Big Adventure With a Small Business in Tartu as International Students – Bing (China)

Finding a job or starting a business is never an easy task in a foreign country, especially as an international student. However, sometimes the opportunity might just be hiding in the corner for you to find it. A little bit of luck and hard-work always help to lead you to these opportunities. To catch the opportunity, we need to pay attention to what is happening around us.

For those who don’t know already, Tartu has been selected to be the European Capital of Culture  for the year 2024. To that end the Tartu city government is organizing more cultural events and festivals to build up to the final celebrations in 2024. One of the most popular festivals is the “Car-free Avenue” festival. My friends and I were fortunate to be part of the festival. Talking about that, it’s hard not to mention one of the NGOs in Tartu: International House Tartu and their catering and food enterprise, Köömen. As one of the most international friendly non-profit organisations, they have been organising different cultural programs to help people understand Estonian culture. Also, they provide some fantastic opportunities to help people to present their own culture as well.

European Capital of Culture 2024. Picture Credit: Mana Kaasik

In the summer of 2021, the organisation called to run a food truck together for the “Car-free Avenue” festival. Since the celebration lasts for one month, the idea was that four teams from different cultural backgrounds would share their food and provide workshops that present their culture to the festival visitors.

Car free Avenue. Picture Credit: Rasmus Kull

I had always thought of starting my own business for a while. I wanted to be able to use the things I learned from my class in my real life, such as business analysis, customer relationship management, supply chain, etc. A lot of thoughts had been going through my mind. I had been asking myself: How about an Asian marketing company? How about a smartphone app company? Or how about just a bubble tea dessert shop?  I wanted to try it out and see if the customers were willing to pay for my product, no matter big or small. Unfortunately, as a student, financially, I could not afford the risk of losses. When I saw that International House Tartu had this plan. I was so excited to try it. And I believe that is the perfect business trial for someone like me. I found some friends who wanted to help and try out the idea together. That’s how we applied to be part of the event.

The whole process was not as easy as we thought it would be at the beginning. Even though it was just a small business, we still took it seriously. We needed more than just responsible team members. We needed to make a decision about what were the products that we wanted to sell.  Since we’re all from Asia, we provided workshops related to Asian culture with decent Asian cuisine every day. We were a team of 5, and the task was challenging. After a couple of meetings and discussions, we selected five items on our menu and 5 Asian culture workshops for our visitors. Making these decisions was just step one. The ideal responsibility distribution for us included one finance manager, one event manager, one supply-chain manager, one marketing manager and one chef. To sell the products, we needed to know what type of product would be preferred by our customers. Therefore, our friends and classmates became our food testers. After all these things we thought we were prepared enough, and our little one-week shop was ready to go.

However, life is not always as perfect as we would like it to be. We made many mistakes during the week. For example, sometimes we let people wait too long, sometimes we ran out of products, sometimes we messed up the electricity on the truck and sometimes we could not describe our food in good Estonian language.

Customers lining up for our food. Picture Credit: Bing

Although we had decided that every team member had a specific role, during the event, everyone was doing everything. It was crazy busy and stressful in the one week, but people also liked our food and drinks. Although with the food section our operational role messed up a little, our workshops did a great job. Let’s see some pictures of it!!

Visitors playing games. Picture Credit: Bing

Calligraphy and Wind Socks workshops. Picture Credit: Bing

Did we make some profit?
Yes! When you are working more than 12  hours per-day, you have to get paid!

How do we feel after that one week?
Super tired, everyone was sleeping for a couple of days at home and still couldn’t feel the energy in their body!

Do you regret joining? And what have you learned from this?
No, we are all glad that we had such a chance to be part of the program. That is once in a lifetime learning experience. People are trying hard to operate their businesses. Whether it’s big or small, being a business owner is much more complicated than how it looks. Now we are more appreciative when we go out to eat. For the next journey, we all learned from our mistakes.