Midsummer in Tartu

7 July 2023

Exchange student Della Pirrie reflects on final days in Tartu

I get attached to a receipt if it’s been in my pocket long enough, so I ought to have known how attached I’d get to Tartu. I left just after midsummer, and the festival truly made up for the snow lasting November to April. But even that is something I’ll miss, given how much effort I put into styling all my winter layers. I’ve learned a lot aside from how to tie a scarf around my head in a chic way, and I hope it’ll all stick with me when I get back to London


Image: Midsummer Festival

There’s a certain grace granted to international students, since everyone knows you have limited time. Estonians are keen for visitors to enjoy themselves, so please don’t worry about making a fool of yourself or looking like a silly tourist for walking down a dead-end road. Satisfy every curiosity you have and do it as soon as you can. If there’s café you’ve often passed and wondered what was inside, but you find yourself walking home with nowhere urgent to be, go in. The statues you wanted to read the information on, the street that made you wonder where it led. If a group of people are visiting a lake you’ve seen photos of, don’t be afraid to tag along.


Image: My favourite park, across from the Faculty of Language and Culture

On making friends, do try and go into the student dorms. I didn’t, but I came with friends from London, and even then, my classmates that did stay there did a lot of the legwork for our socialising. Raatuse gives you the best chance at making the most of your time abroad (pronounced Rat-oo-zeh, not Rat House…), but if you don’t stay there, join their groupchat - I’d bet a solid quarter didn’t actually live in Raatuse. It’s a good place for advice, but also making friends. You and a pal are going hiking? See if anyone wants to come along. Someone’s thinking of a beer by the river? Go. The worst that can happen is some vague awkwardness. Everyone is desperate to make friends, like freshers on steroids. We’re all in this small town on the edge of the edges of Europe, and in fact, we’re the lucky ones, since 95% of students have come without knowing anyone from their home country, let alone their university. You truly have nothing to lose.


Image: Summer in the Town Centre at 10pm

If I’ve learned anything in Tartu, it’s the right to take up space. Some of that is Estonian attitude, which is very forgiving of public spectacle (a kind way of saying that they mind their own business). Keep in mind your limited time. Don’t be stressed, but don’t let it pass you by. But there was a certain joy in becoming used to the town. Finding a favourite park bench, bakery, bus. It’s a forgiving place, and they’re proud of their young people, who chose Tartu for such meaningful years. They’re happy to have you, and you’ll be happy to have had them. Now if only I could find a use for all that Estonian that I learned…