Education Blog

A semester in Tallinn: Reflections from a visiting scholar

Dr. Martin Lynch, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester (USA), shares his insights and experiences of the Spring 2024 semester as a visiting scholar at Tallinn University.

Tallinn University

What are your impressions of Tallinn University's environment?

Serious, celebratory, collegial. This was the first impression of my Spring sabbatical here at Tallinn University, and it's been confirmed numerous times. I arrived in Tallinn on January 10, and the very next day, I was invited to join in the official opening ceremony of the new Centre for Educational Psychology, a collaboration between the School of Educational Sciences and the School of Natural Sciences and Health. I was impressed by the warmth of the gathering and the pride and excitement of all those present in this new, inter-departmental venture. The Director of the School of Educational Sciences, Tiia Õun, introduced me to many of the people in attendance, and this act of hospitality paved the way for subsequent opportunities to meet with many of them throughout the Spring semester.

What makes Estonia particularly special to you?

A number of things! First, I guess you could say I have a personal connection to Estonia: my older brother's wife has Estonian roots; her mother, Viia, was born in Tallinn, but her family were forced to leave the country during the Second World War, as were so many others, and they ended up in Canada. Also, my wife and I visited Tallinn briefly in December of 2009: she was studying in Finland then, and I was back in the States. We decided to meet in Helsinki, and from there, we took the ferry boat to Tallinn and visited the Old Town for the day. It was the Christmas season, and everything was beautiful, so I have some wonderful memories and associations, which makes being here now very special. 

Also, something I've noticed about Estonia as an outsider is an interesting combination of accessibility and fierce independence. I'll share two examples to demonstrate what I mean. In the Spring of 2023, I visited Tallinn for about ten days as part of an Erasmus+ exchange between Tallinn University and my home institution, the University of Rochester. On my first day in Tallinn – a snowy Sunday in March – my host, TU faculty member Merilyn Meristo, and her husband Tony drove me through a local park. It was quiet and lovely. As we came to a stop at one point, I looked up and saw a woman out for a walk, approaching our car only a couple of meters from us. Her face looked very familiar.

Tony said, "That's the Prime Minister." And sure enough, it was! There was the Prime Minister of Estonia out for a Sunday walk. Turns out it was March 5, and as I later learned, it was election day. At the moment we saw her, the outcome of the election was unknown. But the fact that ordinary citizens and a visitor from the US could come that close to the current and future prime minister struck me as remarkable. A second example, again with Merilyn Meristo and her husband, but from this year: at 4:30 am on February 24, we left Tallinn. We drove to the city of Narva to join in the celebration of Estonia's Independence Day. We arrived there just in time for the flag-raising ceremony, which took place in the old fortress at dawn. Later, we participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at a local cemetery and then in traditional folk dancing in the town square. It's difficult to describe how powerful and moving this experience was to me as an American, to be in the easternmost city where the sun first rises on Estonian soil, celebrating this country's hard-won independence. I've felt a deepened sense of connection to and respect for the people of Estonia since that day.

In what ways has your experience at Tallinn University contributed to you?

One of the most exciting things is the prospect of new collaborations. I've met many faculty members and students who are brilliant and passionate about their fields; it would be an honor to develop new and deeper connections with them in the months and years ahead. To be honest, my experience with international exchanges has taught me that often the most profound impacts are things that can't be predicted, new opportunities that arise that we couldn't have anticipated but were made possible by the groundwork of people-to-people relationships that visits like this promote. I'm very grateful to have had this opportunity to spend a semester in Tallinn at Tallinn University. But to answer your question – how has this experience contributed to me? Some wonderful seeds of friendship and collaboration have been planted during this Springtime in Tallinn. I've been inspired to pursue a project or two, but it's too early to say much about them just yet. Perhaps you could ask me again in five or ten years, and we'll see what has bloomed and produced new growth? Of course, I hope very much that I have been able to contribute something to my friends at Tallinn University, as well. However, what that contribution is might also only really be visible in another five or ten years!

I look forward to finding out, and making it happen, together. 

Martin Lynch, a clinical psychologist, is Associate Professor in the Warner School of Education, at the University of Rochester (USA).
To contact Martin, you may write to him at: