― Oh, are you living in Estonia? I’m very, very fascinated by your e-things. That’s incredible, you can do everything online. We’ve also tried to implement high technologies in a public sector but we failed, ― one Slovak journalist told me in a flurry words immediately after I answered where I was studying.
Indeed, those who don’t ask if Estonia is the capital of Latvia or Lithuania most probably know what this small country is famous for and why living in Estonia seems like living a decade ahead the whole Europe. Exactly, the right answer is “e-governance”. (Seriously, it was a destiny for a country which name starts from the letter “E”). Put simply, that means that almost everything can be done online. I think soon they will even let to contract a marriage on the Internet, or have they already done it?
The first inquiry you do on the Internet strikes you with its simplicity, speed, and convenience. Having gone through all of the bureaucratic circles of Hades to come to study in Estonia from your home country, you can’t even believe that some routine things can be so easy to do. For example, getting you transcript of records at the dean’s office takes no more than one minute. But, as we say in Russia, one gets used to good things fast, so now I take all of this convenience for granted and sometimes can even get angry if something works not as quick as I expected. But anyway, I would like to share with you my experience.
“E” stands for “erasing bureaucracy”
― Really, no more than one minute? ― my Russian friends still can’t believe me.
As I’ve already mentioned, getting any document from the dean’s office, or International Student Service, or even from police (no worries, in Estonia, apart from catching the criminals they issue residence permits or IDs, so every “migrant” has to drop by their office) takes no more than five minutes. Do you want to apply for a job position? There is no need to go anywhere, just submit all the documents needed online and put a digital signature, which means simply insert your ID-card. Do you want to apply for a scholarship funded by Estonia? Just put a tick in a form, and they obtain all the data they need from the database. You can even start your own business within 15 minutes and wait no more than 24 hours for it to be registered.
Discounts in your ID
― Do you have our client card? If no, give me your ID, please, ― a pharmaceutist put her hand out.
It was one of my first days in Estonia, and those who come here from more mild and warm climate zones should be aware that the pharmacy is the first place to go for a “shopping”. So, back to the dialogue. I was pretty sure that then I would get one more client card and my wallet would tear. But a pharmaceutist just put my ID into the reader device and gave it back to me. Now when I go to buy my next throat spray I don’t have to spend minutes searching for an appropriate client card. However, I must admit that’s the only discount I have in my ID so far, but anyway this idea is a good start.
Pay with a credit card in the middle of nowhere
― Of course we accept credit cards, ― a salesman looked at me puzzled.
Well, paying with a credit card is not a surprise for those who has seen something in this life except of the forests. But that situation took place at the university party, in the hall of the Aviation Academy of Estonia, so the place was not supposed for commerce. But they brought a credit card machine especially for this case. I’m pretty sure if they need to organize a fair on the float boat in the middle of Peipsi lake, they will accept credit cards even there.
Forget about textbooks
― How much do you usually pay for study materials per semester? ― a professor from San-Diego State University who was visiting Tartu asked me.
Seriously, it takes me half a minute to make sense of his words. Here, at the University of Tartu, we have Study Information System, Moodle, and what not to get an access to study materials. Moreover, all of our home tasks are written there, you should just make several clicks with your mouse and everything is at hand. And, of course, it’s all for free. Via these systems you also submit your assignments. So, everything is easy peasy. Well, if you prefer hard copies, you are welcome to print the study materials out or borrow them from the library. But mostly we just use tablets or laptops to access the articles.
Ask the officials
― Wait, you don’t have to bomb the phone of a spokesperson with your calls to get the info, do you? ― my fellow journalists from Russia ask me suspiciously.
There is no need to do that, the officials reply you via e-mail as soon as possible. You can often get answers for all of your dozens of questions within a day. Sometimes it takes more time, but you are still pretty sure that you will receive the information. And that works not only for journalists. In the beginning of the semester I had questions regarding working in Estonia. I found a contact e-mail on the police web-page and texted them. I got an answer within an hour.
Never use SMS
― Come on, I texted you on Facebook, I’m not a dino to use SMS, ― my friend calmed me down when I thought he hadn’t warned me of being late because I didn’t check the messages on FB.
Estonians and those who have spent in this country more than one month usually don’t even have a credit on their phones. Public Wi-Fi which is shared by every bush in the park or 4 GB package of mobile Internet is enough to call via Viber or to text via Facebook Messenger. The second option is preferable. And if you don’t show up online for more than 8 hours your close friends start sending you messages ― of course on Facebook ― asking where you are and if everything is OK. They will call you only if you have been offline for more than 12-16 hours.
To be honest, the last part for me is the hardest one to get used to. I know the Internet services are for free while you have to pay several cents for an SMS or call, or spend let’s say 10 minutes walking to reach your friends and talk to them. But I really miss this old-school stuff like hanging on the phone, doing the task with your mates in real life, not with the help of a shared document in Google, or meeting with your friend in a cafe to have a small talk. Of course we still do it, but way more rare. I don’t want to blame only Internet for that, but it played a role here.
And I think I convinced you that living in this “e-governance” zone is like a bureaucracy-free paradise. However, you can call me a paranoiac, but I enjoy online services until I think how much information about me can be obtained only from my ID card, from my date of birth to my visits to a doctor. So, even if ones are not wanted by the Interpol, they’d better try to protect the personal data.
Well, I’m sure we’ll learn how to do it quite soon, as some time ago one came up with an idea to store important information in safes and money in banks. So, let’s calm and keep pace with E-stonia.