I’ve now conquered my Tallinn University orientation and have survived my first two days of classes. This was more difficult than anticipated, largely because last week my cold morphed into a full-blown flu, and I had to combat constant headaches, exhaustion, fever, a torn-up throat, and uncooperative sinuses to get through each day. I attended every event I needed to, but I tended to go back to my dorm and sleep between activities. Even when I was awake, I was usually completely unfocused and in a haze of medication and coffee to keep me afloat. I have walked into walls and tripped over myself a few times. Alas, I think I’ve so far made a less-than-favourable impression on the Estonian ladies.
Although I’m now, very thankfully, feeling back to normal, it’s still been difficult to figure out my course scheduling and what courses are taught in English. The University is running a sort of ‘improved’ (read: slow and disorganized) timetabling system that is prone to crashing and fails to inform users of what language courses are being taught in. The best approach is to attend every course that looks interesting or relevant, talk to the professor directly, and see how many credits it’s worth and whether it can be taught in English. It’s also possible to gain credit for courses taught in Estonian by working one-on-one with the professor and completing coursework independently. Tallinn University is very flexible, but you need to be bold and willing to ask questions to get what you need.
A further concern is the credit system. Edinburgh would like me to take 30 ECTS credits per semester; however, this seems like an unreasonably high requirement, especially since I can only take courses taught in English and only courses that are relevant to my degree. Many courses are only worth 2 or 3 ECTS credits. I would need to take up to 10 courses this semester to get all the credits I need, and I don’t actually think this will be possible. Many of the courses on my original Learning Agreement are scheduled at the same time or aren’t running this year, meaning that my original credit plan won’t work.
Despite being a relatively small school, Tallinn University has a bizarre, labyrinth campus layout. Tunnels run above and between buildings, exits lead to hidden fenced-in courtyards, doorways are uncomfortably narrow, and construction is omnipresent. It feels like it was designed during a nervous breakdown.
Estonia also has a strange, moderately unhealthy obsession with ID cards and electronic payments. Before the end of this month, I will have an Estonian bank card, a Tallinn University ID card, a Dormitory ID card, an International Student card, an Erasmus Network card, and an Estonian ID card (coupled with my residence permit). These cards do more than just provide paperwork and a strained sense of ‘convenience’; they’re also absolutely essential to have for long-term stays in Estonia. Without an Estonian ID card, for instance, I pay more for public transportation and services, am unable to print in University computer labs, and (perhaps most importantly) can’t legally remain in the country for longer than three months. As a US resident and citizen, I need to jump through a few hoops and fill out a (digital) pile of forms to get this ID and resident status, but there’s (hopefully) no risk of me being denied.
Despite the inconveniences and confusion related to starting my studies (which I expected and am trying to be relaxed about), I still love being in Tallinn. While I have a fantastic group of friends already established, I’m still in a metaphorical revolving door of fascinating people and places. Every day I feel like I’m exploring something new and seeing another way of looking at the world around me, which I think is the real benefit of an exchange. In the next few weeks, when I get a schedule pinned down, I can hopefully take time to travel and get to see more of this part of the world. Rest assured I’ll report my adventures back to you.
P.S. Perhaps frightened by my ill, near-comatose state over the past week, my roommate has moved out of the dorm and into a private flat. This means that I now have a single room and an extra bed for at least the next month. Anyone want to visit?
P.P.S. I see that back in my first entry I promised that poetry and character sketches would make their way into my blog. I’ll have to work on that.
P.P.P.S. My blog needs more pictures, I know.
P.P.P.P.S. I’ve got to stop with these.