Kirsten is a 21-year-old American studying International Business Management at Tallinn University of Technology. Curiosity and part-Estonian heritage were the key reasons she decided to come to Estonia.
Although Kirsten loves many things about the country, reaching out and having genuine contact with Estonians is tricky and has made her struggle a bit. During the year spent here, Kirsten has made friends with foreigners rather than Estonians, whose trust she says is harder to win than she imagined.
Photo: Kirsten Woods
From sunny Virginia to the dark Estonian autumn
Kirsten came to Estonia from the state of Virginia more than a year ago and started studying at TalTech's Faculty of Economics. The impeccable reputation of Estonian higher education was not the only motivation that brought Kirsten to Estonia. Her family roots also drew her here.
"My mother was born and lived in Estonia until she was 21. Then she moved to America, where she met my father." Kirsten learned a thing or two about Estonia from her relatives who stayed in Estonia. In her childhood, she also visited her mother's homeland a few times with her family. "Despite that, I felt that my Estonian roots were more of a mystery to me, and I didn't quite understand what kind of country it was," admits Kirsten. But when it was time to choose a university, Kirsten was convinced she wanted to study in Estonia.
In a country where quality higher education was cheap compared to America and where her relatives lived. She wanted to know them better. "I have always thought I would like to live in Estonia for a while," she says. "I have a family here, about whom I know very little, and people speak here a language that I have had little contact with, but which interests me."
Getting here was easy
Getting here was easier than expected, and Kirsten commends the national immigration services and communication. "Estonia is many times more web-based than several US states, and all kinds of information are freely available on various websites. A surprisingly large number of helpful websites and informational materials are available in English, and I also managed to transfer many documents digitally."
In the hope that some postgraduate student, who has questions about living or studying in Estonia, will read this interview, Kirsten adds that the New In Estonia website was and is a great help to her. “Oh, I love this page. "Why don't we have something like this in America?" - she thought.
I got a lot of practical help from the page, even before I came to Estonia. It gives a fairly accurate overview of Estonian culture, what a foreigner has to take into account, and what to expect." When Kirsten had health problems at the beginning of the year, she got help from the same page.
Free public transport and walks in nature
Kirsten's eyes light up when she talks about public transportation. Public transport is a dream for me!." In America, I'm used to driving everywhere by car. Here, public transport is free for students, buses run according to the schedule and there are stops almost everywhere."
Coming from sunny Virginia, Kirsten is less passionate about the dark and cold Nordic winters. Although she hoped to adapt quickly, the process turned out to be mentally and physically more difficult than expected. Adaptation was also made more difficult by a distant and distrustful image of Estonians.
"I have made excellent international friends here, but I consider Estonians more like acquaintances. They are very introverted, and it takes a long time to gain their trust; therefore, I'm very grateful that my family is close by." Kirsten adds that she has had several unfriendly experiences while in Tallinn because she is a foreigner.
She connects them with the country’s complicated history, which has not been without occupations by several foreign countries. "I understand that it makes people more distrustful of foreigners," says Kirsten. At the same time, she admits that there have been moments when she has sadly thought that there is no place for her or that she is not suitable to live in Estonia. Fortunately, those moments have passed.
"Tallinn is a beautiful city," she quickly turns the conversation to a happier topic. She continues that overall, there are no more positive or negative sides to her current hometown, but that the experience of being here depends on the goals and wishes of the person coming from elsewhere. "If you come to Estonia to party, you may find that you are in the wrong place. But if you're looking for a place where you can get in better touch with yourself and enjoy quiet moments, I think you'll feel at home here," the young American is convinced.
Kirsten thinks Estonians are very resourceful but quiet and appreciate the small moments. "It seems to me that Estonians are afraid of change. It is probably because they already have close relationships, excellent career opportunities, and enough opportunities to be on their own and pursue the interests and hobbies they like."
In Kirsten's opinion, nature is essential in Estonian society and people's lives. She also enjoys being in nature. "My favorite pastime is walking. I walk on the beach, in the forest, and look for well-trodden paths. Estonia has impressed me for many reasons, but nature impresses me the most. It's even hard to describe."
The activities have been created to support the implementation of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund application round project "E-training 2021-2022 for citizens of third countries who arrived in Estonia with a long-term visa". The AMIF2021-11 project is co-financed by the European Union, through the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, and the Estonian Ministry of the Interior.
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