A year ago my knowledge of Estonia was minimal. I could maybe find it on a map but that was the extent of my awareness. And now here we are; living in Estonia with Watson and Sherlock. It still feels surreal at times because the move was quite abrupt. Mark had been applying to jobs for months and there were times when we questioned if the move would happen. But then it did.
The advertised role was located in London but a sponsorship visa in the UK is more difficult to obtain. Moving here wasn’t exactly what we were expecting for our adventure to Europe but we couldn’t pass on the opportunity.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
The US is a country of convenience – drive thru restaurants, two hour delivery with Amazon, etc. Almost everything is available at your fingertips at anytime. After the Soviet reoccupation ended in 1991, Estonia rebranded itself as a “digital society” with solutions like online voting and the e-Residency program. Yet it is still subject to what some may deem as inefficiencies and/or inconveniences of European living. It has been an adjustment for us but far from a complaint.
Not having AC has been the biggest struggle (I have night sweats), but we’ve managed. We take the tram to get around, we dry our clothes on a rack, and we pay our bills manually (who would have thought autopay was a luxury). Tasks may take a bit longer at times but we’ve learned that that’s ok.
It’s Greek to Me
Estonian is considered to be one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. I’ve armed myself with words and phrases in Estonian like “Hello”, “Thank you”, “Sorry” and the most valuable, “Do you speak English?”
Most Estonians speak English though I have interacted with several people in the service industry that have limited knowledge of the language. This has been difficult at times when trying to communicate my want or need. I’ve tried not to be afraid or discouraged from approaching others because I don’t speak Estonian. But I have been met with patience and kindness from most.
Black Like Me
I was cognizant that there would be very few if any people of color in Estonia. Because why would there be? I thought I would be comfortable with this as I have managed to exist in predominantly white spaces for all of my life. However, I’ve become sensitive to how I am perceived so I’m very conscious of what I am doing or my appearance at all times. People of color are often generalized as being refugees or immigrants in a negative connotation. I don’t want to further influence that perception in a malicious way.
But the lack of diversity has been more impactful when I travel to London or Paris and see people of various ethnicities. While in London a woman complimented my hair and it felt good. Not that I need validation, but I viewed it more of an appreciation when the European look is still the standard of beauty.
Home Sweet Home
We were fortunate to find a spacious three room apartment in a quiet neighborhood near a park and feel settled. I’ve developed many friendships, with both Estonians and other expats, and the sense of community has made Estonia feel like home.
There are also several programs offered that help integrate expats into the community. I have been participating in Culture Step, a program that introduces foreigners to the history and culture of Estonia through lectures/workshops and study trips. So far I have toured the permanent collection at the Kumu Art Museum, visited the KGB Prison Cells, and learned about the history and evolution of the Telliskivi Creative City. The more I learn, the more I feel connected to the community.
Moved abroad? Share how your first six months went in the comments!