What prevents international students from integrating?
International students have an important role by aiding the spread and development of research, as they bring along different experiences and a fresh perspective to problem-solving. Sadly, the potential of many international students remains unrealized due to the numerous difficulties that lie ahead when settling in Estonia, wrote Kristin Nugis, Development Advisor at University of Tartu (UT) Student Union.
In the first podcast of the series UTSU Presents, the UT Student Union invited five international students to openly share their experiences on how easy or difficult it was to apply to the University of Tartu and come to live in Estonia. The students described what the process of finding a place to live looks like for international students and analysed their integration into Estonian society as well as the main obstacles to that. Based on that discussion, this article will take you through the most common difficulties that international students have faced in Estonia.
Foreigners often get demotivated by hearing that Estonian is one of the most complex languages in the world – some speakers of Estonian even seem to be proud of that. Though it might seem a fun fact to use as an ice-breaker, it can often have the opposite effect and discourage international students from learning the language. Learning any new language is a challenge, and scaremongering does not increase the desire to learn the beautiful language that Estonian is.
When speaking with international students, discussions of the local rental market tend to be tinted with anxiety. If the newly arrived international student feels apprehensive about learning the language and has also experienced criticism of his or her accent or grammar mistakes (this is something the medical student Orina Jakovleva has discussed on TikTok, see @oreo.kypsis), there is no other option but to communicate in English. Unfortunately, not many real estate agents and landlords are bothered with answering emails in English, not to mention speaking on the phone. This is why finding a rental home has left unpleasant memories for many international students.
Many international students also highlight the issue of little to no contact with the locals. It is worth considering whether another national characteristic, such as being quiet and not wishing to talk to them, should be highlighted time and time again. International students who have overcome the fear of “annoying” locals with their questions have acknowledged that even though Estonians may be reluctant to start a conversation, they are, for the most part, benevolent and helpful, sometimes even talkative on the inside.
For international students to have a desire to become or remain a part of Estonian society and to contribute to it with their ideas, experiences and ventures, we should be more open and ensure that they are treated as equals. This is the first step towards uniting people and creates opportunities for new knowledge and developments.
In the light of these thoughts, you can ask your friend or family member who lives abroad how their integration process is going.