The Memories We’ve Made: (Almost) Two Years in Tartu – Patrik (Sweden)

We’ll have tiny boxes for memories. Open them up and we’ll set them free […] Keep your memories, but don’t live the past. I’m looking forward to the best days we will have

Boxes, Goo Goo Dolls (2016)

Spring is slowly but steadily arriving. Like many of us, I am on the home stretch of thesis-writing (sorry for the reminder!). It is a bittersweet feeling because this is actually it; the final project, something that felt so daunting a year ago. Being glued to the screen for most of my time, I had to have a break, was it two, maybe three days ago? It is going to sound extremely cliché, but I am writing this anyway: crossing the street on a walk as the sun set, I spotted a few, tiny purple flowers in bloom. Right there, in the muddy grass, crammed together between a sea of asphalt. And I thought to myself, “this has really been two of the most amazing years”. Before I get lost in my own anecdotes for this entry, I reached out to some friends in Tartu’s international community to ask them – what memory will you carry with you from Estonia?

The answers were heart-warming, and I would like to share them with you; readers who might be at the same stage of your Estonian journey and recognise what we mean, those who may be at the start of it, or perhaps are looking for reasons to come here. Whoever, or wherever you are, this is a glimpse of life in Estonia, and the memories we’ve made.

Photo credit: Patrik

Admittedly, it is tough to choose only one thing amongst so many, especially having moved abroad for two years. While a whole lot of stuff will make it into the moving boxes back home (believe me), or as we prepare for new adventures, some things might be a little extra important. More often than not, memories are bundled up in something special you bought, a book you will bring with you, or a stuffed companion that has cheered you up.

One friend told me about a good read that they will definitely keep close to heart, and their love for walks in Annelinn, a district in Tartu. Another lovely keepsake I was told about is a plush rabbit. Purchased at the store for a silly price, this little buddy has become a dear belonging. Some choose to make the memory of Estonia a permanent one, literally. A beautifully drawn little barn swallow (Estonia’s national bird), has found its home in the shape of a tattoo on one student, to commemorate their experience here.

For others, the city and its atmosphere are what stands out. Tartu gives the feeling of a home away from home and makes you realise that while we are all from different parts of the world, there is so much we share, a common language (not just the one we speak!) said one friend. On the same note, someone chipped in, we have lived and studied in such a bohemian place, and they will remember Tartu for its convenience, student-friendly environment and for, despite being small, offering so many activities that they were never bored. Clearly, the sceneries are a-ma-zing, I cannot but fully agree. We go from breath-taking spring to lovely summer, followed by the colourful fall season – and then 9 months of winter. Okay, not that bad, kind of (pause for laughter). But seriously, as I was told, and think myself, we have made incredible friends here to enjoy every single season with.

Speaking of seasons, I for one adored summer in Estonia. Granted things were kind of upside-down, given the pandemic and all, we had a chance to take time off, and bask in the sunshine. The last memory from a friend I share is all about that – the fresh vegetables, strawberries, and local markets (if you have lived here, you know what they mean. If not, you are in for a treat). The words speak for themselves:

If you close your eyes, you can clearly imagine the vivid red and clear blue colour that you saw when you found fresh strawberries at the local market on a hot summer day. Tartu offers an unforgettable, colourful summer.”

Photo credit: Erika Kumekawa

To wrap up, I want to circle back to the beginning of my text. As I wrote, the idea for this blog post came to me on a walk, just like any other. I think the difference was that now I have come to realise that my stay as a master’s student here is coming to an end. The question – what will you bring, what will you remember – is by no means original, and that is what makes it beautiful to me. Memories are made every single day. The most modest, little things we can keep in our backpack are tokens of our experiences, and pictures with friends at the beach during summer is what makes us think back to that day and smile.

So, what will I bring with me? It is difficult to pinpoint in one line, but – the happiness I have felt here. This is dinner on the terrace with friends, laughing until the sun comes up again; it is trips around Estonia, getting lost in the forest; parties, conversations that make no sense, and perfect sense, people around you that are always there, the ones I have met along the way and whose many encouraging words will stay with me no matter what is up next.

With love,