“Honest people, street food and too many wink emoticons”. 16 Questions to a Foreigner

Sander Nõmmik
Author Sander Nõmmik

Shreyas (21) is originally from New Delhi, India. However, in pursuit of a liberal arts education, he decided to relocate to California, USA. Though he is currently studying in Pomona College, he took the summer to work on a governmental project in Estonia, Europe. As he has lived in locations with multiple cultural backgrounds, we decided to interview him in order to find out what he thinks of Estonia.

  1. Where are you from?
    “I am originally from New Delhi, India. Currently, however, I’m studying in California and have been a visitor in my home for three years.”

  2. Why did you leave India?
    “I had an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and pursue an education at a small liberal arts college in the US – one that is far different from anything that is offered in India. So, I took the opportunity.”
  3. How old?
    “I’m 21 years old.”
  4. How did you decide to come to Estonia – where did you find the opportunity?
    “The opportunity for me to come here wasn’t a formal recruiting process. EAS has a representative in the Estonia’s Embassy in India, and I have known him for a while. That set the base for further talks on this opportunity. For me, coming to Estonia was a decision over doing an internship in New York or San Francisco. It was too enticing to explore a new country though, so working in a country that I know nothing about is far more interesting than doing it in San Francisco or New York.”

  5. Was it easy to relocate to Estonia and get all your paperwork done?
    “It actually was really easy to come here, and that for a few reasons. As I was working for the government, they had direct contact regarding the paperwork. In New Delhi the embassy is small and there is not much of a crowd – so overall the process was quick. In Tallinn Airport it took them about 2 hours to get my paperwork ready, but that wasn’t much of a headache.”
  6. What are your 3 favourite aspects about Estonia?
    > “From a personal angle, I had the chance to push myself in various ways. Most importantly, I was an outsider and I knew I was leaving soon. So for the first time, I wasn’t at all conscious about making friends with strangers even though Estonians are known to be cold.”

    > “The office environment is very good, supportive, and people always helped me out when I needed something. The office-friendship was built very quickly. So I actually decided to sit with my colleagues from Week One even though my department completely changed after the first week.”

    > “Bogs. I never thought I would find it fun to go to a swamp.”

  7. What is the one aspect you would like to change?
    “Culturally speaking, I wouldn’t change a thing. The society is extremely progressive in terms of thought and lifestyle and I really like it all. I would say though that people should definitely get paid a bit more…”
  8. What surprised you about Estonian people?
    “People are strikingly white. There aren’t too many people in the country to start with, but in general, most of them are white. I guess that’s just how it is in this part of the world, but for someone who is used to the diversity of India and the US, the lack of it was rather noticeable. However, I didn’t really face much of a cultural barrier as people were open, curious, and extremely welcoming once they felt comfortable with me.”
  9. How is it to work in Estonia regarding the working conditions?
    “The working conditions are really chill. Anywhere you work. No extra hours. American companies expect you to work your ass off and push for long hours very frequently. Estonia, contrastingly, takes the home/work balance very seriously and people are quite happy with that. Since I had only 2 months in Tallinn, I decided to work the American way. However, my boss or job didn’t really force me to. Another thing is the lack of hierarchy in Estonian companies: senior level employees hang out and party with everyone which, I believe, facilitates better work.”

  10. Is the work load normal in Estonia?
    “Yes! There’s a huge focus on work-life balance and it’s quite easy to do good work and lead a fun life.
  11. Who are the people you would recommend coming to Estonia to? What type of people fit here well?
    “The type that fits in Estonia… there are many factors. I don’t really know, but it’s closely related to all that the country has to offer. Estonia is sooooo different – how the country operates, how you live here, how people think. It’s really like no where else. I guess college students and techies from my generation would love it here. Not sure. I definitely did…
  12. Co-workers & estonian people – weird things about them?
    “Wink emoticons – you use them too much.”
    “Very closed at first.”
  13. What do you think about Estonian traffic?
    “Estonian traffic is a joke. Hearing a car horn or seeing a line of cars is a big surprise, whenever it happens. But Estonians complain about ‘peak hour traffic’ (laughing). Public transportation is great though and works like a dream. The summer evening bus ride on LUX Bus from Tartu to Tallinn is gorgeous!”
  14. Estonian food – what’s weird and what do you like?
    “Estonian food for me is not the best – I’m a vegeterian and it’s not very vegetarian-friendly. Apart from Estonian food though, the food offered in Estonia is super diverse and tasty – there’s everything from falafels and Indian food to Mexican and Italian. Also street food. Nothing is super-expensive and there is a breadth of choice in Tallinn.”
  15. Estonian culture – what’s weird and what do you like?
    “I don’t know much about the cultural aspect of Estonia unfortunately. Even “Jaanipäev” I celebrated in Finland, not here. And I missed the song festival. But I know that Estonians keep their heritage very close to heart and are very proud of it. They also go the extra mile to keep it alive and intact.”

  16. 5 tips to a person coming to work or study in Estonia?

    “For anyone who is a foreigner coming here:

    > People are straightforward and honest
    > You need to show your curiosity and genuineness to get the locals to open up
    > Keep in mind that Estonians haven’t probably heard anything about your culture so use your culture as a brand to take you forward. Also, depending on the duration of your stay – learn the language.”
    > Get the €23 monthly public transport card from your nearest R-kiost. It´s a game changer.
    > Explore and use your time in Estonia to discover your preferences and strong suits. Also check out the Red Emperor Pub Crawl and meet some cool random people.”