TWO YEARS LIVING IN ESTONIA: LESSONS I HAVE LEARNED – THAI (VIETNAM)
Arriving in Tartu from Helsinki, my very first impression was that the Tartu Airport was pretty small; it’s even smaller than the airport in my city in Vietnam. “Although it’s a small airport, it’s still an international airport”, the airport shuttle bus driver joked. When I was about to leave the airport, I was thinking “Hmm, it’s so quiet and … empty”. Despite the quietness and emptiness, I have attached to this cozy no-noisy city for two years. The peacefulness of the city is the key to keep foreigners falling in love with the city. Throughout years living in the country, I have learned some lessons about the city, the country, Estonian people, and how to adapt to new life. I think it is worthy to share with people out there outside the country, thus you know what to expect when coming to Estonia.
Lesson 1: It’s all about the winter
Winter in Estonia might be the first storyline I have heard since I arrived. People kept “scaring” me about how cold it was in Estonia. Let’s the truth reveal. I loved the moment when seeing the snow falling and shining through the street lights, observing the flake shapes and forms, and watching it melt on your hand. The first snow always melts as they said. Due to climate change, probably, the winter in Estonia was not as harsh as it used to be. The winter has come and gone later than usual. The snow layer was not so thick and the temperature was not so low anymore. Don’t be afraid of the cold. Confront it with appropriate clothes, you would be fine. But winter was not just about the cold, it’s about Christmas as well. Believe it or not, a miracle happened on Christmas. The Town Hall Square had a new face.
Lesson 2: Enjoy the outdoors
I had my first trip to discover the nature in Estonia. “A swamp?”, I was more than surprised when an Estonian asked me to go to a swamp with her. Honestly, it didn’t sound like a place to visit for me. But then when I had my first steps on the swamp in a pair of snowshoes, I was amazed. I could feel the ground was moving under my feet. It was like an enlightenment for me to know about Estonian nature as well as habits of Estonian when they were in nature. They were just want to be in nature, to hike, and to pick berries.
Lesson 3: Are Estonian people cold?
Generally speaking, yes. The stereotype of Estonian is introverts. As an introvert (or ambivert) myself, I could understand why Estonians do not like to talk too much, especially small talks. It is a pain to keep the conversation going with ones who do not have the same interest. That’s why it’s extremely rare if Estonian people start a conversation with you, a STRANGER. However, once the ice is broken and you have something in common, the relations with Estonian could go quite well.
There are exceptions, of course. Some Estonian are more opened and willing to help foreigners. Having a day off on the Labor Day (1st May), I decided to go to Võru to explore another city in Estonia. It turned out that I chose a wrong day to go since museums, tourist information center, and entertainment centers were closed because of the holiday. I happened to enter the Võru County Museum (Vana-Võromaa Kultuurikoda, Katariina allee 11, Võru, 65608 Võru maakond). The museum was closed, of course, but the manager of the museum had some work there on a holiday. It was very kind of her that she allowed me to visit the museum for free. When I asked her what to do in Võru, she suggested going to Rõuge where there was an interesting observatory tower, “Pesapuu” (Nest tree). She even took me to the bus station and asked for information about the bus routes for me. I was completely satisfied with her suggestion. The observatory tower was magnificent; not to mention that the hiking tracks were so lovely. Having been to many places in Estonia, it was not the first time that I know under the cold façade of Estonian is a friendly warm attitude.
Lesson 4: You need to know how to live with others
This lesson is nothing that related to Estonian but to other foreigners who you might live with. If you’ve flatmates or roommates, it’s obviously that you don’t live alone in your kingdom. Please respect others and follow common rules. People who you live with have a different personality, culture, belief, religion, etc., so tolerant each other and do not cross the line. Does it mean that you should live with ones from your country? Not necessarily correct. I would say the issue comes from the personality first, other things later. Another aspect is that please have a sense of cleanliness. An argument could be triggered just because one does not clean the kitchen and/or bathroom after using continuously. Your life living with others could end up like a nightmare just because of small details.
Lesson 5: Have a hobby
A common complaint of people moving to Tartu in the first few months could be “It’s so boring in Tartu”. I would say it’s not 100% correct. It’s totally up to you to decide to be joyful or not. Find a hobby. If you haven’t had one before, figure out one, or try different things to find out which one is your favorite one. For example, my hobbies are going to the gym during free time, volunteer in an organization to be useful, and cooking.
Lesson 6: Improve your cooking skill
I assume that you don’t want to eat out all the time since it’s not a clever step with a student budget. You might end up eating the same dish from days to days, like fried eggs, potato salad, bread and butter. It sounds not so interesting and livable. No worries, you cook for yourself, you can eat whatever you cook. So, don’t be afraid to try to cook new things. I believe after all you could have two or three recipes under the belt. How about inviting your friends to come over and taste your food?
Lesson 7: Think twice if you want to pursue PhD program
It’s a cliché of comparing doing the PhD with a marriage, but for me, it’s more like a journey on a boat on a sea. I know that I’m heading to the other side of the sea – the graduate day – in an estimated time of 4 years. There are storms and calm like ups and downs on the way. Once I’m on the boat, I don’t let myself drown. It’s super depressing when you get your articles rejected or your experiments fail. It’s hard not to fail in academia, but it’s important of how I pick up myself quickly and continue moving on. There are lights at the end of every tunnel, I believe. But doing PhD is not just a torture, there are stops on the journey that are so fascinating to enjoy. I have been to many conferences in different places because of my research work. That joy of work keeps me moving on towards the end of the journey. I can see the light!