Study Design Abroad: Silja Aav, Estonia to Shillington Sydney


Would you love to upskill while seeing the world? Well, studying design abroad at Shillington could help you make it happen. As part of our new blog interview series, ‘Study Design Abroad’ we speak with #Shillumni who wanted to try something a little different, all while studying graphic design.

Silja Aav is originally from Estonia, but moved to Australia to work as a Retail Marketing Manager for BMW. Flash forward a few years, and she decided to complete change careers and study design at Shillington Sydney. Now she believes “studying outside of your home country is something that should be compulsory for all young people”.

Fresh after her Shillington graduation, Silja returned home to Estonia and beat out dozens of designers and professional agencies to win a design tender—creating a national campaign for a health care institution. She’s now set up her own freelance business, AAV Design, and keeps busy juggling lots of different design projects. Read on to hear more of Silja’s story.

You’re originally from Estonia. What were you up to before Shillington?

I’m from Estonia and I moved to Australia in 2013. Before Shillington I was living already in Sydney and was a Retail Marketing Manager for BMW and MINI. I have always worked in marketing field and I started to feel the need develop more of my creative skills and really wanted to see the “kitchen side”. By that I mean that I wanted to be the one who is creating the design not only planning and executing it. I’m still very passionate about marketing but now I feel I can bring my own ideas to life from start to end. 

How did you discover Shillington and why did you decide to study in Sydney?

I did a lot of research on the internet and all the searches took me to the Shillington page. For me it was very important to have the right feeling when seeing Shillington’s homepage and social media. Being a graphic design college, my main requirement was that your own branding and design has to be strong, and it was strong and really impressive. It just felt so fresh and modern.

I also checked all the Shillington videos and when I saw the classroom full of iMacs and design studio look and feel, I was sold.

I made my decision within couple of days and it has been one of my best decision so far.

Tell us about a favourite project from your design portfolio.

I think it was the British Film Institute poster for documentaries about people. 

One thing that Shillington really encourage us was handmade approach. First we were very sceptical and thought it will look too crafty, but actually it turned out to be very original and different. I remember when I had idea crisis, the teachers always asked us to go away from the computer and experiment something that is not even related to your work. For example, play around with water colours or brushes etc. That’s what you can see on my BFI posters. Those brush strokes are handmade!

What were your favourite things about living and studying in Australia? 

First of all, living and studying outside of your home country is something that should be compulsory for all young people. Trying to adjust yourself in a new environment and culture is massively character building. In Australia you are pretty much miles away from every country possible and you need to manage everything on your own. Estonia and Australia are so apart that when I had a problem in the morning and wanted to talk to my family, it was usually resolved by the time I can actually reach them! 7-9 hours difference, depending on the time of the year.

When I arrived to Australia 3.5 years ago, It felt like pushing a restart button to my whole life. My CV was one blank paper with only my name on it (which Australians are finding hard to pronounce). But for some reason it did not scare me, it encouraged me work even harder then ever. 

From your experience, would you encourage others to study abroad?

Studying abroad creates a different kind of ‘filter’ for your design work. It’s like you have learnt a new language and now your brain thinks in two different design languages.

You will realise that effect when you go back to your home country and start working in the field. 

I noticed that while I was in Australia, you can not help to notice that you history, habits, culture, thinking etc. is very different from others. But when you embrace it and start to add your own flavour to whatever project you are working on, it can turn out to be something very special … or not. 🙂 But definitely worth to try it! I especially noticed this when I approach projects and challenge myself to think outside the box.

We were all frustrated with the creative processes we had to follow at Shillington, but now I have realised how important this is to push you work.

Studying in Shillington was not really studying in a traditional way. It was like working in a design studio, where you have all those awesome classmates from around the world and really chilled and experienced teachers who are treating you like employees and appreciating your previous experience outside of the design field.

Shillington felt also like a school “hack”, because they did not mess around with too much of theory and went straight to the point. They also gave you all the useful links and tools to keep you constantly updated with the trend even after your studies.  Not to mention the old school rap music in the background, 7 minute challenges for the teachers and #ILoveTheseGuys Mondays.

What have you been up to since graduating from Shillington? Do you think the skills you learned during the course prepared you for the design industry—especially back in Estonia?

After graduating from Shillington, me and some other classmates (Pete, Brenna and Jason) had an awesome road trip along the coast up to Noosa, Queensland and I finally had the chance to see the beautiful nature of Australia. 

Then I moved back to Estonia and participated in a tender for health care institution to create a national campaign for cervical cancer awareness. A couple of days later they announced that I won, and I just could not believe it! I had to create everything: outdoor media, billboards, posters, social media campaigns, press ads, TV ads etc. This was an awesome kickstart.

Now I have my own company called AAV Design. I also won another competition for Breast Cancer Prevention campaign and working on couple of other different projects. 

The skills I learned from Shillington really enabled me to set up my own design business straight away back in Estonia and start to make things happen.

It also gave me the confidence and courage to challenge the design that clients have been used to so far. Now all I wish is that Shillington would create an advanced course or some kind of second level, that I could continue studying … wink wink 😉 

Any words of wisdom for students about to start their Shillington experience?

Having a Shillington experience is like quality stamp that is recognised by the design industry. Everyone who is related to graphic design world, would know about Shillington. And most importantly its an awesome community that after finishing your studies you will continue to be part of. 

Big thanks to Silja for sharing her Shillington story! Check out her website and follow her on Instagram for more.

Want to travel the world and become a graphic designer? Learn about your visa options to study design abroad at Shillington in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

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