Firsthand: Tallinn, Estonia

Though I hadTallinn Streets no knowledge of Estonia a year ago, when I started reading about schools in Tallinn I knew that I had to visit. I was surprised to learn about their technological advances, their focus on internet connectivity (including free wifi throughout Tallinn), e-society, electronic voting and unique cyber-security programs. This from a country that was under Soviet rule until just 1991!

In November 2015, I took the ferry from Helsinki for a day trip to Tallinn. It’s a short two hour ride with several trips offered a day. The ship was surprisingly large and comfortable. With this easy commute, many in Helsinki think of Tallinn as their own suburb. The much lower price tag for shopping, food, and nightlife makes it a popular trip for people in Finland.

The contrast of old and new throughout the city is striking. It is common to see a modern building being constructed right behind, or next to, a beautiful old building. The medieval architecture and character is preserved in the Old Town part of the city, yet right outside of the old town city gates are plenty of modern dining and shopping options, including shopping malls. The streets around the town square in Old Town are filled with costumed restaurant staff trying to lure tourists in to eat, but an exploration of the side streets is a really incredible experience. I found cool architecture features, cafes, shops selling things like handmade felt hats, and really quirky places as well. For example, I happened upon this place DM Bar that is on Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 weird bars, called the DM bar. The DM, of course, stands for “Depeche Mode”. It was opened by Depeche Mode fans in 1999 and has had visits (social, not performing) from the band and other celebrities.

An admissions director in Tallinn told me that, in contrast to the Danes, Estonians don’t smile unless they have a reason to. I get that, and appreciate it. She said that international students often misjudge this reserved behavior for grouchiness and think it means that their professors don’t like them. She told me that, with time, they recognize that this is not the case. However, if you would like to experience true grouchiness from your professor, just arrive late to class. Estonians are known for valuing punctuality!