Many people relate Estonia to progress, e-government, great education, dark bread, coldness, and lowlands. This all surely is very specific for Estonia. What is even more specific and I have experienced it very soon after coming, is the sense of autonomy.
I am a student of an international Erasmus Mundus program Education Policies for Global Development and currently, I am conducting my internship in the School of Educational Sciences at Tallinn University. Obviously, after spending here a few weeks, I have no idea if the feeling of autonomy is an essential part of the Estonian mentality, but it definitely is very present during my internship.
The strong sense of autonomy hit me already during the first task of my internship. I am supposed to analyze the master’s program Educational Innovation and Leadership and identify the parts which could be improved based on the recommendations of all students - which I had to interview first - and good practices from similar master’s programs - which I search and evaluate. I have been independent of how I was going to complete the task. I had to govern it myself - I was absolutely responsible for all the parts of the task but at the same time very free to do it my own way.
Besides working, I am allowed to take some classes as a free listener so I attend the course of Innovations in Schools and Classrooms. There, instead of just being told what specifically we were going to learn and what to expect, we had to reflect on our learning on our own. Each student had to express in a short video what will be able to do with their knowledge from the course, for what kind of challenges they have to be ready, and what they expect. I was thinking to myself - once again, the sense of autonomy touched me, and I feel I am fully responsible for my learning process.
I have learned that this overarching sense of autonomy is not only my impression. As I talked to many students of the School of Educational Sciences, I have noticed that many of them mentioned autonomy and independence as one of the main features of their studies. For some people, it is challenging to take all the responsibility to handle the amount of personal control over all the duties one should complete. For others, it is a constant opportunity to shape their own way of doing things.
I cannot surely say that the sense of autonomy is an inseparable part of the Estonian mentality, but I feel it plays an important role in my internship experience. Moreover, I see autonomy as an inherent element of an inspiring working environment of the School of Educational Sciences at Tallinn University. Last days have been full of preparation for the big Estonian event - the Independence day of Estonia. However, it seems that Estonians (or at least those which I have met and worked with) do not devote time to independence and autonomy only on that one important day – I have seen it present in everyday life in the School of Educational Sciences.