Expats in Estonia share their verdict on the country’s crisis handling

Estonian World asked several Tallinn-based expats, originally from around the world, how the coronavirus crisis had impacted their lives and how did they rate Estonia’s handling of the emergency situation.

Charm Echiverri

Charm Echiverri.

Age: 30

Country: The Philippines

Job: Recruiter

Been in Estonia for: Less than one year

How are you coping with the crisis since the emergency situation in Estonia began?

I’m coping just fine. I believe the major contributor is my work. My employer is being incredibly supportive and transparent, especially to those of us who moved to Estonia to work. Also, the fact that Estonia has a small population, I’m quite confident that the virus won’t be as widespread as compared with other countries.

How well do you think the Estonian government has handled the COVID-19 situation?

I can only compare it with my home country; I honestly feel safe that I’m in Estonia during this time. The Estonian government acted with a sense of urgency, with clear communication and reasonable guidelines. I appreciate the regular updates and the government supporting unemployed citizens and employers to cope with their finances during this time.

Are you registered with a doctor that speaks your language? Do you know what to do here in a medical emergency?

Yes, I’m registered with an English-speaking doctor and it is quite easy to find the emergency information online.

Has your ability to work and earn income been affected by COVID-19?

No, I’m happy I’m able to keep my job.

Hannah Brown

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Hannah Brown.

Age: 35

Country: Australia and the UK

Job: Head of Content at e-Residency

Been in Estonia for: Less than one year

How are you coping with the crisis since the emergency situation in Estonia began?

The crisis has been devastating for so many people who have lost loved ones, had to close their business or lost their job. So, in the grand scheme of things, I am really lucky to have a job, an income and a lovely flat to while away the days in lockdown.

That said, it hasn’t been totally easy and some days are better than others. I’m pretty used to my own company in normal times, but the forced isolation and the fact that I probably won’t be able to travel to see my family and friends in Australia and elsewhere in the world any time soon is tough. I have been speaking to them regularly online but it’s not the same as philosophical debates over dinner or gossiping over drinks. And mostly, I really miss hugs!

The one thing I have enjoyed is being able to slow down and take time for activities I love. I’m reading, cooking and writing more than I did pre-corona. Podcasts (eg the Guilty Feminist, How to Fail) are keeping me company, yoga and meditation are keeping me sane and walks in the sunshine lighten my mood. The lockdown has been a philosophical journey – that is for sure!

How well do you think the Estonian government has handled the COVID-19 situation?

Full disclosure: I am employed by the Estonian government. But to be honest, my response to this question would be no different if I weren’t. 

I think the government has handled the health crisis pretty well. They were quick to act at the beginning and did a lot of work to ensure more widespread testing could take place. A few people close to me have been tested and it is seriously impressive how quick the process is, from calling the emergency number to receiving their results. 

Now that we seem to be moving into the loosening stage of the lockdown, I have noticed some confusion here in Tallinn about exactly what this entails. It would be nice to see a clear plan with all the steps laid out and what needs to happen from a health perspective for us to get there. The primary priority that hospitals and medical professionals are not over-burdened must remain. But it would also be good to open up the economy and social activities in a measured, step-by-step way to try and avoid further uncertainty and loss of livelihood.  

Are you registered with a doctor that speaks your language? Do you know what to do here in a medical emergency?

I don’t have a family doctor here, but I have used the services of a private clinic and feel comfortable that I could contact them if anything happens. I have not had to use the emergency number myself but, as I said above, my friends have with success so if I would be confident doing so if the need arose.

Has your ability to work and earn income been affected by COVID-19?

Thankfully not. I joined e-residency in October 2019 when I moved to Estonia from Geneva, Switzerland. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that six months or so later, I would be experiencing life here during a global pandemic!  

Given that e-residency is ready made for remote working entrepreneurs, our work has continued and seems more important than ever, which is good news for Estonia. We have shifted our focus to providing more content and support to e-residents online, so my role has perhaps been even busier than normal. Every day I hear from e-residents around the world how they are coping and adapting to the crisis. Their stories keep me motivated to do what I’m doing.

Jessi J. Verano Izaguirre

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Jessi J. Verano Izaguirre.

Age: 34

Country: Peru

Job: Company Owner / Manager of Tallinn Apartments & Rooms

Been in Estonia for: 8.5 years (nine years in July)

How are you coping with the crisis since the emergency situation in Estonia began?

Despite this hard and unique situation, I do try to remain calm while staying at home most of the time. In relation to work, I am organising and reviewing work activities online and waiting patiently until this situation will be overcome. Keeping myself busy helps me handle the situation better.

How well do you think the Estonian government has handled the COVID-19 situation?

It is hard to give an opinion in a retrospective way, but I do think the government did, and is still doing, what they can with the best intentions in different areas. To handle this unique situation is indeed one of the hardest things any government can face, but I believe the Estonian government has done well so far.

Are you registered with a doctor that speaks your language? Do you know what to do here in a medical emergency?

Yes, I am registered with a family doctor and I am aware what to do in case of an emergency thanks to the information provided by the government in different channels.

Has your ability to work and earn income been affected by COVID-19?

Definitely! I work in the tourism industry, so the income has been severely affected. The workload has fallen as well but I hope this situation will not last much longer. On the bright side, this is a good time for me to complete all my pending tasks.

Michelle Bell

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Michelle Bell.

Age: 34

Country: US

Job: Investor Relations Analyst

Been in Estonia for: Less than one year

How are you coping with the crisis since the emergency situation in Estonia began?

Developing and maintaining a new routine has helped me adjust to our current circumstances and create a sense of normalcy. Every morning I walk our dogs, “get ready” for work and prepare my dedicated workspace. Some days are better than others, but I acknowledge that it’s OK not to be OK.

I try not to get overwhelmed by the amount of information available by limiting what sources I read and how often I consume information. I have had countless sleepless nights worrying about the future but sharing with my husband and journaling has helped me manage those fears.

I intentionally use the term “physical distancing” rather than social distancing as this is a time for us to be connected even if we are not in the same room. I have been less active on social media and have preferred to connect with friends individually when I have the capacity to do so. Like most expats, the uncertainty of not knowing if and how we would get back to the US if something happened to a loved one is troubling.

How well do you think the Estonian government has handled the COVID-19 situation?

Overall, I believe Estonia has had a calculated response to the pandemic based on the facts and has adjusted accordingly to new information. I have appreciated the ongoing updates, communication of the current restrictions and transparency of potential plans for the future. Compared with other countries, Estonia has managed this quite well. I do hope the restrictions will be eased as the situation improves.

Are you registered with a doctor that speaks your language? Do you know what to do here in a medical emergency?

I am not registered with a doctor just yet as I usually avoid going to the doctor unless it’s absolutely necessary (thank you, US health care). However, I do know how to get medical assistance if needed.

Has your ability to work and earn income been affected by COVID-19?

I began as a temp in February and was offered a full-time role on 1 April. I am grateful to have employment as I am aware that many people have lost their jobs, had their hours reduced or have received a pay cut. My employer has been open about the state of our company and what the next steps would be if we moved toward continued instability.

Patrick Johnson

Age: 33

Country: UK

Job: Copywriter at Veriff

Been in Estonia for: 6.5 years (seven years in October)

How are you coping with the crisis since the emergency situation in Estonia began?

Pretty well overall. My wife is pregnant and will likely give birth in the coming days (the baby, named Marilla, has since born – editor), so we have had to mentally and emotionally prepare for the fact I can’t attend the birth, which has been tough. But on the plus side, we have had almost two months to think about this, I can’t imagine turning up on the day they decided that fathers weren’t allowed in and taking it well.

We were also in the process of completing renovations in our apartment, so being at home all the time has given us a lot of time to take care of that. As we already have a two-year-old daughter, we haven’t really been picking up new hobbies or watching new movies or TV shows, but it’s been nice to spend so much time as a family, despite it making my day job challenging at times.

How well do you think the Estonian government has handled the COVID-19 situation?

I cannot answer this perfectly as my Estonian is rubbish so I can’t tell you what they’re saying in the press conferences. But from what I have read and had translated they seem to have done pretty well. Perhaps they could have gone into lockdown earlier, but in comparison with the UK and the US, they have done a decent job.

I think Tanel Kiik (the Estonian minister of social affairs – editor) will come out of it well, he is always seemed to conduct himself pretty professionally and handle it well despite being so young. It would be great to hear a detailed exit plan, to give us some light at the end of the tunnel but given that this situation is entirely unprecedented I understand them taking time to get it right.

Are you registered with a doctor that speaks your language? Do you know what to do here in a medical emergency?

Yes, indeed, our GP is excellent, speaks decent English and is a nice guy, so I do not have any issues on that front. In terms of an emergency, I would call the GP first and take consultation on what to do next. Obviously, if it is COVID-19 related, then you need to sort out testing and definitely don’t leave the house.

Has your ability to work and earn income been affected by COVID-19?

Not at all, which I am very grateful for. I even changed jobs in early April, from Xolo to Veriff, which was a surreal experience. It was odd to leave a company without any in-person goodbyes and join a new company without that “first day in the office” experience.

Luckily, neither company has been drastically affected by the pandemic – it is, of course, having an impact on every business, but both are doing well. I am excited to get into my new office and meet my team; though, it’ll likely be more emotional as it’s been so long in the making.

Izzati Liyana

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Izzati Liyana.

Age: 30

Country: Singapore

Job: Freelance writer/content creator

Been in Estonia for: Less than one year

How are you coping with the crisis since the emergency situation in Estonia began?

I have been coping well! I have plenty of activities at home to occupy my time, and so many new things to learn from the internet. The spring is coming, so it is the perfect time to start planting seeds and tending to my small windowsill garden has been keeping me busy.

To manage anxious energy, I also do a lot of yoga, put on some music and dance around my flat, or make art. During this time, it is so important to practice self-care, and for me that means getting creative and working with my hands.

How well do you think the Estonian government has handled the COVID-19 situation?

I think they have done a great job. They were decisive and quick in implementing a lockdown which kept the number of infected cases relatively low. I commend them for being transparent with reported cases in the media and for the high rate of testing being done.

Are you registered with a doctor that speaks your language? Do you know what to do here in a medical emergency?

No, I haven’t registered with any doctor. I know the emergency number is 112.

Has your ability to work and earn income been affected by COVID-19?

No, it has not. Currently I work remotely for a company based in Singapore as a content creator for their website and social media. I am grateful to be able to work from anywhere in the world! With many businesses dependent on the internet during this crisis, I am pretty confident there are still many opportunities for content creation and digital marketing.

Ekaterina Zenevich

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Ekaterina Zenevich.

Age: 31

Country: Estonia, but my parents come from Russia, so I consider myself a mix

Job: Training coordinator at TransferWise

How are you coping with the crisis since the emergency situation in Estonia began?

Changes can be tough for everyone. It took some time for me to adapt to the new circumstances, especially since I live alone. But I try to view the current situation as a positive way to discover different ways of living my life. Prior to social distancing, I lived a very social life with a very tight schedule. I would organise weekly events for the international community in Tallinn, go to the gym and bouldering, spend time with my dog and spend sometimes crazy hours at the office.

It was difficult to slow down but now I am forced to, so I am taking this time to upskill myself, find new hobbies, learn a new language, work out from home and spend even more time with my dog. Oddly enough, I managed to find my inner peace and balance within the quiet and realised I can survive really well in this new reality.

How well do you think the Estonian government has handled the COVID-19 situation?

Personally, I feel that it is much easier to handle the current situation in such a small country as ours. I liked the timely response from the government with the changes made to protect the people. I find it would be even easier to handle the spread of COVID-19 if people would just take it more seriously and, even if they are not worried about themselves, they could at least try to show some more compassion and protect the others.

Are you registered with a doctor that speaks your language? Do you know what to do here in a medical emergency?

Yes, I have a doctor within the area I live. I made also sure to educate myself on all the procedures and steps to follow in case something should happen, as I live alone and would have no one else to turn to for knowledge and help should something happen.

Has your ability to work and earn income been affected by COVID-19?

Thankfully, I am blessed to have an employer who cares about its employees and does everything in its power to support us through the challenging times. We have been offered assistance with adjusting to the new remote work environment, and also my company makes sure our mental health is cared for by providing several online activities to keep our mood up. So far, our income has not been affected.

Kwun Lok Ng

Kwun Lok Ng.

Age: 34

Country: Hong Kong

Job: Startup founder of Kipwise

Been in Estonia for: four years

How are you coping with the crisis since the emergency situation in Estonia began?

My lifestyle has not changed a lot as I have been focusing on building my startup remotely and at home even before the lockdown. Psychologically, it can be quite challenging after a long quarantine period at home.

How well do you think the Estonian government has handled the COVID-19 situation?

The government was quite slow at the beginning of the crisis, just like the rest of Europe was, but the lockdown finally came, which was very good. I love the transparency and quick reactions after the first move.

Are you registered with a doctor that speaks your language? Do you know what to do here in a medical emergency?

Yes, I am registered with a doctor, but I don’t know what to do besides contacting my family doctor when there’s a medical emergency.

Has your ability to work and earn income been affected by COVID-19?

Definitely, the revenue of my startup has been affected by the crisis. But I am grateful that it is relatively okay compared to most of the offline industries.

For the latest developments in Estonia, follow our special blog on coronavirus.

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