Kateryna Kubrak from Ukraine, after a bachelor’s degree in IT in Kyiv, entered the master’s degree at the University of Tartu in the same field. She has been living in Estonia for almost two years, studies and works at a university in a research project – and now she tells all the details for 34travel.
I made the decision to apply for a master’s degree abroad during my semester in exchange in Croatia for a bachelor’s degree. I was very attracted to the international atmosphere, so I was looking in every possible way for a way to immerse myself in it for more than one semester. In addition, education in the field of IT in our area frankly leaves much to be desired. After Croatia, I still managed to drive me to Canada for three months, after which I was only convinced of my decision. When I returned, my last year of bachelor’s degree began, and everything was confused there: writing a diploma, and searching for master’s programs, and preparing for admission.
Knowing from friends that most of the deadlines for graduate programs with scholarships fall in the winter months, I began to surf the websites of foreign universities in the summer. I got myself a Google Sheet, where I saved all the links and details about the programs I was going to apply for. I had two main criteria: the location of the university in Europe and the opportunity to receive a scholarship to study. I knew that there are many attractive scholarships in the USA and Canada, but after the internship I did not want to return to North America – neither the mentality nor the lifestyle suited me at all. Of the European programs, I decided to apply for three: one from the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Program in Belgium, Spain and Germany, Visby in Sweden and the University of Tartu scholarship in Estonia.
For all three programs, the list of documents was approximately the same: copies of a diploma, a certificate of proficiency in English, recommendations from teachers and a letter of motivation. Having dealt with the necessary documents, I started preparing for IELTS. I must say that the decision to take the test early, in November, helped me a lot, because after passing the test I could fully concentrate on writing motivation letters. This process did not take a day or even a week: after writing what seemed to me a good draft, I returned to it after a while and rewrote entire paragraphs. For each program, it was necessary to find the right arguments and frame them in the right words. In the process of writing letters, I came to the conclusion that Visby is the least attractive to me in Sweden, and in the end I did not even apply there.
My top priority was the Erasmus Mundus program and the University of Tartu became a fallback. I had everything ready for admission to Tartu, but I did not submit the documents until after I received a refusal from Erasmus Mundus. Frankly speaking, at that moment I wanted to give up everything and never go anywhere else, but I nevertheless pressed the button “Submit an application” on the Estonian portal. Looking back, I realize that this was one of my best decisions in my life.
At the University of Tartu, I entered the Innovation and Technology Management program. Based on my place in the ranking, I was offered a tuition waiver, that is, free tuition (the cost of the program without a waiver is € 3400 per year), and a monthly stipend of € 400 from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To move to the country, Ukrainians did not need to apply for a visa; they could enter using biometrics and, upon arrival, issue a temporary residence permit. By the way, it is issued for the entire duration of study (in my case, for two years), and after studying, you can get a special residence permit for graduates of Estonian universities and stay in the country. Thanks to the simplified moving process, it took literally three months from receiving the letter of acceptance to the very move – I arrived a couple of days before the start of the semester in September 2019.
The University of Tartu is one of the oldest in Eastern and Northern Europe. It was founded in 1632 by the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf, and then offered only four programs: in philosophy, jurisprudence, theology and medicine. The university now has four faculties and more than 30 institutes, and of the 159 bachelor’s, master’s and postgraduate programs on offer, 27 are taught entirely in English. Thanks to this diversity, about 1,900 international students from 90 countries study at the university. The University of Tartu is ranked 285th in the QS World University Rankings 2020 and is among the 1% of the world’s most cited academic institutions in 12 scientific fields.
My master’s program in Innovation and Technology Management consists of half subjects from the Institute of Computer Science and half subjects from the School of Economics and Business. Thanks to this mix, a career can be built in any way – from a programmer or data analyst in IT to an innovation advisor somewhere under the ministry. In Estonia, everything related to innovation is especially in demand, because the country is considered the most advanced in Europe in terms of digitalization of literally everything. In my almost two years of living here, I signed a document in pen on paper only once, at the very beginning, when I had not yet been issued a temporary residence permit. When you already have this plastic card, you can use it to sign all documents,
“In the two years of my life here, I signed a document with a pen on paper only once.”
The university does not have a campus, and various buildings and dormitories are scattered throughout the city. Generally speaking, Tartu is a university city. If the neighboring building is not an academic department, then there will definitely be a sign on it stating that this is either a university museum, or an archive, or someone’s office in the past. Since January 2020, the university has a new building – the Delta Center, which houses the School of Economics and Business and the Institute of Technology, Computer Science, Mathematics and Statistics, as well as a bunch of laboratories and offices of several Estonian companies. The building has already become an important landmark of the city and has received several architectural awards. Before the pandemic, students went to Delta like on a holiday: in addition to comfortable lecture and seminar rooms, there is also a separate area specially for students with sofas, a terrace,
Almost all master’s programs at the University of Tartu last two years. During these two years, the student must earn 120 ECTS credits. These are credits that measure the “weight” of a subject; 1 ECTS is equivalent to 26 hours of work. Each program has a certain number of compulsory credits, that is, a list of subjects that must be passed. In addition, an average of 30 credits are earmarked for master’s thesis. My program consists almost entirely of compulsory subjects, so there are only 6 elective credits left. But for those who want more, the university allows you to take as many credits as you like in excess of the nominal amount for your program – the main thing is not more than 50 per semester. Thanks to this rule, I attended several additional courses, for example, German.
The University of Tartu has the Institute of Foreign Languages, which offers everyone interested in studying 12 (!) Languages on the basis of English. You can learn Estonian, French, German, Swedish, Russian and even Korean. For those who know Estonian, the choice is even wider. Of course, all of these subjects are completely free for students and can be counted as electives for their program. In addition to language courses, you can study anything as an elective – even if you are getting a degree in geography, but are interested in music. We have courses in jazz history, drawing, calligraphy and even knitting.
“We have courses in jazz history, drawing, calligraphy and even knitting.”
The University of Tartu is generally very student-friendly. We can also schedule exams ourselves, since for each subject the teacher must provide two exam dates to choose from. Thus, you can set yourself everything at once for one week, at least stretch it for a month. During the session, the central library is open from morning until midnight, and specially trained dogs are even brought in to squeeze to relieve stress. As a bonus, according to the results of the session, you can receive an additional scholarship for achievements in the amount of € 100 per month.
For foreigners, the university offers 4 hostels. They all have a block system, that is, one block includes 2-3 rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. All hostels were renovated several years ago, so the conditions are comfortable: in addition to basic furniture in the rooms and kitchens, each hostel has free laundry and storage space for bicycles. A bed in a room can be rented for € 118, an entire room for € 235, and utilities are already included in the price. It is also easy to find an apartment in Tartu, as there are usually enough offers on the market and landlords are open to foreigners. Of course, an apartment will cost more: for a studio 20 minutes from the center, prices start at € 300 per month.
Tartu has an advantageous location for traveling in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries. You can get to Riga in four hours by bus, to Tallinn in two and a half hours, and from there, there are regular ferries to Helsinki and Stockholm.
Estonia itself also has something to see, even though at first glance the country seems rather boring – no mountains, no megacities, the sea is cold. But Estonia is 50% covered with forests and contains one and a half thousand lakes. That is why on weekends, all Estonians go hiking on one of the hundreds of trails that run through both national parks and ordinary forests. Of course, there is a mobile application for finding a suitable track, where they are sorted by counties, length, and difficulty.
“On weekends, all Estonians go hiking on one of the hundreds of trails in national parks.”
And there are as many as 6 capitals in Estonia. In addition to the official one, Tallinn, there is a winter one – Otepää, where Estonians come to ski, summer – Pärnu, a resort on the Baltic Sea, autumn – Narva, a city on the border with Russia, and Tartu – the student capital of Estonia. Kuressaare, the main town of the island of Saaremaa, is called the Estonian capital of the sun, because, according to statistics, the most sunlight in the country is recorded there. Keeping in mind the 11 hours of sun in January, one can only guess what “most” means by the standards of Estonia. For lovers of high mountains and breathtaking views, Estonia may seem rather bland, but even thanks to its monotony of landscapes, one can feel the atmosphere of life in the country – unhurried, sometimes too stable, but very comfortable.