My first encounter with Estonia, through an IR and political lens, was, paradoxically, in another country, in the UK, while I was doing my Erasmus semester abroad. Little did I know, when I was conducting research for a paper on the Estonian 2007 cyber-attack and the implications it has generated for the international scene, that a few months later I would be able to first-hand experience the country that I have studied and more.
The University of Tartu, which was the host of my summer abroad experience, has developed a few academic programmes, including one that tackled EU-Russian relations and Baltic Regional Security. The summer school invited bright students to discuss emerging issues and understand their backgrounds, surrounding the theme of the programmes. I was given the opportunity to be part of the aforementioned programme by receiving the Estonian Development Cooperation scholarship, along with several students from Georgia and Ukraine. Such academic opportunities are rare for the region and, therefore, have a tremendous impact on young individuals that are coming from a politically troubled background, and aspire to see and generate change there. The experience was enriching for a few reasons:
The academics. During two, very short weeks of an extensive, but also intensive academic programme, we managed to grasp the cultural, economic, social and political implications of Russia’s foreign and domestic policies on the international scene and the EU, as well as the Baltic States’ historic and present experiences with their near abroad. The topics ranged from the challenges of the liberal order, the Ukrainian crisis, the FIFA 2018 World Cup, surprisingly enough or the Baltic States’ history or dynamics with the Russian-speaking minority. In a nutshell, the academic portion of the programme was indeed extremely comprehensive.
The teachers. The programme was led by two outstanding professors from the University of Tartu (Estonia) and University of Toronto (Canada), both of whom did not only convey their knowledge and expertise on the topics in an interesting and comprehensive manner. They also allowed us to critically and analytically engage in the discussions and share insights based on political, social and economic experiences in our home countries. Newsflash: corruption or political instability is widespread.
The participants. It is always a unique experience when you are the only Moldovan participating in programmes like this one. You always end up getting out of your comfort zone more and being the [emphasis] representative of Moldova. But even more so, the programme allowed me to connect with different backgrounds through people from North America (Canada and the US) with diverse heritages, Japan or the UK, besides the Ukrainian and the Georgian ones. Little did I know that I would meet a Canadian Vietnamese who is majoring in both history and biotechnology, who would teach me words in Vietnamese or talk about the North and South Korea divide with an American Korean participant or be able to venture off in the future in Tokyo or Tbilisi.
The culture (and the trips). Another great aspect of the programme was its mobility. A few days were spent in Tartu, the cultural capital of Estonia, a few days off in Viljandi, a small, but historically packed town and finally a week in Pärnu, the summer capital of Estonia. Each place was able to offer a representative piece of Estonia, whether it was the Estonian National Museum in Tartu, castle ruins in Viljandi or the great summer waters of the Baltic Sea in Pärnu.
Now, there is always an official closing part to any programme, however, there are always ways to continue it. One outcome is to become more active abroad and home, participate in other conferences or consider University of Tartu or Toronto as your future academic avenue or travel in the places where you have met people form. Other can entail utilizing the gained knowledge in a bachelor thesis paper, which is what I will partly do. Especially for Moldovans, in the case of this programme, one can associate with like-minded and driven young individuals from Ukraine or Georgia to battle with our own countries’ insecurities and maybe develop policies and partnerships as future professionals. But at the end of the day, in a shorter prospect, one could also decide to visit Estonia and apply for the programme next year, which I highly encourage.