Tallinn City Center Expat Chat: Nicole from Singapore

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Nicole from Singapore. Source: Private collection.

The seventh interview in our collaboration with the "Tallinn City Center New Arrivals Project" is with Nicole from Singapore.

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 experiences in Estonia.

Nicole from Singapore

Nicole came to Estonia from Singapore for work three years ago and one of the first discoveries she made while living here was the quality of Estonian air: "I have never had so much oxygen in my life, I almost can't deal with it. Estonia is literally a breath of fresh air for me," she laughs.

Nicole had little trouble befriending locals, predominantly through work, but also at events she attended before the pandemic took off. Nicole finds Estonians to be quite helpful and open people, despite the common belief. "Even outside the start-up circle, with people mostly from an international background who try hard enough to be good at communicating, there are also plenty of nice locals out there," Nicole says.

Nicole's success at settling in Estonia can perhaps be attributed to her attitude. One illustrative example came out of the blue, when Nicole asked her Estonian friend if she could join her and her family for Christmas dinner. Despite a slightly amazed expression on her friend's face, things worked out even better than she could have hoped for, and Nicole ended up having the most wonderful experience dining and chatting with several generations of Estonians at the Christmas table.

There are many reasons why people travel to new places, and Nicole has her own story. "Growing up in Singapore, I was taught that I should go to school, then to university, strive for a high-paying job, then marry, have kids, raise them, and then... die," she laughs. However, Nicole always felt that there is more to life than that. This is one of the main reasons why she decided to become a digital nomad.

Estonia has taught Nicole several lessons: "Living in Estonia immediately taught me how to embrace being alone. Estonia also taught me to love saunas. I feel I've greatly improved my bonfire skills too," she laughs.  Estonia allowed Nicole to feel confident about being her own person. According to her, Nicole has become a living version of a T-shirt and jeans girl, who goes out "without wearing any make-up".

Staying in Estonia during the pandemic has also taught Nicole the power of vulnerability: "Last November, I had a very depressive two weeks. I did not want to get up from the couch, and it was generally quite a horrible place to be mentally. l wrote a post about myself crying and feeling really upset, but at the same I was angry to be upset, and expressed the frustration of not being able to do something about it". Many of Nicole's friends, Estonians included, said to her that they are thankful to read about something real on their facebook walls. "From this time on, I've decided that in such times when I feel like sharing my pain with the world, I will go for it".

Nicole also wanted to share her journey of learning Estonian, a process which began about seven months ago. "Eesti keel on väga raske (Estonian is very difficult)," she laughs. "No wonder, even if it's kind of funny, that locals are shocked when I speak a bit of Estonian to them, like some basics, 'kuidas sul läheb?' (how are you?) Estonians have this look on their faces like they've just seen a ghost." Nicole went to the language courses organised by the Settle in Estonia programme, and she is really fond of them. "Mu õpetaja on parim (my teacher is the best) she is really awesome. She used to live in Washington for over 20 years, teaching Estonian over there before she came back to Estonia in 2015. She is the kind of teacher who clearly has a true passion for her job and an important trait teachers have – she makes you want to learn. There are people with different levels of Estonian in my group, but she knows exactly who to push harder and with whom to be gentler," Nicole says.

Nicole has a passionate relationship with food, and had a lot to say about her culinary experiences in Estonia: "I have never eaten "sült" (meat jelly) and have no plans to just buy it from the supermarket. My policy is that unless a mother or "babushka" of one of my friends offers me some home-made "sült", I am not going to try it. By the way, I am also a big fan of "kohupiim" or "kohukesed", but I really dislike how it translates to English as "curd". It does not accurately transmit the sensation and feeling of eating "kohupiim". It's a bit sad."

"Tatar", or buckwheat, was also a discovery for Nicole. Now, she mixes tatar with rice and finds this to be a perfectly good combination. She was also surprised to discover that Estonians are not overly into rice: "When I started inviting people over to my place, I offered them a choice between rice and noodles and my guests always went for noodles. One of my friends explained to me that rice is considered to be a "boring" garnish here, which I was really surprised about because at home we eat rice as often as people in Estonia have potatoes. Rice and potatoes are both great at accompanying the main dish".

"I have never heard about karulauk (wild garlic) before I came here. Now, I have a whole pack of it in my kitchen. I actually make pesto by mixing kauraluk with some cheese, almonds, olive oil and salt. Cooking is one of the main things which has kept me sane during pandemic, because most of the foods that I am used to having back home aren't available here. I would say that my culinary journey has been a success because my Estonian friends are often hinting to me that they would love to come dining at my place," Nicole says.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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