Estonian Culture

2 March 2023

Student Della Pirrie writes about what she's learned about Tartu's place in Estonian Culture

The snow is still piled high in Tartu, despite a brief melting moment in January. Estonia celebrated their independence day on the 24th (which supposedly marks the beginning of Spring…) and all number of festivities went on. Most people don’t have classes on Fridays, but we all had the day off anyway. Lots of people headed to Tallinn, where there was a military parade and speeches, with Ursula von der Leyen (President of the EU Commission) being the most highly anticipated. In Tartu, there was concerts and traditional dancing. And of course, the bars and clubs were filled. The songs were only in Estonian, but they reverted back to their international ways after midnight. Tartu also marked one year since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, with candlelit vigils and speeches. It’s been an interesting few weeks, and with parliamentary elections in a few days, those of us interested in foreign affairs are getting our fill.



I’m not taking any politics classes this term, since I really should focus on my language studies, but it was hard to pass on some of the modules. The university is home to the Johann Skytte Institute of Political Studies (pronounced Shee-te), named after the uni’s founder. It was the second university founded in the Swedish Empire, and then became the  Universität Dorpat, for the Baltic Germans. In the late Russian Empire, Tartu was renamed to Yuryev, as was the university.  The uni as it is now was established in 1919, but you can still see the historical influences, and it encapsulates the history of a contested region with influences from all over Europe.


I hadn’t realised how influential Tartu is in the region. 100% of judges in Estonia graduate from Tartu, and 99% of doctors. Lots of Latvians come here to study, as well as Finnish, Ukrainian, and Russian students. The students come from all over the world, with the uni offering three entirely English undergraduate degrees – Medicine, Business Administration, and Science and Technology, as well as 24 English-language post-grad degrees. But if you come for a short time, there’s loads of English taught classes, from Korean History to Beginner’s Swedish. There are also classes taught entirely in other languages. In January we were joined by our classmates who study Russian and another language, and they’ve been able to take classes in Spanish and French.


My extended family have been texting me, saying that since I started here, they’re seeing Tartu popping up everywhere, in news articles, on the radio, and most excitingly, an episode of Pointless in November. Every day I find myself understanding more about Estonia, and the region as a whole. The snow will snow melt soon and I’m excited to see the town turned green, but I know that when it does, it means my time here is nearing its end. But knowing I’ll always have a link to this part of the world, and a connection to the people from it, is something I’m looking forward to.