Interview with Kristjan, the Exchange Student of the Year

Kristjan Keres, Majeur d'Honneur: Exchange Student of the Year 

“During my vacation in the heart of Provence, in July 2016, almost exactly 2 years after the beginning of my exchange program in France, in the middle of blossoming lavender fields, on a terrace of an idyllic French house with endless sunshine and warm breeze reviving my mind – there couldn’t be a better place nor a moment to start answering the questions below…”

How did you come to the decision to come to an exchange program in IAE Aix-Marseille and to France?

I had been feeling the urge in my soul to do something different in my life for a long time, and one day I just decided not only to think, but also act. So as the first thing I went to the student exchange office at my home university in Tallinn to see what options I have. It came out that I was 3 weeks late and the applications for the next semester had been closed. Luckily, after some research we found some available universities & options and I had 2 days to make a decision. 

But to where? I wanted to go to a university with a good reputation and high level of education, but moreover, I wanted someplace different. Someplace interesting. Someplace warm. Someplace where a sunny day and palm trees are a fact of life rather than something I only see in dreams. Cyprus? Greece? France?
On the Plateau de Valensole

Ok, I had been studying French with some of my friends for fun for the last semester, so the obvious choice seemed to be the baguette-and-wine-filled France. But which city? Paris – been there, too big. Strasbourg – up north, next to Germany, not sure what’s up there. Aix-en-Provence – Aix? Never heard of it. Provence, seen from the movie “A Good Year” – yes! Down in the south, near Marseille, Côte d'Azur – oh, yes! And Google says it has more than 300 days of sunshine – let’s do this!

What about the way you were integrated in the school upon your arrival?

It was great, despite the language barrier I experienced on the arrival to “Les Gazelles” – the dormitory, which ended up being my accommodation for the next year. No-one had a clue about where I should be staying or who am I, but that seemed like a part of the experience so I stayed cool. In the end, all good.
Traditionally, the Intensive courses at IAE finish with a
French wine and cheese tasting for the international students

Day by day, more people arrived and everyone was open-minded, so making new contacts was easy. The nearby Parc Jourdan became our favorite place for the next month where to hang out and bond with all the people. Here I have to send big thanks to IAE staff as well, who connected us (not only internationals with internationals, but with French as well) from day one, with different events each week. And not to mention the Intensive French course in the first weeks, which was a great place to learn the language and culture. Good times!

What did you appreciate the most at AMGSM-IAE?

Friendly atmosphere, interesting & good people all around you and international, well-experienced professors. I loved the exchange students, my course-mates and my course “General Management” in overall. It was led by the one and only, professor Jonathan Peterson, whose positivity and attitude inspired us every day.
With great Erasmus friends from
Finland, Hungary and Brazil

Also, IAE somehow always managed to surprise you. The best example for this is when I casually went to the graduation of my course-mates a year later (May 2016), and ended up “graduating” as well - receiving the Major d’Honneur for the Exchange Student Of The Year. Everything, from preparation to delivery, was so personalized and unique, I felt truly blessed. Warm thanks to the staff for that, especially the dean Virginie de Barnier, her assistant Maja and professor Jonathan Peterson.

Are there any major differences between French and Estonian universities?

Yes! Firstly, the structure of the courses was completely different. When at my home university (Tallinn University of Technology) the courses last either 8 or 16 weeks, then, on contrary, the courses at IAE usually lasted some weeks (if not only 1 week), with classes happening almost every day. This way lots of intensity and concentration was put together into one subject and I believe it worked well. What is more, IAE valued the personal approach and put more emphasis on people & practice, rather than the theory – which was great!

You decided to extend your Erasmus studies to 2 semesters. Why?

I just loved everything about the first semester. My life was interesting and the perfect combination of beautiful surroundings, wonderful people, engaging studies, spontaneous travels, great basketball team and sunny weather. There was no way I wanted this to end so soon, as the 4 first months flew by very quickly! When I went back to Estonia for the Christmas, I actually left most of my things in France, without even knowing if I can come back or not, but as I started to learn during that year – everything always goes well! And so… after 3 weeks I was back!

How about the French culture and French language?

Ah, of course, it is great! It was easy to get used to the local habits, like the French way of having very long conversations & breaks during the school- or workday (those 1,5-hour lunch breaks at IAE garden were perfect). Or the legendary apéro’s, or the kissing on the cheeks, or the best wines, delicious cheeses & crunchy baguettes served on every possibility. Despite the fact that French like to complain, be late and be on strike , they are generally positive, kind and very nice people to spend time with.
With the French course-mates after spending a night 
at the top of mountain Sainte Victoire

About the language – in the beginning, it was difficult. The pace of language was completely different and it felt like I didn’t know anything. But step by step, I was getting better, trying to understand people and follow up. Here I have to appreciate my French course-, work- and teammates, who were of a great help! In the end, I could finally have basic conversations and understand most of the content. I was giving calls to banks, basketball coaches etc., and remember thinking that wow… crazy, I’m actually doing this, via phone, in French, and they can understand me!

What is the most important thing you learnt during your year in Aix?

I learned how to be a better person, how to deal with new situations & people every day and how to notice & appreciate the small, yet important things in life.

You worked as an intern for several months at IAE Aix, how did it go?

It was intriguing to be an international student and an intern at the same time. That way not only I got to know the students, but also the staff of IAE, giving me a better perspective of everything. Sometimes I happened to spend more time in IAE than I probably have should, haha.. but it was a fun experience!

How did you spend your free time?
With some of the PABA team-mates 

My days were usually very packed, I was enjoying my stay as much as I can. If I wasn’t at school, I was either in the basketball practice with a local pro team called PABA, spending time together with other international students (special greetings to Jess, Dan and Aix Family!) or travelling around Southern France and the world. I believe I managed to see most of the amazing places (really, there are so many…) in Provence & Côte d'Azur, plus I visited nearby countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy, Malta, Croatia and Morocco, plus Brazil – never could I have imagined that I would end up in North Africa or South America during my exchange.

Why is it important to study abroad?

To grow as a person. To understand that world has no borders, that people are the same everywhere, and that nothing is impossible. You can live, work or study wherever you want. Just dream and go for it!

If you could sum up your experience in just 3 words, what would they be?

Perfect, adventurous, unforgettable

What is your professional project after your studies?

To gain professional experience & knowledge and to be connected with entrepreneurship. So far it has been both interesting and challenging, as just a few months after my stay in France I started working for 1Home. The company offers accommodation to (international) students in the Baltics & Poland and I was hired to lead and manage company’s expansion to Poland and other CEE countries in the future. As it is directly connected to my studies and previous year (MBA in Tallinn and General Management feat. Erasmus in Aix-en-Provence), it has been a great experience for me.

Are you planning on coming back to Aix en Provence?

Yes, definitely! I’ve already been back 4 times already, and I’m sure there are many more to come. It always feels like home. You never know, I might even live there one day! So see you soon aka à bientôt!

Kristjan KERES, promo 2014/2015 , Estonia 


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