Tallinn City Center Expat chat: Yuri from Japan

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Yuri. Source: Private collection

The fourth interview in our collaboration with the "Tallinn City Center New Arrivals Project" is with Yuri from Japan.

This interview was carried out by Svetlana Štšur project manager of "Tallinn City Center New Arrivals Project" which is run by Tallinn City Center (Kesklinn) Government with support from the European Social Fund.

Every month, Štšur will interview an expat living in Tallinn and discuss why they moved to Estonia, what they like about the capital and their recommendations for other newcomers.

Yuri from Japan

Yuri has spent most of her life living in Japan. When she turned 20, she moved to London to study Politics and Law for nine months and after that, she returned to Japan.

Before moving to Estonia, Yuri had visited the country several times on business trips but when she moved to Tallinn, she quickly realized a difference: when you're in a place for a short amount of time, you usually spend most of it in the city center and you mostly get by speaking in English, but once you become a resident, you feel the need to know the local culture and the language.

Yuri admits she doesn't think of herself as being that different from Estonians: "I feel like I'm mostly on the same wavelength as Estonians and can understand the locals quite well. Both Estonians and Japanese people are actually quite shy and reserved. We both feel uncomfortable engaging in conversations with strangers on the street. That sort of mentality chimes with my cultural background and upbringing."

Many of Yuri's expat friends find Estonians quite cold. "I don't think they're cold. It's more that they're not used to expressing their feelings, especially in the company of strangers. I can understand that very well."

Yuri says she's been very lucky when it comes to making friends with locals and that she also has a good relationship with her neighbors.

"I'm very happy with my neighbors in Keldrimäe. They are mostly families who always say hello to me and often offer their help to carry my bags. At first, I spoke to my friends in English, but now I can speak in Estonian as well. But, other expats have told me that locals have ignored them repeatedly. I've also heard about the infamous Estonian "hallway dilemma"," she laughs. "When an Estonian won't set foot into a hallway if someone else is already there."

Yuri is currently working hard to obtain a residence permit in Estonia. She's planning on becoming an entrepreneur: at the moment she sells cute handmade air humidifiers but is hoping to open a homemade Japanese food takeaway service in the future where she will do the cooking herself.

During her time in Estonia, when she has needed help and consultants at the International House of Estonia have offered her a lot of useful information.

"My current apartment was completely unfurnished when I moved in. I bought a few things, including a big sectional cabinet that I purchased from the website osta.ee. But I needed transport to deliver it. I turned to International House and they helped me find a good service provider. International House also organizes language cafes at which two of their very friendly employees are always ready to help the foreigners," she said.

Yuri considers herself a positive person by nature and says she can cope with various situations that other people might think are difficult to deal with: "I always try to see the good in people even if, for some reason, they treat me badly."

Yuri graduated from university 10 years ago, when the world was dominated by the financial crisis and it was a hard time for everyone - Japan being no exception. "People lost their jobs and Japanese society as a whole suffered because of the crisis. It taught me how to manage stress and an ability to see the good in everything."

This outlook proved useful last year and she was reminded of the previous crisis when Estonia was caught up in a frenzy of panic-buying at the start of the pandemic.

"The grocery store near my home is Maxima. Before going to the store, I thought buckwheat, other dry ingredients and canned foods would probably have sold out by the time I got there – that would make sense. But I was caught off guard to see that there weren't any meat products left either. There were only a few packs of soup stock left, like pork bones," she laughs. "I grabbed them and for the first time in my life I made ramen from bones. To my surprise, I was happy with the outcome. 50 percent of the stock consisted of meat and it lasted a whole week!"

Yuri's tips on surviving in Estonia as a foreigner

- Be brave and try to speak Estonian even if it might not be easy at first.

- Be open and people will open up. It's like knocking on doors – if you knock enough times, they will open.

- Shop in re-use centers! You can find a lot of old items that will help you understand the local culture. I once bought a beautiful teacup that looks like a honey pot and offered tea from it to my friends in the evening, at which they said: "Yuri, why are you offering us tea from a beer stein?"

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Editor: Helen Wright

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