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Looking back: A semester in Estonia… what an experience!

The view over a snowy Tallinn in December 2021.

The view over a snowy Tallinn in December 2021. (Photo: Helena Bendix-Nielsen)

Go on exchange |   10. Jan 2022

portrait of woman

Helena Bendix-Nielsen

Blogger

It has now been over a year since I submitted my exchange application to Copenhagen Business School’s International Office in December 2020. Fast forward one year, and I am currently spending every waking moment finalizing my last exams from the Estonian Business School, where I ended up spending the fall semester of 2021.

Facemasks in mirrors
Facemasks have been a necessary accessory this semester. (Photo: Helena Bendix-Nielsen)
A snowy view from my rooftop terrace.
A snowy view from my rooftop terrace. (Photo: Helena Bendix-Nielsen)

Prior to going on exchange, I did have some assumptions about what an exchange semester would be like for me. Whilst I did not go on exchange during my bachelor’s, I did, in fact, spend a semester studying French in Paris during my gap year back in 2016.

Although my Parisian adventure was quite a mixed experience, seeing both the good and bad sides of Paris firsthand, I knew what it was like to leave my friends, family, job and apartment behind, and bring only myself and my belongings to start a new life in a new city.

While in hindsight, it sounds crazy to think that you will start a new life for only a semester, that is exactly how it feels when you move to a new country, not knowing anyone there, nor speaking the local language.

(Photo by Helena Bendix-Nielsen)
(Photo by Helena Bendix-Nielsen)

So, what was it really like to go on exchange to Estonia?

It was definitely an experience. An experience that I did not anticipate having when I was researching universities back in the fall 2020. Nevertheless, it has also been an experience that I would not want to be without.

While my previous experience of being abroad had prepared me immensely for what was to come, it had only prepared me for the practical aspects of exchange; I knew that I was able to stand on my own two feet despite being far away from home. I also knew that I had to put in the effort to make friends already at the beginning of the semester.

What I could not have prepared for was what I would end up achieving from those two things: What a great semester it would become. How much I would feel at home in Tallinn, and even the Baltics in general. How I would reconnect with old friends and make fantastic new friends – and not only friends for the semester, but friends for a lifetime.

I could not have foreseen that I would spend so much time traveling with my new friends. As my friend from home said: “You are on exchange in Estonia, but you are traveling all the time” – why wouldn’t we?

Singing karaoke in Riga, Latvia.
Singing karaoke in Riga, Latvia. (Photo: Helena Bendix-Nielsen)
Posing in front of the Friendship Arch in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Posing in front of the Friendship Arch in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo: Helena Bendix-Nielsen)

Being on exchange gave me the much-needed feeling of pressing pause. Just for a moment. Pausing work, adulthood, and obligations. Allowing room to explore. Enjoy. Doing things now instead of postponing them due to a busy schedule or bad weather. Wednesday party? Let’s go. Nine-hour night bus from Tallinn to Vilnius? Count me in. And I do not regret it for a second.

That sense of living in the present is by far my greatest takeaway from my exchange semester, and my biggest goal is to keep living that way once I return to Copenhagen. Although my upcoming master’s thesis will likely have me glued to a chair at the Solbjerg Plads library most days, I truly hope it allows me the time and space to enjoy life outside CBS simultaneously.

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