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The World’s Next Diplomats Prepare for Their Careers in Estonia: Experiences and Reflections from ESTDEV’s Scholarship Program


People in Tallinn Old Town


Each year, Estonia welcomes students from our partner countries to pursue their graduate or postgraduate degrees through Estonian educational institutions.

The purpose of the scholarship program is to share knowledge and support Estonia’s partner countries in achieving their development goals.

ESTDEV’s scholarship program opens doors to students and furthers skill development in areas where our partner countries have a need and Estonia has a strong expertise to offer. Scholarship programs aim to strengthen diplomacy and nurture bilateral relationships between Estonia and its partner countries. The newest cohort of carefully chosen students are about to close their first year at the Estonian School of Diplomacy (ESD).

What enticed you to study in Estonia? What were your expectations of the program?

Christine Karelska, Advisor to the Vice-Mayor of Odessa and Assistant to the Deputy of the Odessa City Council, from Ukraine: I’ve been dreaming of coming here since I graduated from the College of Europe in 2018. I have been working in Odessa in different roles, think tanks, and after the invasion there was an opportunity to come here on a scholarship. I’m very grateful to the Estonian government, for giving me this scholarship, and to the Estonian people for their constant and undeniable help in these challenging times. After I graduate, I want to return to Ukraine, and hope that the knowledge and skills I am acquiring every day are going to help me change my country, and change the political system for the people.

David Shakarishvili, Department of International Relations and Economic Development, from Georgia: There are a lot of graduates of the Estonian School of Diplomacy working in different fields in Georgia. Though there is no guarantee of becoming a diplomat, I am shaping my skills, and I see myself as a diplomat because of the Estonian School of Diplomacy’s program. I have two main expectations, one academic and one practical. The practical one is to meet EU ambassadors and ministers from different fields, to forge these contacts and create networks that are so essential to countries like Georgia who want to become part of the European Union. As for the academic part, the fact that people are coming from different cultures and different countries means that we are given not only academic knowledge and resources, but also learn to communicate with people from around the world.

Jemal Grdzelishvili, Analyst for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, from Georgia: I am changing my profession. Though my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in law, when I was an analyst I was focusing on international affairs. As I was studying for my PhD in international relations, I found that I have a gap in my theoretical knowledge of international relations. This program is an opportunity for me to fix this problem, so I took the chance.

Maka Kevlishvili, Head of Policy and Planning section at the Ministry of Defence, from Georgia: The Estonian School of Diplomacy is such a perfect and brilliant place for international students to hone their knowledge. This program is well suited to our requirements and experiences: it’s very intensive, and all subjects are very interesting and well-fitted with our interests and purpose. Everything is fascinating and new for me. My expectations were a multicultural environment and an interesting program, and to find some connections in my field and in academia. They are here. If you are motivated enough, you can find everything here.

Natela Gigatadze, Ministry of Defence, from Georgia: It’s a very interactive program. It’s not just about studying theory, which is the first thing that attracted me to it, but also interactive training as diplomats. It is rare to meet a professor who is both a great academic scholar and very good at their job, because people tend to choose one or the other. It’s amazing to see these two dimensions represented in the program we have. That was my expectation, and it has been fulfilled definitely.

Yusuf Faki, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from Kenya: My interest began following the state visit of President Kersti Kljulaid to our country, and how highly she spoke of Estonia. A place at the Estonian School of Diplomacy is competitive in my country. Previously, we only had one student in this program, but now I think we have four students from Kenya. You know, that is a first for us. I really appreciate that. So far, I think the program is high quality. We’ve closed our tenth week, and a number of subjects have been covered by lecturers who are highly qualified and very diverse, with unique methods of teaching. Most of the lectures are practical, and given that my line of work is diplomacy, each applies to my daily routine back at home.

How do you hope that your degree, and experience in Estonia, will help you advance your country’s goals?

Christine: Right now we’re having lectures in international law, which is very important for us. After a couple of lectures I’ve recently had, it’s useful to evaluate what’s happening in Ukraine and what’s happening in the world, from the international law point of view. Diplomacy is not rocket science, it’s an art, and thanks to amazing lecturers we have an opportunity to think outside the box, and to get into world politics and understand what drives policymakers to make this or that decision. To be a strong and useful diplomat for your country, you have to be the best, and this school gives such an opportunity.

David: They always say that Estonia is a role model for Georgia, and we can create a country like Estonia in the next 5–10 years. We are the grand ambassadors of this school and we give our communities not only the knowledge taken from this program, but also the reputation and guidance. The Estonian School of Diplomacy is also a kick forward for each of our careers, and creates a more friendly environment between our two nations, Estonia and Georgia.

Natela: One of the reasons I chose Estonia is because Estonia knows what Georgia has to go through in general. In this program, the people we meet are the ones who took such a big part in Estonia’s euro-integration process. I feel that people here, studying at this school, are the new generation of Georgia. They go back with a different mindset because they know about the European Union from the inside. That’s why I’m hoping that, step by step, not only me but also my classmates here will help our country integrate slowly into this EU family.

Yusuf: Most things are practical, and I can interpret them in my daily life. There are also a number of insights that are eye-openers. I think if I can find a way of integrating it and bringing it out in high levels of authority at home, it can be very effective. Kenya has become a priority partner of Estonia, and going forward I think this is opening a door.

What can you tell us about how your education in this program is going so far? How does it compare to your prior educational experiences?

Christine: I’ve studied EU law, and it was really difficult, but that knowledge has made it easier for me here. It’s tough, it’s complicated, but I love it, because it’s not part of my job, but part of my life. I think that if you’re a politician or a diplomat, you have to study every day.

David: This is my third master’s degree, and it is a different one. It’s not a formal classical framework. We are not all from foreign ministries, nor are we all academics and scholars from international relations. The coolest part of this program is that everyone, regardless of their views, age, or background, can find themselves. It makes us family. It’s also like a mini European Union, practising how we should be in the future.

Jemal: They are doing so much for us, to give us this education. We even have a lot of extracurricular activities, which are quite good for networking, because social networking is a very important thing in modern society. You need connections. They’re doing a very good job, and I like this program. I believe a high level of educational quality exists in European countries, and I hope we will have the same level in Georgia soon.

Maka: I have to say that, in Georgia, there are a number of educational institutions where you can gain a very high quality and cutting-edge education nowadays. The main difference here is the totally different perspective from outside. We also have a melting pot. I have classmates here from different countries, cultural backgrounds, and communication skills, and adapting to these new circumstances – how you communicate and present yourself professionally – was automatically a part of our daily lifestyle.

Natela: It’s different because it’s so much more interactive. For example, my studies in England, while they were amazing, were theory-based. What I’m getting here is people who have done it, who have been through these processes. Between the educational experiences I have had, this is the most appropriate to apply straight away when I go back.

What are your first impressions of Estonia?

Jemal: It’s actually my second time here in Estonia; I had Estonian friends in Germany, so I know this country. I love this country, besides the fact that a love exists between Estonian people and Georgian people. We have common enemies – Russia – and this makes us partners and natural friends. That’s why I’m very happy to be here.

Maka: I’m totally keen on this country. I can characterise Estonia as minimalism in a perfect manner. My fondness is found in every detail – in every street, every building, in the culture. The Estonian people have a huge heart.

Yusuf: Estonian weather…is challenging. It had to be the weather! If you’re from a tropical country like Kenya, the lowest temperature we’re used to is around 14 degrees. While Estonian people are reserved, the more you get to know them, the more you find them to be friendly. They are nice people, I can say that.

Fifteen promising students were selected for ESTDEV’s scholarship program in total. In cooperating with our partner countries, ESTDEV strives to equip public servants with the knowledge of best practices, giving them the practical experience and background needed to achieve their development goals. The students who study under the ESTDEV scholarship are dedicated public servants, who will return to their home countries upon completion of their programs with the aim of becoming a well-informed, compelling voice in their country’s development. The relationships and networks forged during their studies also strengthens the ties between Estonia and our partners, ensuring a bright future for all.