The International Students’ Workgroup has 1678 students in its focus. That is exactly how many international students are studying at the University of Tartu as of March 19th (University of Tartu Statistics, 2021). But why focus on them separately? Everything is the same, just in English. Or …?
No. That is the simple answer. Like in many other topics, we, as the majority’s representatives, are often blind to minorities. For example, in autumn, at the very beginning of the workgroup’s work, one ominous rumour was lurking around among international students, and, unfortunately, it turned out to be true. International students from third countries applying for a needs-based study allowance are threatened with temporary residence permit suspension because a condition for studying in Estonia is the ability to provide for oneself and prove it. At the same time, the minimum income set as a condition for staying in the country is lower than the maximum income for receiving a needs-based study allowance…
In addition, restrictions were placed on working hours and having family members living with the student. Finding housing outside of university dormitories is another issue, as apartment owners often do not want to communicate in English or are afraid of students because of their background. Also, because of the latter, offensive behaviour can be observed against too many international students. However, the whole integration process will be examined in more detail by the educational policy campaign “Inclusivity” launched for the spring semester.
The constant fear of acting “wrong” and being “wrong”, and financial worries can be quite debilitating, which is why it is important for international students to know where to get counselling, which is not so obviously easy to find. All the systems that we are familiar with are the result of what we have experienced so far in our lives, but what is unknown to migrants.
The International Students’ Workgroup, chaired by Helo Liis Soodla, Vice-Chair of Education Policy at UTSU, deals with these and many other issues. And who are the members of the working group? Mostly, of course, international students themselves. For example, Binghua who is from China and has previously studied in the United States.