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Study Abroad and Domestic Study Away

Notes from Abroad: James in Estonia

Notes from Abroad is a new feature on the Off-Campus Programs website, in which we highlight small snippets of a student’s experience.  This week’s feature is from James McAuliffe ’18, a Philosophy and Environmental Studies major currently studying abroad in Tartu, Estonia.

Hello my name is James McAuliffe,

I am currently studying at the University of Tartu in Estonia; I chose this program for its
academic opportunities and its location in the Baltic Region. Originally, I intended on joining the University of Tartu’s Botany program, but upon arrival I changed my plans and instead decided to participate in the Semiotics Masters degree program, therein all of my courses are not at a bachelor’s level and provide the level of challenge that I have been looking to find. I had to be approved to join this program, so I communicated with the University, wherein they decided it was acceptable for me to partake, which in some ways is dream come true.


The Semiotics program is focused on the Tartu-Moscow school, and many of the seminal
figures in the field were once affiliated with the University of Tartu. As a field of study it
provides a different view of the world that I could not receive educationally unless I came here. In essence, this is one of the few places in the world that I would have the opportunity to engage in this field of study, which is an absolute privilege at this stage of my academic career.

Furthermore, my intention is to utilize Semiotics to begin orchestrating my senior thesis.
It is a system of analysis that I find pertinent to many of the problems that I want to apply myself to answering. However, I gather that this note should not be solely focused on my enthusiasm for my current academic pursuits. Ergo, Tartu and Estonia are noteworthy places to visit and reside for a time. The history of the country and its natural Flora are fascinating. The people I have met are respectful and hospitable. Every few weeks I go on an excursion to the surrounding cultural centers or leave society to engage with the natural world for a time. Estonia as a country provides good travel opportunities, whether by bus or train to the surrounding countries or local towns/nature preserves.


Yet, as with all places not everything I have say about my experience here is positive, there are many negatives to the current situation. Such as my living situation, I live with 5 roommates in a quite small place, where their foolishness and amoralistic tendencies can run rampant. It is a constant lesson on how to deal with people. Yet, if I were to look at this positively I can say it drives me to not become sedentary, because it is too uncomfortable to reside in the confines of an inhabitance leaving escape into academics and travel as my main ways to deal with my current situation.


So not to end this note on a negative, to be here is an experience I am grateful for, it has
provided me with information, the insight that I have gained I will use to better decide how to
pursue a future. Pertinently, I will never claim to know Estonia; nevertheless, to have
experienced this place for a time is an opportunity I am glad I took.

My sincere, thanks to Lake Forest College and the Suzanne T. Hotchkiss award for facilitating this opportunity for me.