective credit while in Tartu was really great, because I had a lot of free reign over my schedule. I ended up taking a variety of things that I wouldn’t have had the chance to take at CofC. My course schedule included Estonian language 101, a political science course about the European Union, and a Russian language and culture course that was centered on a 5 day trip to Russia (this one didn’t count for credit unfortunately, but was well worth it!). For computer science elective courses, I took Computational Neuroscience and Cryptology, which were both so fascinating. I definitely recommend taking some of the fun classes along with computer science ones to balance out your schedule.
The classroom style can be a bit different there than it is here. Most of my courses were set up similarly to CofC. Some, like Cryptology, were set up more like graduate courses— for example the only grade comprising the final grade was the final exam. It was a little nerve-wracking at first but turned out to be one of the best classes I have ever taken.
Social & Cultural Life:
The town is relatively small, which I at first anticipated being a little boring, but that’s far from the truth. Tartu has the most adorable town square and main street. It’s nice to be able to show up at the popular hangout spots and always find your friends there. Also, there were organized events for exchange students almost every week (culture appreciation nights, day trips to other parts of the country, theme parties, bar crawls, nature hikes, and ballroom dance lessons, to name a few). There is never a shortage of things to do.
I ended up joining a band and we played shows at some of the international student events, which were some of my personal highlights of my time there. Every semester the university holds on a weeklong festival called Student Days. My band participated in a Battle of the Bands competition, that ended up having over 30 bands perform and lasted for over 6 hours.
Estonians are also known for their “Singing Revolution” which was one of the significant parts of their movement to gain independence from the Soviet Union. Every year they have a song festival and sing songs in a big outdoor arena to celebrate their country. They had a smaller version of the real deal as part of Student Days. I had never seen so many Estonians in one place, and everybody was singing. It was pretty unforgettable.
Of course one of the semester’s highlights was taking weekend trips and seeing other parts of Estonia and the countries around it, which is shockingly easy to do, both logistically and financially. One of the best experiences I had was going on a trip to the Arctic Circle in Finland that was organized by the university. I was only slightly freezing the whole time, but I got the chance to ride a sleigh pulled by a reindeer, drive a snowmobile during a solar eclipse, jump into a hole cut into a frozen lake after being in a sauna for hours, and watch the Northern Lights illuminate up the sky each night.
Overall, my experience was extremely valuable to me because it led to a lot of great friendships, fun memories, new skills gained (I can now speak about 5 words of Estonian!), but most importantly, a lot of self-discovery. I didn’t realize that I would come back having a much clearer plan about what I wanted to do once I graduate. Deciding to go to Estonia shaped my undergraduate experience in ways I couldn’t have ever anticipated, and while I might be partial to University of Tartu, I think any study abroad experience can have this effect.
I was fortunate to receive a Harry and Reba Huge scholarship for my semester abroad. If you decide to go to Estonia, you should definitely apply, because large preference is given to students going there. Thanks to the generosity of the Huges for helping me to have such a fantastic experience.