You won’t be rich teaching English in Estonia, but you certainly won’t be going without! Most costs living-wise come from accommodation, with a one-bed apartment in Tallinn costing around £360/$530. Whilst the cost of rent is higher than the average teacher’s salary, schools usually provide teachers with accommodation free of charge close to the campus, and in the cases where this doesn’t happen, salaries will be significantly higher.
Food is extremely cheap in Estonia, and if you’re planning to save some extra money to see the rest of Eastern Europe, it’s here you’ll make the most savings. A kilo of potatoes for instance, costs just 35p/$0.55 – that’s a lot of dumplings to be made! Even drinks are cheap – you can pick up a can of Kiss cider for just 70p/$1.13 at the supermarket, choosing between apple, strawberry and cherry flavours.
Come the weekend, Estonians love nothing more than a night out with good music and great drinks. Avoid the stag-do places and give some of the Tallinn bars a go – go to BonBon (the name may be cheesy, but it’s the most exclusive club in town!) where cocktails are £5/$8 – be sure to dress nice and go in small groups as strict face control is in operation.
Estonian food is essentially Eastern European cuisine with a Nordic twist – and it’s very much how the Estonians view themselves! Traditional cuisine is for the daring; but one thing you must try is the delicious black rye bread served with garlic butter – great as a starter.
A much-loved dish by the population is Marineeritjud Angerjas, which translates to Marinated Eel – hence the need to be daring! Served cold, the taste is described as very fishy, and there are a lot of bones you’ll have to contend with! In fact, the Estonians love jellied meat in general, with another typical dish being Süit: boiled pork bones, heads and hooves, jarred up so it can be stored for the winter.
One thing pretty much guaranteed to be loved by all is Estonian marzipan. It’s claimed that marzipan was first created in Tallinn as part of a pharmaceutical experiment, but one thing for sure is it’ll be the best marzipan you’ve ever tasted: from supermarkets to Tallinn’s marzipan museum, you can pick it up in all shapes, colours and sizes such as butterflies and swans, costing approximately £2/$3.20 each.
When it comes to alcohol, nothing can contend with vodka – Viru Valge is the national brand, coming in a variety of flavours from vanilla and cherry to the controversial pepper! You can pick up a decent-sized bottle very cheap in this Baltic state – a litre bottle will set you back by about £12/$19 in supermarkets and convenience stores.
If you’re looking for a more refreshing beverage (and by refreshing, we mean non-alcoholic), give Kelluke a go. The description from Estonian adults is it ‘tastes like childhood’, which isn’t that helpful, but it’s actually lime flavoured and is one of the top selling soft drinks in the country, so in order to be like a true Estonian, go and buy a bottle (or 5!) of Kelluke.
No matter which city you teach English in, in Estonia; as it’s such a small country the weather will stay largely the same, with the difference only being a couple of degrees Centigrade (if any at all). There’s heavy snowfall across the country in winter, which can last any time from November to May; but come summer, the sun is shining and with average temperatures in the 20s, you’ll be able to lounge around in a park with a can of Kiss, soaking up the rays.
Most likely your employers will put you in a shared house with other English teachers free of charge; and in general, accommodation is of a high standard – especially if you’re living in one of the larger cities or the nearby suburbs. Directly outside of city centres tends to be where the communist blocks are, but don’t be put off by their exterior: most of them have been renovated inside and are very cosy, and despite the imposing look, Estonia is very safe.
Most of the teaching jobs in Estonia are available in Tallinn, Tartu and Narva – the three biggest cities.
If you’re very much a city person, then the capital of Tallinn is ideal – so beautiful, you’ll find yourself getting lost while exploring. The old town is charming, and even the outskirts with their communist blocks are cute in an ex-Soviet kind of way. Be sure to visit the exclusive Hotel Viru for a KGB tour – during the 1970s, foreigners stayed here, while the KGB spied on them on the secret 13th floor – all artefacts left there were used by the communists! After that, go shopping at the adjacent mall Viru Keskus; or for a relaxing trip, catch the bus to Pirita, which takes no longer than 20 minutes and has a beautiful sandy beach that backs onto forest.
Tartu is known as the University city, and there are opportunities to teach at the University of Tartu. In your spare time, visit the Oscar Wilde and Estonian Eduard Vilde on Vallikraavi Street, or learn more about the Soviet times at the Museum Dungeons of the KGB. It costs just £1.60/$2.50, but you’ll get to see the cells that rebels were thrown into! The mounds of students means that the nightlife is much more relaxed than classy Tallinn – visit Möku for a true student experience, where pints cost just £2/$3.20, and there are frequent free open mic nights; although they may not be so funny if you can’t understand Estonian!
The third largest city of Narva is completely different to anywhere else in Estonia: right on the Russian border, only 4% of the population are Estonian in comparison to a massive 82% Russian – so understandably, most of your students will be Russian. It’s a very sleepy town, so if you thrive off the atmosphere of a big city, there’s no point teaching here! Go to the top of Hermann Fortress to see unobstructed views of Russia; or wander through the Dark Garden, housing an iron cross monument that was erected in 1853 as a memorial to Russian soldiers killed in the Great Northern War.
Cities in Estonia have a system of trams, buses or trolleybuses (or a combination of the three) and between them, they cover the city centre to the suburbs. Public transport sticks to the schedule in Estonia, so you won’t have to worry about the possibility of being delayed for work – and with a one-way ticket costing 80p/$1.30, you’ll easily be able to afford it on your teaching salary.
As you’ll most likely be teaching English in an Estonian university, your holidays will be good (up to 12 weeks) and you’ll have evenings and weekends to yourself. With this in mind, you’ll have lots of free time to explore Estonia and its surrounding neighbours, and where better to start than a train trip between the two largest cities, Tallinn and Tartu? The two hour journey costs just £7.75/$12.50 return, or you could really splash the cash and upgrade to first class for an extra £2/$3.20.
To travel further afield, you can travel by ferry to nearby Scandinavia or even Russia very cheaply. The most popular route is to Helsinki, which takes 2 hours and costs £60/$100 return per person. The journey to Stockholm is overnight, so costs are quite a bit more at £240/$385 return, but you’ll get your own cabin and Sweden is amazing, so it’s worth paying a bit extra!
Finally, for a trip of a lifetime, you can visit Russia visa-free if you travel by ferry from Estonia. There are some restrictions though – you have to be in the country for less than 72 hours before embarking the ship and you’ll need to show confirmation of a hotel booking.
When teaching English in Estonia, students can be very quiet as Estonians are generally very reserved. Nevertheless, you will have their full attention as they’re eager to learn English, and will open up in time!
If you’re lucky enough to be there at this time, go to Estonia’s Song Festival, held every 5 years in Tallinn. Boasting an 18,000-strong choir, although it’s been running for 140 years, it’s becoming increasingly important more recently due to the 1987 Singing Revolution that made Estonia an independent nation, and played a part in the collapse of communism.
There isn’t a strong expat community in Estonia – not even in the capital – but the one area to avoid renting in is the Põhja region in Tallinn: in particular Kopli – it’s trying to turn itself into a quirky area, but there are a still a lot of drug dealers around, and the streets aren’t very pleasant to walk at night.