The last days of January 2020 saw the city of Tartu buzzing with people, all in town for the biggest business festival in the Baltics - sTARTUp Day 2020. This event brings together startups, traditional entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, and students, with the aim to connect startup-minded people and celebrate entrepreneurship in the smart city of Tartu. With no better setting to discuss the potential of international talent in Estonia, Study in Estonia teamed up with Startup Estonia and Work in Estonia to host a panel discussion titled "How to Attract and Retain Foreign Students in Estonia and in Your Company".
The panel was moderated by Michaela Snopkova, Community Manager for the International House of Estonia, managed by Work in Estonia. Michaela's own story is that of someone coming to Estonia for their studies and ending up staying, learning the language, and helping other internationals facing the same challenges. She was joined in the panel by Betti Murdvee, HR Specialist and Event Manager at Estonian company Mooncascade; Fletima Dias, student at the Estonian Entrepreneuship University of Applied Sciences, Study in Estonia Student Ambassador, and Business Customer Support at Transferwise; Eero Vainikko, Professor of Distributed Systems at University of Tartu; and Jason Dydynski, Head of Marketing at Weekdone and PhD student at University of Tartu.
The 1-hour long panel discussion focused on questions like: What even makes Estonia an attractive place to study? How easy or difficult is it for international students to find a job here? Is the language difference an obstacle? Is it necessary for internationals to learn Estonian in order to be able to work? What are universities doing to help international students enter the Estonian job market? Is it encouraged to study and work at the same time? What are some suggestions from international students who have gone through the process of finding work and living in Estonia?
From left to right:
Michaela Snopkova, Betti Murdvee, Fletima Dias, Eero Vainikko, Jason Dydynski.
Betti Murdvee, Mooncascade
From the employers perspective, Betti Murdvee from Mooncascade said that their company is very supportive of their employees studying while they work, because that means growth for both the employee but possibly for the company aswell. Likewise, they are very interested in hiring international students with the hope that after they graduate they will continue to stay working for Mooncascade.
Professor Eero Vainikko explained that the IT curricula at University of Tartu are designed to incorporate internships and the university makes a lot of effort to bring students and companies together. Jason and Fletima, speaking from a student's perspective, explained that although getting used to the cultural and regional differences will indeed take some time, neither of them experienced a "culture shock" when coming to Estonia, but rather learned the small nuances of life in this country over a longer period.
Addressing the question of language and whether it is necessary to know Estonian to be able to work, Betti from Mooncascade said that they are definitely happy if their international employees make an effort to learn the local language, but as their company is international and has clients from all over the world, then the working language is anyway English and so knowing Estonian is not needed to be able to work for them. Jason and Fletima agreed, that knowing some Estonian will make it easier to be accepted by the locals. Jason jokingly added that trying to speak Estonian to locals is seen as "cute" in the beginning, but at some point locals find it "suspicious", explaining that most Estonians are fluent in English and often they don't understand why a foreigner would spend so much time learning Estonian.
The panel concluded with a few thoughts on how the government can further help in attracting and retaining international talent in Estonia. Those included highlighting the digital advancement of the nation, the ease of doing business and the thriving startup scene, as well as the perks of a small country with a modest population where everyone has space to breathe and wander out into nature if they so please. Jason and Fletima's advice to other internationals who might consider coming to Estonia to study or work was to be brave and try new things, make as many connections as possible and reach out to people who have been in a similar situation before.
If you would like to reach out to an international student in Estonia to learn some more about studying and working here, then please reach out to the Study in Estonia Student Ambassadors: firstname.lastname@example.org
sTARTUp Day 2021 will take place January 27-29 in Tartu, Estonia. Read more about the festival here: https://www.startupday.ee/