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When I started the Semiotics Program at the University of Tartu, I had some uncertainties about which courses to enroll during the first semester. I remember having a conversation about this with the Head of Department. Before coming Estonia, I had worked for about 13 years in marketing, communication, and digital strategy. It was precisely because of this background that my interest in studying semiotics emerged. However, I never imagined that this initial conversation would spark some future ideas on how to apply semiotics to the communications in the department itself.

Based on my experience as an international student, I recall mentioning that there were some things I wanted to propose for improvement. Especially after grasping what semiotic methodologies are and how they construct communication processes, it became clear that the way we provide information to those interested in studying this fascinating discipline needed enhancement.

“We are the experts in communication processes and meaning-making, right?” I commented. “We should start with the basics, ourselves, the department. Thus, to understand the application process and the intention behind our messages for those who have an understanding of semiotics, we need to be very clear. From understanding that it’s a time-consuming process to realize the strength and intention required to explore a place like Estonia, a small city like Tartu, which may be remote for some and close for others. We must also ensure that everything we share is in English if we aim to invite international students to participate in this adventure and this program.”

So, we sat down to contemplate, in collaboration with the Centre of Semiotic Applications, how to take the first step and apply a semiotic process to our strategic communication. We divided the process into Interpretation, Translation, and Communication. These three parts also corresponded to the time delineation to manage and build a small strategy that would work for the international program applications for 2024. Interpreting was the first step in understanding what we needed, what resources we had, and how we should organize our ideas. During the translation process, we focused on gathering as much information as possible with the help of students involved in departmental communications. We wanted to learn about their processes before and after coming to Tartu. Finally, in the communication process, we took action based on all the material we collected and analyzed, distinguishing what was pertinent and what wasn’t. In this case, we constructed a report to improve our digital channels and set ourselves up for the future.

The journey begins when our international students search on Google and visit the University of Tartu’s website. At this point, clarity is crucial. We need to provide comprehensive information not only about the application process and the university but also about life in Tartu and future opportunities. This initial step sparks many questions, highlighting the complexity of the communication system we’ve developed for our education program. From deciding on our program over others to embarking on a journey to Europe, this marks the start of a new path in a different place.

What we considered most basic was understanding and interpreting the application process initially through the experience of international students who were in their first and second years of the Master’s in Semiotics in 2022 and 2023. We conducted a focus group with 13 students, where we discussed three key moments to interpret in this adventure, dividing them into Past, Present, and Future. The dynamic involved writing down concepts and explaining them at the end of the roundtable. In this dynamic, we found different coincidences, which, despite coming from different parts of the world, were shared and agreed upon.

Image credit: Tatiana Jaramillo

In the Past segment, we aimed to understand the key preparation steps before the information they considered pertinent, appropriate, and sufficient to make the decision to apply for their studies. We also reviewed what might be missing and what opportunities for improvement we could have. From this part of the session, we learned that not all the information available was completely in English; many valuable materials were in Estonian and would need translation and subtitling. One of the significant lessons we obtained from this interpretation process was to provide better support to those who are interested, to open more and better consultation channels, to publish our channels on different social platforms and our blogs, and, above all, to share much more about what life is like in Tartu, what happens here, and what’s important to recognize for those who are about to make the decision to change their lives and come to this very different and special place.

Continuing the dynamic, we focused on the present, on how they have experienced their careers and academic process, as well as their experience living in this city, emphasizing the importance of being aware of what is happening and what the city offers. Considering that this year, 2024, Tartu is the European Capital of Culture, there’s a need and importance to maximize the activities that can be found around to showcase what is happening here. Additionally, it is considered important to share more about what we are doing in our classes. Active student participation is essential; we cannot expect the university to handle all communication. We, as information processing branches, should have an active commitment to communication. To our department, we can demand opening more fluid channels and allowing students to participate in events that are genuinely interesting for future generations in a more open and dynamic way.

In the third part of the focus group, we reviewed questions about how we would apply semiotics and discussed the opportunities that the university can provide by opening a network of academics and companies where we can apply our knowledge, the feeling of being able to continue the professional path focused on this discipline feels quite anxious, and doubts arise.

In conclusion, as we wrap up our exploration of semiotics in the context of academic communication, it’s crucial to emphasize the role that active participation and support play in the success of our department. Both students and teachers alike hold the key to unlocking the full potential of our educational endeavors. By engaging wholeheartedly in discussions, offering feedback, and sharing innovative ideas, we not only enrich our own learning experiences but also contribute to the growth and evolution of our academic community. Each voice, each perspective, is a valuable piece of the puzzle, shaping the landscape of our collective journey.

hortus semioticus

Hortus Semioticus is a peer reviewed online journal of semiotics featuring new generation of semiotic researchers.

Hortus Semioticus on eelretsenseeritav semiootika võrguajakiri, mis on pühendatud uue põlvkonna semiootilistele uurimustele.


Our blog is a digital resource where everyone passionate about semiotics can share their knowledge, questions and experience on stuff that matters.

Meie blogi on koht, kus semiootikahuvilised saavad vahendada mõtteid ja infot kõigest, mis loeb.