Hello! I am Rahul Puniani, a current Masters student at the School of Economics and Business Administration (SEBA) at the University of Tartu (UT). I study Innovation and Technology Management (ITM). If you think this sounds fancy, then your suspicion is warranted: it actually is. My programme encompasses a diverse range of subjects from Business to IT to Innovation and more. It’s an interdisciplinary course within a multidisciplinary environment. With some ups and more downs in life, ending up in the jewel of the Baltics, Estonia has been worth it.

Start of the studies August 2017. Want to know who I am? Well, the second from the left.

Before I continue to answer the question set in the title of my blog, let me divulge you with my history.  I did my graduate degree on Mechanical Engineering, for which I spent 3 years in India and a year abroad in Germany. I like to travel around, which is evident by the number of countries that I have been to. At this point in time, I am proud to say that the number is 28 and counting. I like learning languages, of which the current count is 8. Last but not the least, I do love cooking and eating just about any food with spices. As an engineering graduate, I think I have a design and creative mind. But who knows, as I tend to study more history and economics in my free time, rather than Maths or Physics.

Starting of the semester, I arrived in last week of August 2017 in Tartu. I came with no expectations, no wishes and no forecast. I said to myself, do what you can do and be productive. So, back to the basics, I did what a sane student wouldn’t do. I registered for 9 courses with combined volume of 48 ECTS Credits when only 30 are required to. The following 5 were my compulsory subjects from my programme.

S.no. Subject Code Subject Name Credits
1 MTAT.03.310 Business Analysis 6
2 MJRI.02.075 Econometrical Analysis 6
3 MTAT.03.306 Requirements Engineering 6
4 SVMJ.04.006 Data Munging, Visualization and Communication 6
5 SVMJ.08.001 Innovation Policy 6

Now, done and dusted, my courses were interesting. We had regular lectures, practical sessions and a whole lot of group work. Studying at the University of Tartu is doing things practical. A usual routine in the middle of the semester was like a loop of workload. Going to a lecture was more like an invite for  new coursework. Before every ‘See you later’, we were handed an assignment or presentation to be submitted next week. Every weekend was a working weekend. Scared? Don’t be. Looking back, this extensive immersion prepared us for the final exams and projects. It was time well-spent, because, if you are a student, it is more likely that you spend your weekend sleeping or streaming videos and movies. A better option is always to learn. The whole experience felt like one of high quality, due to our ITM gang. This is the gang of engineers and economists studying together.

1 FLLC.09.001 Estonian for Beginners I, on the Basis of English, Level 0 > A1.1 6

Moving forward, ah, languages! It was predictable that I’d learn the language native to the land I am going to stay for some time. But, Estonian was way more ‘fascinating’ than I anticipated. It bears no relation to any other language. From far away it does look like English with its Latin alphabets, but, on closer inspection, I bet you won’t be able to understand anything, no matter where you are from. With the exception of a comparison that could be drawn with Finnish, and, perhaps as a distant cousin, Hungarian, it is unintelligible. This is something that makes it all the more unique. By learning this language, you can have a secret language which only 0.000157%  of the people talk in the whole wide world. Lesson 101 in Estonian – my name ‘Rahul’ is an actual word which means ‘Pleasured’ or ‘Satisfied’, but not in the way you think.

Basic Estonian
1 HVLC.08.012 Basic Chinese for Beginners I on the basis of English, Level 0 > A1.1 6

My appetite for languages was not satiated with just Estonian. Initially, I was just looking for courses in which I could improve the languages I am already proficient in, such as French, German or Russian. But, alas, there were no courses available that matched my tight time schedules. I found ‘Beginners in Chinese’, and then thought “well, why not!” I challenged myself to take up Chinese for no good reason. It was difficult, but amazing as well. Writing and practicing the traditional characters is like a daily art and it does give me calm feeling akin to meditating. My teachers for both languages were supportive and very helpful.

Basic Chinese Words

From Estonian in the morning and then Chinese in the evening, I never felt that I was learning 2 languages at the same time. They were different projects all together.

1 SVHI.08.003 Self-regulation 3

In the first weeks, I received emails from my coordinator about open online courses from the Institute of Education. The name grabbed my attention. I mean I was already enrolled in 45 credits, so I did need some lessons in Self-Regulation. The entirety of this course took place in an online environment. To my surprise, it was tough. The scientific words and psychology studies done for Self-Regulated learning were going up my mind. But then, I focused and applied those theories in practice with my own schedules and it helped accommodate the learning curve. Submitting assignments and homework, I did manage to receive the highest grading and I was content.

1 SVSV.00.002 From Idea to Execution 3
2 SVMJ.TK.027 From Business Model to Starting a Company (Not in curriculum) 3
Total 51 ECTS

The most Estonian thing to do is to ‘Pitch’ an idea for a Startup, and so I was interested in it. The subject ‘From Idea to Execution’ was a practical course run by the UT Idea Lab. It ran for the whole semester, where we ideated and pitched ideas. Needless to say, our teams and ideas changed several times. The team and idea that stuck was of ‘Espuro’ which was to produce a smart portable air purifier which would also moisturize the air. We, the team, shaped our idea towards execution. We built a prototype and were recognized as a Starter Advanced team. We pitched our idea on the ‘Kaleidoskoop’ pre-selection, and we were selected to present at the sTARTUp day, the biggest Baltic business event held in Tartu. Eventually, we were the finalists for the sTARTUp day pitching competition as well. A surprise laid in wait for me in the end. I didn’t know, but, by attending sessions of Starter Advanced and subsequent pitching competition, I completed another course called ‘From Business Model to Starting a Company’ for 3 ECTS Credits. This is how, I manage to receive 51 ECTS Credits in just one semester of study.

Team Espuro at sTARTUp Day

Academic related but not academics would be Hackathons. A hackathon is an event where you turn your idea into a product in just 48 hours. With sleep or not, you have all the resources to work on. I managed to participate in 3 different Hackathons, namely Garage48 Hardware & Arts in Riga, Garage48 Wood in Voru, and Garage48 SpaceTech in Tartu. In all three, I held a different position and point of view in the team. Sometimes, a designer, a marketer or a manager. It is a great experience and I would always recommend spending a weekend just like that.

Garage48 Wood Pitching, Voru

I was also selected to become one of the International Student Ambassadors (ISA). We strive to improve the lives of international students of the University of Tartu. We organize educational events and are always available to help prospective students to know more about the University of Tartu.

ISA Event – Scholarship Fair’18

I volunteered to join ESN (Erasmus Student Network) Tartu as a member. Subsequently I attended a National event in Estonia and thereafter I helped to organize various events for Erasmus and International Students in Tartu. ESN is a family and a definite place to hang out with amazing Estonians.

National ESN Event, Tallinn

You can take an Indian out of India but you’ll never take India out of an Indian. I collaborated with ‘International House Tartu’ to organize the Indian festival of Diwali. Not just for the diaspora but for everyone, including locals, to get a glimpse of colors of India. I got a chance to wear colorful traditional clothes and dance on Punjabi Bollywood tunes. What more a person can ask for!

Diwali 2017, Tartu

I also volunteered for the sTARTUp Day in Tartu, which you can read a little more about above. My team was selected to pitch on the very stage I was volunteering to organize. My usual multitasking in action. This got me connections with the Embassy of India for Finland and Estonia in Helsinki. I overall coordinated a donation of books which was made by the Embassy to the University of Tartu Library.

sTARTUp Day 2017 volunteers

Having read about the vast array of courses and extracurriculars I participated in over the past semester, I am sure one question must be on your mind. “What did my daily life look like?” Let me tell you about my regular Tuesday: I would wake  up at 7, and prepare for Chinese at 08:30, after which I would make some time for breakfast. This was followed by other courses until 18:00. Immediately after, it was already time for Estonian until 20:00. Finally, back home, I put my tracks and sweatshirt on, and went running for at least an hour. After coming back, I would cook, eat, hang out, chill, and make my plans in preparation for the next day. On a good day, I would be in bed by midnight. As tough a schedule as this isn’t easy, but it sure is rewarding and fun.

Finally, where did my love for travelling go? Except for a short hiking trip in Estonia, I saved most of it for the end. During my semester, I was regularly looking for good cheap flights. In due course, I did get some amazing deals (also, thanks to ESN Card). My last exam submission was on the 15th of January and I embarked on my end-of-semester journey on the 16th. I covered the following route in little less than 3 weeks:

Tartu – Riga – Berlin – Sofia – Plovdiv – Thessaloniki – Belgrade – Timisoara – Berlin – Riga – Tartu.

Somewhere in Old Town, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

After this fantastic journey through Europe and spending a week back home in India, I was revitalized and ready to roll for the new semester.

I am sure I did miss a lot of details, but yep, that’s all I did in 5 months. I suppose that’s not how anyone usually spends his first semester, although it does prove that a lot of things are possible if you want them to be. What’s next? I still have no idea. What I do know is that motto remains the same: ‘Do what you can do, and be productive!’

PS: Again, for this semester, 51 ECTS are waiting for me. (Old habits die hard..)