Volunteering in Tartu: the Why, When and How – Selbi (Turkmenistan)

Being an only child, my story of developing any social skills whatsoever usually involved, *drum roll for dramatic effect* VOLUNTEERING. Volunteering for me is not “a plus for the resume”, “hanging out” or “free food”. Volunteering is a way of giving back to the community while enjoying the process, finding new friends, boosting social, project management, and a bunch of other skills. In this blog post, I want to discuss the advantages of volunteering and how to find the best options for yourself.

At the moment, there are many opportunities to become a volunteer in Tartu. For instance, you could join the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) Tartu, if you want to organize engaging, active, and fun events. ESN is a student-lead organization, where you can learn fundraising, project management, social, and networking skills. ESN usually welcomes students to join as volunteers at the beginning of the academic year, but you can jump the moving train of ESN activities and help them along the way!

ESN Picture
Picture credit: Ksenija Poltavets

I haven’t been a permanent member of ESN, but I have realized my own idea of organizing a Central Asian Cultural Evening through ESN. I have adored the process, coming up with ideas, and working with so many people. It happened so that there were others that were passionate about it as well, and because of that, we were able to make a lifelong memory for ourselves and share more about Central Asia with the audience. Oh, and the audience liked it, too! (Especially the samsas :P).

Picture of ESN event
Picture credit: Ksenija Poltavets

At the moment, there are several places recruiting new volunteers. Have you heard of the sTARTUp Day annual festival? It’s an event that gathers up dozens of mentors to look into a plethora of business ideas, all embedded by witty, fun events. The one adjective I would use for this is inspirational.

You can learn more about the event itself here: VISITOR — sTARTUp Day 2021

sTARTUp Day 2020
Picture credit: Shefali Sharma

If you love animals and want to contribute to the ethical treatment of animals, you can volunteer at MTÜ Loomus! Here’s the link to their page: https://loomus.ee/en/lets-stand-together-for-the-animals/

If you speak Russian and Estonian and have at least a secondary degree, you could help at Emergency Response Center’s Helpline. At the moment, volunteers at the helplines are needed in Estonia. Here’s the link: https://www.112.ee/en/volunteers

I have saved the best for last. The one warmest to my heart, and the place where I have volunteered the longest in Tartu, is International Student Ambassadors. Since you are on this page of the ISA website itself, I won’t be explaining what it exactly is. I want to tell you what volunteering at ISA has given me.

Before arriving in Tartu, you’re trying to find the practical information directly from the people who got to experience the same things. What I have noticed is, in many cases, there’s a YouTube video explaining or showing day-to-day practicalities. Sadly, in the small city of Tartu, there aren’t many English speaking vloggers, or my YouTube algorithm had failed me. When that happened, I turned to ISA for help.

Asian Cooking event organized by ISA
Picture credit: ISA

And here it was, the blogs, the posts, the stories of my peers! I had exchanged several emails with ISA alumni and got a personal, heartwarming, response back. 

After embarrassing myself in the busses of Tallinn with my 30 kg suitcases because I did not want to pay for a cab (after my overpriced experience of trickery with Turkish taxis) and finally making it to Tartu (where I was introduced to Bolt, finally), I applied to ISA.

Besides enjoying the process of helping out other Selbis-from-a-year ago, I got to improve my communication skills through it. The city and university tours, Instagram takeovers, short videos, emails, and even the monthly meetings – all contributed to that. I also loved helping excited applicants, their motivational letters, practical questions; often I was tired physically, but I smiled through the process. But most of all, I did not imagine I could meet smart, active, and enthusiastic people who knew how to have fun and spend their time well. Because of ISA networking, I am able to create something I have always wished for in my home country, KhanAcademy Türkmençe. I am forever grateful for that.

Before it starts sounding again like a motivational letter or another type of formal essay, I want to say, I do not guarantee you will take the same things I did from this experience. But if you, like me, love laughter, delicious free of charge food, and helping others, definitely check out ISA for volunteering. Who knows, maybe you will love it, too.

This is presumably my last blog post as a volunteer at ISA. I want to finish it by saying, “You know what? Being a volunteer is so much more than a plus for the resume”

ISAs 2020/21 training day
Picture credit: ISA

P.S. All other volunteering opportunities are cool too. This is my own blog, and if the style of writing has turned differently in the end, leave it be. There’s a reason it’s called a blog. :)