Let me introduce you Mari-Liis, an Erasmus student from TalTech in Estonia who came to Zlín to study Food Technology at the Faculty of technology during the winter semester 2020 and decided to stay for the whole year.

What was the main reason for deciding to go abroad?

I have always felt myself as an adventurous person who is willing to give different experiences a try. Some of my friends had already been to Erasmus and given me positive feedback, I started to plan it myself too.  I also wanted to have a break from my regular life and discover more things that life can offer, meet new people and see new approaches to life. As I wasn‘t really sure about my real interests and what I wanted  to do in my life, I was hoping that going abroad would give me a clearer view.

How did you find out about Tomas Bata University in Zlín?

There were not many universities, which teach Food Technology and also have a contract with my home university. Zlín just happened to be on the list, the subjects fitted in my curriculum and as it seemed quite tempting, I applied. Afterwards, I can tell you, I am very happy with the choice I made.

When you compare Estonia and the Czech Republic. What is different? Do you miss anything from your home country?

At first glimpse, it wasn‘t that much different as I would have expected it to be. The overall living rhythm and teaching were quite similar, at least what I obtained from the winter semester. Now that spring and summer have arrived I‘ve noticed that people are chilling out outside, talking joyfully, going out in groups, lovers are out in the park, ice cream and coffee stands are everywhere, etc. I think it is actually a much more free and enjoyable lifestyle, which I do not see that much in Estonia. In Estonia people are more work-oriented, they keep tight schedules and are reserved. Maybe it’s because of the colder weather or that we don’t have so many bars with cheap beer on every corner. Here, I really like that people meet and go out and don‘t seem to be that stressed out about work, or maybe I just can’t see those who are stressing out indoors.

I would also like to mention that the Czechs I have met are amazingly kind, welcoming, helpful and thoughtful. Sometimes the language barrier can be a little problem, but I can still feel their warmness. Most of the Czechs I know take time to help you, show you around and inform you about things. A surprising thing was that Czechs are very open to inviting guests to their homes. This is also a thing that I don’t see in Estonia – you must be young or a really good friend to get the honour of being invited to someone’s  home.  Of course, people are different and maybe I‘ve just been lucky to have met those kind ones, but at least this is what I personally have observed.

In fact, I don’t really feel that I miss much from my home country, except family and friends. It surely is another environment, but that’s why I am here – to experience new things. I came here acknowledging that things might be different, so I am embracing everything, even the negative.

You have been in Zlín for almost one year now. When you compare the winter and summer semester, was there any difference in your Erasmus experience?

I think it is very hard to compare those two semesters, especially because of the pandemic that turned things upside down.  If I have to compare I would say that the winter semester was more serious, but I think it is similar everywhere when summer is near, moods are better and things have a better flow. Another thing is connected with the courses I chose this semester. I had more complicated courses and I think if the pandemic had not come, it would have been harder for me.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many international students decided to return home. Why did you decide to stay? How was your life during the pandemic?

There are actually many reasons why I decided to stay. One of the main reasons was that I found myself an apartment where I can be on my own and finally dedicate some time to myself and do the things that I wanted to do for a long time like practising yoga, reading books, try a vegetarian lifestyle and really start focusing on my studies. Since I had been surrounded by a lot of people all the time, I was very happy to have some time for myself.

Also if I had returned, I don‘t think that it would have been safe for my family and I would have had to stay isolated from the others anyway. Besides there were no good connections back to Estonia – only through three different countries, which increases the possibility of getting infected and being a danger to others.

At the same time, I had hoped that after the time of isolation I could still spend some time with the people I had met this semester. I really didn’t want to give up my plans I had already made for this summer semester. Fortunately, all my hopes came true and even better than I expected.

In addition, as I mentioned my adventurousness in the beginning, I was really interested in what was going to happen if the pandemic got even worse and I could not have returned back home for a long time. How will I cope? I took it as a challenge of survival and thing to tell to my grandchildren that there was a time when I was stuck in a foreign country, there was a toilet paper shortage and I had to ration my food. I was really prepared for that.

Do you feel that living in another country has broadened your horizons? Have you gained new perspectives and if so, which ones?

It definitely has broadened my horizons and I feel that I started to see a bigger picture of the world. I‘ve met so many different people from all around the world and seen so many different approaches and ways of living. As I come from a quite small country where basically everybody knows everybody and I‘d always felt like I need to be under control and reserved. Now I think it has changed a little bit. Everybody has their own way of living and we don‘t need to rely on others. Also, we do not need to copy the most common lifestyle and we don’t need many things for happiness. I truly hope that once I‘ve broadened my mind, there‘s no way back.

Do you think that this experience of living abroad will help you find your future job? Are you now more willing to work abroad?

Yes, and I am saying it with 100 % certainty. I‘ve met many amazing people from many countries here and I think in order to see them again, it is good to maintain an international lifestyle. Of course, we‘ll have to see what the future brings. Hopefully, I am going to gain more experiences abroad. At least right now my will is strong.

Why should your classmates study abroad? What would you tell them?

Studying abroad is very beneficial for improving your independency, English speaking and time management skills. You can also find new ways to studying and improve your social life. It is amazing how many new people with different backgrounds you can meet and see various perspectives. You can make many international life-lasting connections and meet people who maybe think, act and feel like you. If they think differently, it‘s even better, because that‘s how you grow and improve.

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