Estonian Studies Student Arzu Altinay Making a Contribution to the Tourism Industry in Estonia

Arzu Altinay is a first-year MA student at Tallinn University who is planning to use her degree to improve the tourism company established through Estonia’s e-Residency programme.

Arzu Altinay, Estonian Studies MA student

How did you first learn about Estonia?

I learnt about Estonia when I was looking for a European destination to set up my business. I had a small business called Walks In Istanbul  and I organized walking tours in the city.

The business model was right for me, and I was looking ways to establish my company in Europe, so that I could offer the same kind of walking tours in European cities. Especially after Turkey has gone through very traumatic political events in the last few years.

Estonia's e-residency was the perfect solution and my travel company was established quickly back in January 2017. My company is now a trusted e-residency company established in Estonia and we operate guided walking tours in ten cities across Europe.

Please tell more about your life before moving to Estonia.

I am a tourism professional, tour guide and an entrepreneur based in Istanbul and now in Tallinn. I've founded two companies: Walks In Europe and Walks In Istanbul. Currently working on launching Guide Now.

I have an engineering degree from Istanbul Technical University. I have a career in cultural tourism and heritage is the key category in my business activity. I have broad interests to support my business and heritage is one. My business has a niche structure, and my expertise is to create themed walks in urban areas.

You can see one of my themed walks in Classic Weimar for European Heritage Volunteers here.

I have a 5-year-old son and traveling as a family is an important part of my life, which also supports my business goals.

Why did you decide to apply to Estonian Studies MA programme?

My inspiration to apply for the programme is a blog post by Piret Viires. I was searching for ways to learn more about Estonia’s culture, history, and language.

Also for my travel company, Tallinn became a base to expand to Northern Europe, especially to Scandinavia. 

The essential feature of my business requires me to know the background of Estonia more intensely, and I could see that the curriculum would make it easier to delve into it in more specific ways. I could have started with a language course, but I would still lack significant themes like history, culture and social life to create and lead tours.

Which courses and lecturers have inspired you the most so far?

Of course, Tõnis Saarts!  I was genuinely afraid of him when I first met him at class. His lectures are intense, and he has created a very interactive method to teach subjects, which otherwise would have been a bore.

I work full time, I have a 5-year-old child at home, we just moved to a new country and I meet this man every Friday, so he can teach me about the Baltics, the politics, the Russians. All of this is very fascinating and I look forward to it. You go to his class and he calls you out: "You! .... Yes, you! Why did Lithuania lag behind?"

Cultural analysis for Carlo Cubero's lectures was also a delight. He is so passionate about anthropology, music and oh yes, cosmopolitanism. He says, "I come from Puerto Rico! I was in Ghana the other week and music is better in Berlin."

One of the great surprises was to find the work Carlo has done to create the "Sound Map of Tallinn". He was very generous to introduce me to the people who created the map, so that I could start working on a project to deliver a walking tour of Tallinn's sounds. Isn't that fascinating?

What has pleasantly surprised you while studying at Tallinn University?

The last time I went to school was in 1995. Some of my coursemates were not even born then. I have an opportunity to have conversations with people significantly younger than myself, and I am amazed by the possibilities that this degree is providing them.

I am pleasantly surprised with the quality of the lectures; the way lecturers choose to deliver their work and their independence; the variety of disciplines and how it expands my world view; the amount and diversity of knowledge I am receiving.

I am quite challenged with the lectures, the texts, and the continuity of my routine (I am a tour guide after all).

I find it very difficult to concentrate most of the time, but I am very happy with myself that I can actually do it! I always wanted a master's degree and Tallinn University is making this true for me. 

What kind of support will this degree offer you in your professional activities?

Estonian Studies MA degree at Tallinn University will provide me with an excellent opportunity to enhance my business as the founder and help me make a contribution to the tourism industry in Estonia.

As I walk in Tallinn, I already manage to visualize some themed walks and may work on these as part of my thesis. Possible heritage walking routes in Tallinn would include the wine cellars of old merchant houses and sophisticated old town properties with their closed yards and secret passages.

I believe they were open to the public formerly, but now they are personal properties. I am willing to look into ways to re-open them for the public as part of a way-marked heritage route.

One other subject that fascinates me is the "Geodetic Arc of Struve" that passes through Tartu. After learning  about this, I am excited by the idea of creating a project around the full length of it passing through ten countries using various ways, i.e. walking, cycling, train trips. It may include walking maps, a guidebook with all the details, and even a mobile app where one can pinpoint the sites they have visited. Inclusion of children and schools as part of the training and education projects is also worth taking into account. 

I will consider this to be part of my master thesis and a study intended to commemorate the extraordinary collaboration between researchers and governments for a common cause. It's an opportunity to seize, which will enable Estonia to reach its tourism potential, and it may be a fieldwork study module for my thesis. 

Cooperation between public and private sector is a primary economic driver for the cities. This kind of cultural heritage is a living resource for my business in Europe. Revitalizing this project and safeguarding it as cultural heritage can provide substantial economic benefits to city tourism in all ten countries involved. 

Learn more about Estonian Studies degree programme here