Estonia – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Triin Käpp is a project manager at the UT Centre for Ethics and an editor of the recently published book entitled ‘The Doors of Estonia – from, within’.

What is this country? Who are these people? Why are they still there, where it is cold and nobody gets paid (except for the IT crowd)?

Eesti ustest - sisse, väljaThe Centre for Ethics of the University of Tartu recently published a book called ‘The Doors of Estonia – from, within’. The book includes stories of Estonians who have left the country. Some of them have come back, some will return one day, and some will never come back. Why is it so? What are the things that keep us here in this country and what are the things that drive us away?

I am quite sure that all of you who are reading this blog have a slightly different view on the topic. So let me give you some insight from what we found and I encourage you to respond and comment on this from your perspective.

This is usually a rather emotional topic. Estonians, when gone abroad, want to come back, because we share the same stories, we laugh at the same jokes, and we need to smell the forests and home-cooked meals that have been cooked on the wood-heated stove. We need blood sausages and pancakes that only granny knows how to make, and so on.

But how to explain that to others? They might get the idea of missing something or that the feeling of some homey things is important, but we’d like them to feel it as well. Maybe it is not the question of explaining, but sharing. Do we know how to share our stories and feelings? Well, others say that this is not our best side.

Why do we leave then anyway if we need these things? Of course there are some ‘natural causes’, like wanting to explore the world and study something new, but there are also some other reasons.

Well, first of all, the weather, or, as we like to call it, 9 months of bad ski weather. This is something one cannot change – if you don’t like it, you just don’t like it.

And then there are wages and inequality between salaries – this is something one can fight for. But not everyone can. And some think that it is not worthwhile. Well, there is a catch. I might say that the other side of the coin is how are you treated at the workplace. If you’d be respected no matter what your choices in your career, it would be much less painful to be underpaid, but we sometimes lack respect towards those that work in fields such as customer service, cleaning, bus drivers, etc. We have even a saying: Let’s go, finish up now, the cleaning person is also a human. That says it all.

And then there are people who have graduated universities abroad, but they have studied something that cannot be implemented in that small society or that field of science is not developed here, and so one has a choice: Should I do whatever in my home country or should I do what I am best at somewhere else?

And of course it is always hard to return somewhere that you have left and you expect to be exactly the same when you return. It never is, especially when you might return with a family of many not speaking your language. How to settle down again or is it again? Maybe it is something absolutely new, as things have changed and people have changed – not only us, but also our families and friends.

These are tough topics to deal with and just some examples of reasons why people leave Estonia. But of course there are always those who come back, empowered and wise, and who want to make this society work a little bit better. One thing that we are facing at the moment is how to make people feel and understand that we, who are part of this country, are ourselves responsible for what happens here. Nobody will do it for us, we have to do it ourselves.

What have been your challenges here in Estonia? What have you seen improve? What should we do to be more open to people who want to come or come back? And how is it in your home country? Why do people leave? Why do they come back? Feel free to share your stories with us.

See the background info on population decline and emigration from Estonia as reported in the national news: Baltics Had Highest Population Shrinkage in 2012Emigrant Return Rate at 30–40%, Figures ShowProfessors Seek Silver Linings to Migration Trends; and Estonia’s Population Drops Further Due to Emigration.

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  • Margaret Lyngdoh

    Thank you for a sensitive and well thought out write up on this topic. I have studied in Estonia for three years and I understand what it is to leave one’s country and home behind. For me being from India, Estonia has been a discovery of a completely different worldview of equality, kindness towards strangers and an inhospitable climate. But i think that the true treasure of Estonia are its people. Nowhere, where I have travelled (I have travelled in most of the continents) have I met a people more quiet, more loyal, more heartbroken, or more joyful (Look at the Song Festivals!). I think that the Estonian past and history has a lot to do with this. But the reasons why one leaves Estonia is probably more for the economic reasons as you have mentioned. The biggest challenge for me, till date, has been trying to learn the language in order to gain an insight into the happenings in contemporary issues in Estonia. Thank you so much for a thought provoking and heart felt essay

    • Triin Käpp

      Thank you for the reply. It is really nice to read how people see us. The language is a tricky question in many ways – both here and for Estonians abroad as it is one thing that identify us. So we should keep and develop Estonian language but at the same time be open to discuss matters in other bigger languages like here in English or in Russian, French, German, Spanish and so on. On one hand it is a specially important question in science and research and on the other hand for Estonians living abroad – how to preserve the openness towards Estonia also for their children and at the same time help those children to blend in with local language and culture. But now I just have rose more questions 🙂

  • Jüri Toomepuu

    A note on the title of the book. “The doors of Estonia — in and out” would be more appropriate.
    The reasons for leaving are obvious. First, poverty, aggravated by the vast gap in income between the rich and the poor. Then, alienation of the majority of the people from the wealthy ruling class, resulting from the undemocratic election system. And, for Estonans, the accelerating Russification of the country.