Weeks back I got an email inviting me for the Summer University 2021 event organised by the Eesti Üliõpilaskondade Liit (Federation of Estonian Student Unions). I was to attend in my capacity as the President of the Aafrika Üliõpilaste Assotsiatsioon Eestis (Association of African Students, Estonia). I was excited about the opportunity to travel to another part of Estonia but I wasn’t looking forward to much of networking with native Estonians as my previous attempts have failed rather woefully.
The event was to be held for two days from 21st – 22nd August at Voore Guest house in Jõgeva County. The Tallinn contingent of student representatives set out from Pärnu mnt for the 2hrs 30mins journey. I and one other African student representative were received at the park by the Project Manager and other than the occasional eye contacts and polite nods, the journey was a quiet one for me, just as I expected – but this perception would soon be shattered by the affairs of the following 48 hours.
The EÜL is an umbrella organisation of students whose aim is to stand for the rights, needs and interests of students at the national level and to support student unions in carrying out their work. The Summer University event came very timely as it addressed several topics that have bedeviled our various associations. Some notable issues and highlights of the event include the following:
- A discussion session on discrimination of international students and how student council’s should react;
- A workshop on mental health without borders presented by Kristel Jakobson;
- Presentation on the situation of International Students by Eero Loonurm and Mari Liis Jakobson;
- Deliberations on how to help students and chat the way forward; and
- Presentation by representatives of Integratsiooni Sihtasutus (The Integration Foundation) on Multicultural Society.
AASE made a case for the struggles of African students (especially new students) notably – visa application, accommodation, opportunities in the job market and integration into the society and at the end of the first day, it was clear to me that although international students have peculiar struggles, there are many challenges faced by all students including Estonian. I was shocked when I had people walk up to me to pick up conversations. I was lucky to be paired in a room with an Estonian student who is probably the most energetic soul I’ve met since moving to Estonia November last year. He was versatile and told me the history behind everything.
We had fun field activities and in no time I had found a basis for conversation with students interested in geopolitics, my home country, with a brilliant chap working on an awesome startup, recommendations for where to find suitable internships and suggestions on how best to learn the Estonian language. We spent most of the late evening at the sauna and playing games and I think I picked more Estonian words in one evening than I have in my last 6 months of trying to learn at home. I took one valuable lesson home, Estonians are not difficult people provided you are prepared to meet them half-way…at a sauna.
Editor: EÜL Communication Manager Triin Peterson
This article is published on behalf of EÜL’s project “Growing Ties: Student Democracy in a Transnational Era”, which is supported by “I Am European: Migration Stories & Facts for the 21st Century” project which is coordinated by NGO Mondo and funded by the European Commission, the National Foundation of Civil Society, Estonian Ministry of Culture and Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the funds of development cooperation and humanitarian aid.