Nguyen Van Thai - PhD student of dentistry and a student ambassador | University of Tartu Asian Center

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Nguyen Van Thai - PhD student of dentistry and a student ambassador

Nguyen Van Thai begun his PhD studies in Medicine at Tartu University two years ago. Thai got interested in the study opportunities here after meeting doctor Triin Jagomägi a couple of times in Vietnam. In 2014 Triin invited Thai to Tartu for three months so that he could get acquainted with the university. Thai was pleased with the experience and began his four-year PhD program in 2015.

However, Estonia was not Thai’s only choice. He sent applications to schools in Australia, England, America, and Japan. The decisive factor for choosing Tartu was the availability of financial support. Thai explains, “the PhD program in Estonia does not have a tuition fee and students get a monthly stipend. The stipend is a bit lower than in other countries but still enough because the cost of living in Tartu is quite reasonable. Thai considers this as a general advantage of PhD programs in Tartu. He adds, “In Tartu, students also have opportunities to apply for grants to go abroad to other exchanges, traineeships, and conferences.”

Beside the economical side of things, Thai praises his supervisor Triin Jagomägi. Not only does she help him academically by encouraging him to take part in different international conferences and oral/poster presentations, but also by forwarding information about food, places to go, and which events to join. For example, Thai has ridden with a lodi (boat) on Emajõgi, experienced sauna therapy with whisking (vihtlemine), and participated in an vastlakukkel (a sweet bun with whip cream) baking event. Triin even took Thai to Lottemaa (a theme park based on an Estonian cartoon). “It is cool that you have your own mini-Disneyland in Estonia”, Thai says.

Thai’s research focuses on treatment outcomes of surgically repaired patients with cleft lip and palate in central Vietnam. Thai and his colleagues went to Vietnam in March 2016 to collect data for his research. During the month-long data gathering trip, they identified dental problems of around 70 patients. In Tartu, Thai works with the gathered data and makes comparisons with Estonian samples. Thai and his colleagues are about to publish an article on the normative nasalance scores of Vietnamese-speaking children. Data on Vietnamese patients has not been published in international journals before. Besides working on his thesis, Thai occasionally assists his supervisor with teaching undergraduate students and conducting seminars with postgraduate students. Thai’s academic profile can be found HERE and his LinkedIn profile HERE.

Thai has adapted to life in Estonia wellIn the past two years, Thai has adapted to life in Estonia rather well. “I don’t really have problems with the cold, only the darkness in September-December is a bit depressing.” Thai has taken four semesters of Estonian language courses. For Thai, grammar and new words are the hardest things to master. Furthermore, “because most people speak English, you lose incentive to actually speak Estonian. Even if you try to speak Estonian with someone, then they will respond one sentence in Estonian and continue with English”, Thai describes the hardships of the studies.

In his spare time, Thai takes the role of a student ambassador. The objective of International Student Ambassadors (ISA) is to build a bridge between Estonian and foreign students. The organization focuses on prospective students by sharing information about studies and life in Estonia. Thai has written many blog posts about life in Tartu. During the application period to the university programs, ambassadors receive emails from students all over the world. Thai is responsible for responding to inquiries by other Vietnamese students and those who are interested in dentistry, medicine, or PhD studies in general. ISA is also known for organizing different student events. A public viewing of Eurovision takes place already this week.

When asked about his main recommendation to other students, Thai replies: “Rather than complain, try to adapt.”

Written by Mart Veliste, 08.05.17