Interview with Shervin Balali
Name: Shervin Balali
Host country and university: Tallinn University, Estonia
What was your motivation for doing your semester abroad?
It was the obvious step to take, given that it is part of the programme. I also felt that it was time to get out of here (Groningen).
What was your motivation for applying for this country and university?
Tallinn was my first choice. The online information about the uni was amazing. I was fascinated by the geographic location (Estonia) and keen on travelling through Scandinavia. However, after being accepted I still had some doubts. My second choice would have been Taiwan…
Did you have any expectations before leaving?
Not really. I just wanted to go to a country I had never been before and experience a different university.
Did you find the application procedure difficult?
No. it was easy and comprehensive. This is because the uni is a partner uni and falls within the Erasmus cooperation. Applying for a university outside Europe is more difficult.
What were the requirements for doing your semester abroad in that country and university?
It was a general Erasmus application: CV, letter of motivation, etc.
Where there any initiatives of supporting Erasmus/international students in the host university throughout your stay?
ESN is quite active in organising cool events.
Studies: What did/do you think of the university?
Overall, the administration happened really smoothely, the staff was supportive and the course selection easy.
The location? The buildings?
The university buildings were nice and close to the harbour.
The study programme? Did you like the way of teaching and studying? How was the workload compared to IRIO?
The studies I followed were very similar to IRIO. I did a random selection of courses. The course coordination is pretty unorganised, though. And, unfortunately, they are rather unchallenging compared to IR at the RUG.
The teacher-student relationship is very chill and on a friendly and chill basis. However, the teachers seem to have little teaching experiences, so the level of education isn’t really high. I even started to fear losing my academic skills.
Social contact: What about the people in the university?
Did/do you meet many international students? Did you rather stay with locals or other international students?
I obviously met many Erasmus students. The ESN activities were the place to meet. I also shared a flat with other international students. As an Erasmus you do not really need to make an effort in reaching out to others, nor is it very easy. Although, Estonians are very friendly, I have observed that they are rather introvert people and don’t like to do small talk.
Did you get to know people outside the university?
Not at all. Some master students only via my roommates.
Finances/Logistics: How did it go financially?
Did you aquire a fund?
I go an Erasmus fee of 170€ per month, which is quite a low amount of money.
Did you have to experience a difference in lifestyle compared to living in Groningen?
Actually, prices in Tallinn are quite similar to the Netherlands.
Was it hard to find an accommodation? Was it affordable?
Housing in Tallinn was quite expencive: 375€ a month, too expensive for the quality. Less attention to finances, have fun.
What about spendings on food, public transports and leisure?
When you are doing this kind of experience, you pay less attention to the finances. You just want to have fun. But, surprisingly, public transport is free in Tallinn. My apartment was half an hour walking away from the uni, so it was advantageous that I could take the train and the bus.
Did you go out a lot? Can you give any recommendations?
I went out regularly, although not too much either. The place to be for Erasmus students definitely is Club Mynt (2€ every drink on Wednesdays). Other than that, there are lots of bars, etc., so a good nightlife.
Did you practice any sports there?
I went to a nice gym. There is also a university gym. However, there is not a lot of other sports offer.
What was your favourite place there?
There was this hipster neighbourhood Telliskivi with really cool bars, street art, alternative venues (nice drinks, cheap food). All in all, a few unique places.
Where you able to do some sightseeing and/or travel within the country?
Estonia has beautiful nature. Half of the country is forest. What is worth seeing is Tartu (second biggest city) and Estonia’s multiple national parks. The nature has more to offer than the cities. But instead of travelling much in Estonia, I did several trips to Finland, Sweden, Norway, Latvia and Lithuania. These neighbouring countries are really cheap to travel to.
What was your favourite local food there?
Most traditional food is meat based, so as a vegetarian I didn’t really enjoy local meals. But there are many other restaurant options for any taste and diet. The grocery stores offered many alternatives for vegetarians, too.
Did you experience something similar to a culture shock? How and in which sense was it different to living home/in Groningen?
I wouldn’t say I experienced a real culture shock. However, it was hard to adapt to the fact that the people are not so open-minded and that having a conversation with local people is not easy. Because of the different English levels it was sometimes also hard to connect with the Erasmus students.
What was the most surprising thing about the new culture?
Without wanting to generalize: the introvert people.
How was the communication? Were you able to improve your language skills?
During my stay I spoke mainly English, although I attended an Estonian course three times a week.
What is the most funny word you learned in the new language?
Nägemist = Ciao
Do you have an interesting story to tell about your stay?
One time when me and a crazy Chilean friend of mine went to a bar, we were so drunk that we stole some of the decoration: a candle holder. The next day I was so ashamed that two days after, I brought it back. The bar owners were very surprised and would from then on always laugh whenever I went there.
Something you have learned/grown with thanks to the experience?
Now, I know where the Baltic Sea is. But, more importantly, thanks to the courses I have taken, I have discovered my interest in studying something related to environmental protection.
Is there something you want to tell students who will go to that country and university in the future?
If you go to Estonia, be aware that academically you will not be challenged, but the country itself with its nature, international atmosphere and geographical location is worth experiencing for half a year. As a general advice: Plan a few things, like travelling around, ahead. And do the things you want to do in the beginning before you start postponing them.