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Experiences of Estonia: My year abroad so far

by Nicole Calogero

Surprisingly, I have previously been to Tallinn as a tourist a couple of years prior, and as I prepared for my second semester abroad, I was very excited and curious to see what surprises awaited in Tallinn. 

So far, my experiences in Estonia have been truly positive and overall I had few problems with integration. Indeed, my time in Tallinn is proving to be one of the many highlights of my year abroad. 

Personally, Tallinn is quite a manageable city to live in. Unlike most capital, in Tallinn, I am yet to see the movements typical of a  big metropolis and even at rush hour I am, once again, yet to experience an equivalent of commuter hell. 

My favourite feature about living in Tallinn is how easy it is to commute from area to area. It is really well connected and within half an hour I can be anywhere I want. As a result of the city’s excellent public transport system, I have a big incentive to explore the many museums and amenities dotted around town. My personal favourites include the KUMU art museum, which is a unique art gallery located in a spectacular park.

Studying abroad, whether you are completely on your own or with friends, is undeniably challenging. It is comparable to being a fresher again because you need to figure out how the lesson work, how to move from place to place and making new friends. 

Plus, there is the extra challenge of not being entirely familiar with the language. However, thankfully Tallinn is quite a straightforward place to settle. As an important European capital, Tallinn offers countless places to explore. I really enjoy visiting the many museums and walking around the various neighbourhoods. 

I am surprised at how diverse, Tallinn is in terms of architecture, and the style could sharply change

depending on the area. For instance, the historic centre is a maze of tiny mediaeval streets and the moment you are outside the walls you are greeted by a modern world of high-street shopping, banks and skyscrapers.

Furthermore, through my experiences in Estonia, I realised that I do enjoy travelling solo.

Since Estonia is a small nation, travelling from region to region is not, particularly time-consuming. Outside of Tallinn, there are several destinations worth visiting, ranging from the student town of Tartu to the islands of Saaremaa and Hiiuma.

Travelling alone means that I can get out of my comfort zone, stretching my abilities and confidence, without feeling heaps of discomfort. Essentially, I am taking advantage of my year abroad not just to improve my language skills but also to improve as an individual, and explore my surrounding, because after all, studying in Tallinn is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. 

Unpopular opinion, but I came to appreciate the gloomy weather back at home. True, the weather in Sheffield is grey, rainy and dreary, but is much more manageable than snow. 

The snow looks pretty in the first couple of weeks, almost out of a fairytale, and snow is all fun and games until I realise that constant snow is annoying. Whenever I come back home from my studies, I am exhausted as a result of the weather, without a car buying my groceries can be overcomplicated, and last but not least, I need to be careful not to slip. 

Doubtlessly, Estonia is a multi-lingual nation. Apart, from Estonian, Russian is commonly spoken and understood, and in Southern Estonia, there are a handful of local dialects and minority languages. I noticed that Estonians are particularly proud of their beautiful, yet incredibly complicated languages, and outside of the touristy centres I rarely saw writing in English or other languages, as a result, I am pleasantly surprised by how quickly I am picking up new words. 

Although Estonians, especially the younger generations, speak near-perfect English, they appreciate it when a foreigner makes the effort to at least learn the basics of their native language, and in my experience, I noticed that as long as they understand you, they would rarely switch to English. 

Overall, I felt welcomed in Estonia, I have yet to find problems integrating into their society. The locals are lovely and different from my previous experience of studying in Portugal, I don’t feel that much of a foreigner, so Tallinn is basically a home away from home at the moment.

If you ever happen to be in Estonia, I recommend trying the local chocolate. Kalev is comparable to what Cadbury is in the UK. Kalev chocolate comes in many flavours, and they are a great treat. Tallinn is all about attention to detail, you might walk past a building every day and you notice new details, therefore, this helps to extend the honeymoon phase.

Finally, I would like to mention that I feel really grateful to have had the opportunity to study for a semester in Estonia. I am treasuring every single moment, and I am glad that I still have a couple of months to explore and enjoy, before returning back home.

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