“Näeme varsti, Tallinn! See you soon, Tallinn!”
In her third and last letter from Tallinn, Elena Schulz-Ruhtenberg looks back on her Erasmus semester in Estonia.
Feb 10, 2020
“The times we had” – is a saying painted on the wall of a building in Tallinn. You can see it from any number of observation platforms overlooking the old town and the port of Tallinn. Our city guide told us it is there to exhort Estonians to use their still young freedom wisely after a long period of foreign rule. It reminds me in turn of the many great experiences and new friendships from my semester in Tallinn. In this final letter, I will report on my last weeks here and also include a few general impressions about the semester.
Since November the temperatures in Tallinn have been falling into the single digits. At the same time, however, it was not cold enough for the rain to turn to snow. Thanks to mulled wine, ice skating, and fairy lights in the trees, there was still some Christmas spirit.
I also used the Advent season to take a look at the Latvian capital Riga, which is almost twice as large as Tallinn and the largest city in the Baltic States. The streets are wider, and the old town is more extensive. Yet Riga also has a unique charm due to the many medieval buildings and its location directly on the Daugava River.
As during my first Erasmus semester, I spent a lot of time with international students. In my international relations courses, I had a lot to do with master’s students from Cameroon and Nigeria. None of them was able to just drive home to visit their family over Christmas vacation. Some told me that they wanted to travel to another European country. The change of perspective in such discussions made it clear to me how small Europe is and how easy it is here to spontaneously travel to a foreign country for a few days, and especially, what privileges I have with my European passport.
Interacting with students from so many different countries made my Erasmus semester a genuine cultural enrichment. I am planning to travel to the Czech Republic and Belgium next year to visit friends I met in Tallinn. At the same time, it sometimes seemed like a challenge for me to get in touch with fellow Estonian students – to get out of the “bubble” of international students.
I often had to motivate myself to spend my free time proactively despite everyday university life. I learned a lot about the country from the many history and art museums Tallinn has to offer. Short trips through Estonia and to Saint Petersburg, Helsinki, and Riga gave me impressions of the entire region. And I will soon be returning to Tallinn to meet friends again. I am very excited to see if and how the upswing and progressiveness will have changed the city by then.