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Estonia versus Singapore

Many people have asked me what the main differences are between Singapore and Estonia. Having been in Estonia for about 3 months now, I am still stumped by the question – because every single moment I am here, every experience is a complete different world from Singapore! First a little introduction to my sunny island home – the sun scorches all year round and the only seasons we have is wet or dry. When it rains, it pours. When the sun is out, prepare to sweat a lot. When I was looking for apartments in Tallinn, I actually asked the owners if the bedrooms had air-conditioning. They replied “You mean heater?” And that’s when realisation kicked in that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Having a small budget for accommodation, I teamed up with other budget conscious students on Facebook and we rented an apartment in Lasnamäe together. I have to admit, I was wildly unprepared to move across the globe because I was terribly busy with work and meeting with friends and family before moving. So a few days before my plane left Singapore, I sat down and really did some research on the country, its history and culture. I arrived at Tallinn airport in the morning (after getting stopped at customs at every single checkpoint because of something I failed to print out) and took a taxi to my apartment. Throughout the journey, I kept thinking, “Where are all the people? What is going on? Why are the roads so deserted? And why is it so quiet, you mean cars don’t usually honk when they drive?” Like a fish out of water, every sight was a curious case to me. The smallest things, even graffiti on walls – not a common sight in Singapore because you will get fined for doing that on public property – was unusual. People walk slower here, talk softer (or maybe my judgement is subjective because I don’t understand the language), and somehow seem gentler. In Singapore, we have a booming population of 5.3 million in a small country of 700 square kilometres, while in Estonia there is 1.3 million in 45 000 square kilometres. The number of people on the streets was significantly lower – it was an amazing feeling to see so many empty seats on a tram/bus. It was also a little unusual to see people not on their cell phones on public transport. Basically in Singapore, among the crowded train of 100 people, probably 90 will be on their phones. We hold the status of having one of the highest social media addiction! Another difference that stood out for me was the usage of plastic bags. In Estonia, you pack your groceries into your own recycling bags at the store. That is such a efficient and environmental friendly way of doing things. In Singapore, cashiers pack items into plastic bags for free for you (some places even hire a packer who packs your things into plastic bags...I worked as one before) – different category items are packed into different bags, some heavier items are even double bagged. Another fact - we use a staggering 3 billion plastic bags per year. I could go on for a long time listing the differences between these two countries but I won’t bore you guys out. I sometimes think the only similarity here, are Estonians themselves. In a way, Estonians remind me of Singaporeans. Somewhat cold on the outside and generally wouldn’t strike up a conversation, but once you get to know them, they are incredibly warmhearted and extremely interesting to talk to. I have gotten lost many times in the city and unable to google my way out with a dead phone, and each time I approach an Estonian for directions, they never let me down. Even if they do not know or never even heard of the place I’m going, they will google it to find out or point me the direction. I don’t consider myself a globe trotter as I’ve only been to different parts of Asia mostly, but I have travelled around South-East Asia enough to adapt myself to new situations easily, taking the backseat to observe the crowd and slowly immerse myself into the culture. Usually after I arrive in a new country, it takes me a couple of days to get used to the situation, then most of the time I fall in love with the country only to realise how much I miss home eventually. However, there is something about Estonia that made me feel instantly at home. Perhaps it’s the friends at Tallinn University, perhaps my lovely housemates, perhaps it’s the culture and lifestyle here, or it’s the university life in general. Or perhaps it was my perception of Estonia, from simply a country in my history book about Cold War, to a place I now call home, watching a documentary about Estonia and its singing revolution. Whatever it is, so far I am loving this country and I have a feeling that my 3 years here as a Media student will be memorable ones! Text by Felicia Liu Fangling (Media BA student).  

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