Visiting University of Tartu in Estonia


Visiting University of Tartu in Estonia

Review by Ekrem Şimşek 

Some coincidences, unexpected ones especially, make our lives more colourful.  I had been thinking of participating in the Erasmus Staff Mobility Project and I had tried to visit some universities previously but somehow I was not able to succeed because of timing problems, the host university’s late response, etc. Kristina Mullamaa, who attended the LASIG conference Sabanci University organized in May 2014, was the contact person for me in University of Tartu (UT).  We had exchanged mails before she came to Istanbul and I remember talking about Estonia when we chatted with her.  At the time I did not have any plans to visit her country but suddenly towards the end of the deadline for the staff mobility application I remembered her and decided to write to her. The project did not seem possible at first as the timing was too tight and Sabanci University (SU) and UT were not partners. However, after a chain of mails and with the help of our International Office, the partnership was formed and I visited University of Tartu in the first week of May.  For me, this was an unforgettable way of welcoming spring because the location of Estonia made it a unique experience.  With the sunrise as early as 4:30 a.m. and the sunset at around 9:45 p.m. the days were pleasantly long.  I was lucky to see sunny days, well, mostly, though I should note that the temperatures dropped to 3 °C at night. There were rainy days as well but all in all, my visit to Estonia was memorable.  

Let me give the details of my trip:  From Istanbul, there are direct flights to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, a well-preserved medieval city.  However, at the time the flights were rather expensive and I found cheap flights to Helsinki, where I could take the ferry to Tallinn, which I did- a nice ride that takes about 2,5 hours on a comfortable cruise boat. It only costs around 15 euros.  From Tallinn I hopped on a bus which took me to Tartu, the second largest city of Estonia, in less than 3 hours.  Tartu is 180 km south of Tallinn and it is a real university town- roughly one fifth of its 100,000 residents are university students.  It is a very green place with lots of parks and a beautiful river running through it.  You can walk everywhere in Tartu and there are many places to visit.  (For details : )

I visited Dr. Kersti Lepajõe, Director of the College of World Languages and Cultures of the UT in her office.  I received a very warm welcome from her and she was very happy about the partnership between the two universities.  I shared the information about SU’s success in the Times Higher Education rankings.  I already knew that UT’s ranking was also high in another THE category. 

During my visit, I met several colleagues who were all so friendly and helpful.  The students were very kind and attentive.  They came from different backgrounds, even different countries including Germany, Czech Republic and Russia. Some of them have been to Istanbul and Antalya so we discussed their experiences in Turkey.  At the end of each teaching session I reserved some time for questions about Turkey, Turkish culture and Sabancı University.  The students were eager to learn about life in Turkey.  My topics covered areas on media, popular culture and gender issues.  We analysed several texts in different sessions.  It was motivating to see the students were engaged and interested in the topics. 

I am really happy that I was able to visit beautiful Estonia and meet nice people out there.  It was a very enjoyable experience to teach at UT, even though it lasted only a week.