— Where are you from?

— What do you study?

I am from Russia. That’s why all the questions I received from people during first year of my MA in Tartu were: “where are you from?” and “do you like Putin?”.

However, guys, I’m studying semiotics. And last year I spent not only in challenge to create ingenious answer about Russian president, but also how to explain to everyone what semiotics is in a way everyone will be able to understand.

I have tried several ways to describe semiotics, but the most working one is the one which is the most simple and close to everyone’s background.

And what can be closer to people who live in Tartu than Erasmus? Erasmus is an interesting phenomena existing for more than 25 years, and, in other words, it’s already a generation of people who had Erasmus experience.

There is a belief that “Erasmus once – Erasmus forever”. And here, in Tartu, this phrase can be easily proved with many people who has been here for Erasmus and then came back for MA or PhD programs. They say you cannot just easily leave Tartu. But might be it is Tartu just cannot leave you?

However, to understand what Erasmus is some time is needed.

Juri Lotman – the founder of semiotics here, in Tartu, and my favorite researcher – told that semiotics is a logic. And I completely agree with him. He also told that the object of semiotic research is a system.


So, let us consider Erasmus as a system. The system where everything is logical and connected to each other. And placed in a process of communication.

And as far as semiotics do not exist without communication process – there is no meaning in this life appeared without communication, this is a result. And in Erasmus we have people from all over the world who themselves are complicated systems, combination of several systems including personality and cultural specificity. And when many of these small systems meet each other, eruption happens.

Sorry for this semi-scientific approach, but I have to introduce you a small simplified definition of semiotics in this case (please, don’t judge me for over exaggerating):

Semiotics is a science about communication processes between objects* which are in relation to each other.

(*objects in this sense are not Pierce terminology, but presumption that an object can mean something or somebody, or system(s))

Semiotic of Tartu space for Erasmus

In semiotics it is possible to presume landscape like a text. And like in every text everyone read first sentence, but not everyone reaches the last word.

An Erasmus student arrives to Tartu and he is really happy to start communicate with surrounding environment. But usually an Erasmus student arrives to Raatuse or Narva dorm. What is the closest object for communication? Right, Co-market and Konsum. That’s why most of people post a famous picture “what I exactly do in Erasmus – COOK”.

Then if you look at the map – you can easily figure out that in case of getting to Ülikooli street every Erasmus has to cross bridge (which is next to Club Atlantis – luckily Club Tallinn has been closed) and Rüütli street.

Thus even geography presumes that Tartu is challenging Erasmus people. And to get to University Library you even need to climb up the hill where pub Arhiiv is ready to attack a poor scholar from the corner.

Surely, I am making these connections sarcastically, but even meeting place, it’s already communication. And once communication happens between two systems (a system of foreign curious student and a system of unforgettable Tartu nightlife) – none of them will be the same.


Semiotics of (lost) opportunities for Erasmus

Famous “Estonian moments” blog had an advice-list how to survive Estonian winter. Of course, when it is getting dark at 2p.m. you either want to sleep, either eat, or… party? Well, probably during this magic nights (days) all the Erasmus couples meet each other. However… trust me, I’m not a pessimist! But lifelong time for most of couples is a couple of months. (Of course, there are exceptions! But…) Why? I would give you simple explanation from my semiotics point of view.

This semester in Tartu there are about 1000 foreign students crawling around, and half of them are Erasmus. This, in simple statistic, might mean that during half of a year at least third part of them meet other third part (according to the size of our lovely city). Anyway, you cannot be just isolated. Every “personal” system of any person in communication to many others – that obviously changes it and give a presumption of opportunities. Opportunities which might be limited if you consider your communication only with ONE other “personal” system.

Thus cultural exchange presumes plurality…

Moreover, Tartu is one of the rare places in the world where there is such a high concentration of different “personal” systems in such a small space.

However, there is a law in semiotics that not all the sides of systems, which are in communication, can interact, but only some of them. And together, in case of productive interaction, two systems create one, which is more perfect. Then probably there is an applicable expression that quality is more meaningful than quantity.

Semiotics of studies for Erasmus

When an Erasmus student arrives to Tartu, what is the first thing people ask about being a student here? Which courses did you take for this semester? No… Which three things you have to do to become a student of University of Tartu. And is “studying hard” included even in broader 5 items list? Never heard of it.

Making parallels, in Cultural Semiotics we always consider the title of an artwork as a part of the artwork. Thus – if these three things to become a student of UT are the title, you can easily give me a really semiotic answer to the question “What this artwork, where we see an Erasmus student, is about”.

I hope you did not understand what semiotics is! Just take one of the courses from Semiotic department and explain me “how to write about Semiotics of Erasmus”!

With some semiotic love,