Dealing with Loneliness in Estonia as an International Student

This blog post was written by Vladyslav (from Ukraine), a Software Development And Entrepreneurship student at Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences.


As I traverse the cobbled streets of Tallinn, the chilly Baltic breeze seems to echo my inner sense of isolation. Estonia, with its enchanting old towns and technologically advanced society, presents a paradoxical world for a foreign student like me. Here, amidst the architectural marvels and digital advancements, lies an unspoken truth – the quiet, often overlooked narrative of loneliness.

Taaniel Malleus

Photo credit: Taaniel Malleus


When I first arrived, the beauty of Estonia's landscapes was mesmerizing. The serene countryside, dotted with ancient castles and lush forests, contrasted starkly with the vibrant city life in Tallinn and Tartu. Estonians, I found, value their rich history and culture – a pride that resonates in every corner of their country. However, as the novelty began to wear off, the reality of being a foreigner in a land so different from my own started to sink in.


One of the most striking aspects of Estonian culture is their value of silence and personal space. In many cultures, such expressions of quietude might be interpreted as coldness or disinterest, and to be honest, where I am from, it is like that, but here, it is a form of respect and an intrinsic part of the national character. For someone hailing from a more expressive culture, this can be jarring. The initial greetings that seemed cool, the conversations that felt unusually brief – all contributed to a growing sense of solitude. It is like a weather broadcast -- all important information as short as possible.


Language, too, plays a crucial role in this experience. While many Estonians speak fluent English, the native tongue, Estonian, is a key to deeper integration and understanding. The nuances lost in translation, the jokes that don’t quite carry over, the cultural references that go unnoticed – each serves as a subtle reminder of my outsider status.


The university environment, while welcoming, also presents its challenges. Estonian students, known for their hardworking and reserved nature, can be difficult to connect with. The lack of spontaneous social interactions, something I took for granted back home, was conspicuous. Classroom discussions were often the only time I heard the voices of my Estonian classmates, and these interactions rarely transformed into coffee shop conversations or dinner invitations.


As the full-scale invasion started in February of 2022 in Ukraine, I found myself in even worse situation -- all my family is located in military-active territory and every day rockets are flying over their heads. This was a tough period for me since I could not even discuss with anyone my feelings once again, connecting with people is complicated here. However, to my surprise, the Estonian government and Estonians wasted no time and stated their full support, both monetarily, emotionally and militarily within the first weeks of the war. This event also led me to meet new people and, as unfortunate as it can sound, a war resulted in Estonians being more open and outgoing so meeting them became easier.


After almost three years in Estonia, I have a handful of friends I constantly support connection with, and although I am living in Tallinn, where nightlife exist and is pretty active, foreigners are everywhere, I am still trying to reach Estonians more casually, like at work or study or charity meeting and create a steady growing trust line, rather looking for them at clubs although that is up to debate.


Yet, this journey of navigating loneliness in Estonia has not been without its lessons. It has taught me the value of introspection, the beauty of silence, and the importance of making an effort to understand and adapt to a culture vastly different from my own. It has also pushed me to seek connections in places I hadn’t considered before – joining international student groups, participating in local events, and even embracing the digital platforms that Estonians are so adept at using.


Thus, I strongly recommend you do same -- reaching out to people in ways you haven't done before or what you consider to be out of your comfort zone.


Loneliness, especially in a foreign land, is a shared human experience, one that doesn’t often get talked about in the open. As I continue my journey here, I am learning to embrace solitude, find peace in the quiet, and slowly turn the unfamiliar streets of Estonia into a place I can call a second home.


Find out which international degree programmes are available for you in Estonia. 


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