The primary point of contact and source of information for the people arriving to Estonia from abroad to work is mainly their future employer. This is why we need to pay even more attention to communication which targets employers so that they would possess the skills and knowledge for providing the necessary information to expats who have just arrived here.
Raising employers’ awareness about their role in the adaptation of their employees is essential. Employers hiring human resources from abroad can also provide them with supplementary services themselves. Some large-scale companies already feature conversation clubs which meet during non-office hours and give new expats an opportunity to share their experiences of adapting to Estonian society with new colleagues, make new acquaintances and practice Estonian. If one also has an option to bring the whole family to such a hobby club, it will make the adaptation of those who arrive in Estonia with their families faster and smoother.
Estonian culture is somewhat unique – to better adapt to it the basic knowledge of Estonian language is essential
Understanding Estonian language, even at beginner level, fosters establishing relationships with the locals and creates more opportunities for exposure to the local information space as well as Estonian culture and traditions. It is important to spark newly relocated foreigners’ interest in the local language environment and to convey the idea that the acquisition of language skills sets an example for others while learning the official language of the state is a part of successful adaptation.
Our well-developed civil society also plays an important role in the adaptation of foreigners
One example is cultural associations which often become the first place where newly relocated foreigners turn for information. It is in our interests as a state to ensure that the information available there is up to date. This is also where much more intensive cooperation of the state and civil society should take place. In addition, volunteering plays an important part in supporting adaptation to a new society. Volunteering fosters making new acquaintances, expanding one’s network of communication and practicing Estonian.
The survey ‘Integration Monitoring of the Estonian Society 2017’ demonstrates that although a considerable share of expats newly relocated to Estonia is already taking part in a variety of activities, there is a number of those who have never participated in one but would like to do it. The results of the monitoring survey also indicate that the participation of new expats in local activities varies greatly depending on the region of Estonia, which means that it is Ida-Viru county which shows the smallest number of participants in volunteering projects compared to Tallinn and Tartu and a somewhat larger share of those who would like to take part in them.
In the last five years, as many as 49% of Estonia’s population have been doing volunteer work in one field or another. One could almost say that volunteering runs in Estonians’ blood. This is why volunteering is one of the best ways for a foreign national to establish contact with the local population while making a contribution to society.
I would recommend expats to check out the Estonian volunteering portal vabatahtlik.ee, which features a search of volunteering options in English and Estonian.
To sum up, I have a nice personal story to share. Several years ago, I used to frequent a kebab place owned by an Iranian expat. It was on my way from work, so I would come by to buy take-away kebab for me and the boys several times a week. One day, the owner asked what I did for a living and, even before I could reply, said he had been watching me for a while and believed I could be a minister in the government.