How  did I end up in Estonia studying International Relations and Regional Studies, and why was it really worth it?

About two years ago, I came to the sudden realisation that I should probably apply for some master programs. Unfortunately, I started my mission to find the perfect master degree in early spring, which turns out to be rather late (learn from my mistakes, and start early!), so there were not that many options. Luckily, I still found several masters that sparked my interest, most of these were in the Netherlands and the UK. However, it was mainly the University of Tartu that caught my attention: I found one really exciting master’s degree, and – how lucky I was – I still had time to apply.

It was the  IRRS programme, a degree which might be suitable if you like to start your morning by watching the news, or follow politicians on Twitter. However, I never actually expected to be accepted, as the competition appeared quite tough.

It seemed to take ages before the university got back to me. So imagine my surprise when the programme coordinator e-mailed me, questioning whether or not I was coming to Estonia. Turns out, the system had not informed me that I actually got in and then I only had 24 hours to decide whether or not I would remain in the Netherlands or move across Europe. In the end the excitement of moving to a new country, great courses, and a scholarship persuaded me to take a leap of faith and just go.

Before arriving in Tartu, I had very little knowledge of exactly what I was getting myself into: a country next to Russia, above Latvia, and under Finland, and its capital is named Tallinn. Moreover, I expected Estonian to sound a little like Russian, guess who was wrong on that account?  Frankly speaking, I knew next to nothing about the country, and city that I was going to call home for the next two years. Still the mystery of moving to a country that you know very little about seemed kind of exciting to me. And the courses/electives like ‘Politics of History and Memory’ and ‘Simulation Seminar in Conflict Studies’ caught my attention, especially because I had not been able to follow these courses elsewhere (See the following link for more information on courses of the IRRS program: https://skytte.ut.ee/en/studies/curriculum-and-courses-international-relations-and-regional-studies). With my electives already picked before I even arrived in Tartu, I figured that nothing could go wrong.

Tartu University main bulding
Photo credits: Tartu University

Turns out I was right, the courses in my program and the French and Russian courses I was able to take, were great. Professors seem invested in my education –   my supervisor spend nearly two hours working on a thesis topic with me. Obviously, he didn’t need to do this for me, yet it really shows that he wants me to succeed.

Since moving to Tartu, I have gone on a study trip to Kosovo with a group of great people, were we discussed issues related to conflict management. I enjoyed visiting both Pristina (the capital), and Mitrovicë (a predominantly Serbian city) so much, as we learned how both Serbs and Kosovars feel about the Kosovo war. I also volunteered at the Second Annual Tartu Conference on Russian and East European Studies, and found a marketing internship at a local start-up. Reflecting on my time here, I can only say that I’m glad that I accepted the offer from the UT, and immediately after that bought a one-way plane ticket to Estonia. If I hadn’t end up in Estonia, I would probably have remained in Leiden (the Netherlands), and pursued a master there. Yet, in hindsight remaining in the Netherlands doesn’t sound like nearly as much fun.

Group photo with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo, Mr. Enver Hoxhaj. Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo.
Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo. Photo credit: Eiki Berg.

My time in Tartu is almost over, and I think I have finally found out what I plan to do with my next year(s). Most people would probably debate between finding a job or maybe pursuing a PhD. However, neither of these options interest me right now. So instead I have decided to look for another master program to join. I intend to apply to programs that will allow me to further mature interests such as international law and conflict management. We’ll see if I get into any programs, and otherwise I’ll just consider some other options. Maybe I’ll go home and find a job, or maybe I’ll just travel the world for a bit. Either way, I want to make the most of it!

I’ve had a wonderful time in Tartu at the UT, and would definitely recommend you to look into this program if you’re interested in IR. If I haven’t convinced you maybe check out my other blog on the five reasons why you should study IRRS: https://isa.ut.ee/blog/5-reasons-to-study-international-relations-and-regional-studies-liesa-netherlands/

If you have any questions about IRRS program, feel free to contact me

Liesa Aitton