Katharina Sowa, a German expat living in Estonia, describes her emotions about the country and the reasons why she wants to stay there longer than she had planned.
It was September 2011 when I first set foot on Estonian ground. I still remember the feeling that filled my soul and heart. It was a feeling of arrival, finding the place that is meant for you, a place you have always been searching for. Right at that moment I knew this was the place where I will always return.
It was August 2015 when I moved to Tallinn for a job in one of the best-known startups of the country. To be honest, it was a rather spontaneous decision, and I had actually never imagined myself moving to Tallinn for real. But so I did, and it was one of the best decisions I had ever made in my life.
In April 2017, I joined the team of the Estonian presidency of the Council of the European Union for the rest of the year. Well, what can I say, working for the presidency was a blast and a great honour. But the presidency ended on 31 December, and I had to think about what will be next.
So now, it is January 2018. I am still here, and I do not want to leave. But why? To get a proper answer to that question, I must reflect and sum up the last two and a half years of my life here.
A country of “firsts”
When thinking about Estonia, for me, it is especially a country of “firsts”.
Estonia is the first foreign country where I have lived and worked. It was Estonia where I dived into the wonderful world of e-state and digital society (not possible in Germany, so far). For the first time, I discovered the mystical secrets of bogs and swamplands. I learned Estonian folk dances. After a childhood trauma, I finally visited a sauna again. And guess what – I love it!
I have gutted fish and smoked them afterwards. I experienced a winter with -20 degrees Celsius and survived. I went to a military parade, something I could have never imagined because it was so strange to me. I built a robot made from Legos and brought it to life. I had the strangest but funniest get-together with a German, a French, two Spaniards and an Iranian at a Ukrainian monastery in Tallinn. Sounds odd, and so it was. And, I was hanging on trees, because yes, why not?
Reflecting all these memories makes me smile because Estonia has offered me a lot of new experiences. The last two and a half years have been intense, in every respect. Two and a half years that have connected me more deeply with this country and have given me the feeling that this is where I belong. Where my heart and soul feel home. I am not saying that I do not belong to my home country anymore, or that I feel less connected with it. It is a feeling of being blessed – because I am home in two different countries.
After a holiday or a visit in Germany, it is a wonderful feeling to arrive back at Tallinn airport. This small and cosy airport has given me so many great emotions because it is my gateway to home. A gateway to a place where I feel free, where I am happy and where I can be and feel myself. And a gateway to very many wonderful people (Estonians and foreigners) who I do not want to miss anymore. People I would never have met if I had not moved to Estonia. People who enrich my life so much.
But at the end of last year, I had to think about what to do in 2018. The Estonian presidency was over, and I had to think about what will be next. To be frank, I was also thinking about moving back to Germany. But only to give myself some more options. However, I listened to my heart and my inner voice and concluded that I did not want to leave. I will stay. Mina jään! It is not time for me to leave yet, maybe it never will be. Probably because I am much too rooted for that and far too many things keep me away from actually doing it.
Once, another foreigner who is also living and working in Estonia, told me he only wanted to come for a year, maybe two. And now, it has already been seven years for him living here and he does not plan to leave. Maybe this is it. Estonia is probably not the country where you imagine yourself staying for a long time. But then, the country catches you and you prolong your stay. Just a little bit longer. And again, a little bit longer. Until you finally realise you have been here for a long time already and cannot imagine yourself leaving anymore.
“The country catches you and you prolong your stay.”
And moreover, 2018 is a very important year for Estonia. On 24 February, it celebrates its 100th anniversary. One hundred years ago, Estonia proclaimed itself an independent country. A very important milestone in the history of the Estonians, and also for me, this is a very special year. Although I am a foreigner, I feel so deeply connected with this country and I am very excited to celebrate one hundred years of the Republic of Estonia. It would be a very bad decision to leave now, wouldn’t it?
A country on a very good path
Estonia is a wonderful country. Of course, there are still so many things to do and to achieve. Still so many things that could be better. But the country is on a very good path. Estonia deserves to celebrate its 100th anniversary with a lot of pride and self-confidence. The country and its people came a long way to gain their independence; and they made it. And there is still so much we can achieve here. It is a wonderful experience to accompany the country on its way, see its progress, and be part of it.
“Although I am a foreigner, I feel so deeply connected with this country and I am very excited to celebrate one hundred years of the Republic of Estonia.”
There are so many expats who acknowledge all this. Many foreigners who made their way to Estonia, everyone with their own personal story and their own reasons. Many foreigners who came to Estonia and who feel the spirit of this country. A spirit that makes them stay. A spirit that makes them feel connected and home. A spirit that can connect and link all of us, Estonians and expats, to strive for the same goal: a free and independent, tolerant, caring and prosperous Estonia.
Palju õnne, Eesti! Congratulations, Estonia!
The cover image is illustrative (photo by Stina Kase). Images courtesy of Katharina Sowa, Tõnu Runnel and Estonian World.