Emotions the string pulling Estonians back home again

Liis Velsker
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Photo: Postimees.ee

Estonians dwelling abroad think Compatriots Programme benefits to be vital when teaching their kids the native tongue and culture – the cord to Estonia that serves to bring people back in later years as shown by impact assessment. 

In view of the period of 2009–2013 observed, the Estonian state support was vital for Estonians abroad regarding the teaching of Estonian language and culture and its disappearance would significantly worsen the teaching of the tongue – nearly half of the language teachers would give it up without the support.

Compatriots Programme chairman and vice chancellor at education ministry Madis Lepajõe said that as ranks of Estonians abroad have substantially grown while the budget of the programme does not look like increasing, they will have to lay the emphasis on what matters most.  

Currently, the focus is on teaching the children the Estonian language. «In our estimation, about 3,000 children in Finland are not being taught in Estonia but this is not as if the Finnish state would in any way obstruct that, but rather the parents of the children are not interested in maintaining ties to Estonia and teach the children the Estonian language,» he observed.

Meanwhile, there are lots of parents increasingly interested in e-education materials in Estonian. At the moment, about 150 kids are being regularly taught Estonian language and culture via Internet as provided by Üleilmakool, the operations of which are organised by the Helsinki, Finland based Eestikeelse Hariduse Selts (education in Estonian society). Mr Lepajõe said that every child of Estonian descent going to 1st grade at school – whether in Sweden, America or Australia – must get an Estonian language ABC Book.

To lure home the children of the compatriots, it is important for them to remain in the environment of the Estonian language – studies at an Estonian university and attending an exchange year (for which the programme provides a stipend), working as trainee in an Estonian enterprise, participation at youth language and culture camps abroad – to create a network. The better the language skills and the closer the communication with relatives living in Estonia, the greater the likelihood of tying one’s future with Estonia.

Both with repatriating and studies of Estonian, the reasons tend to be emotional. «As a rule, coming to study is related to awareness that the roots or  origin is linked to Estonia,» said author of the study Merli Aksen of University of Tartu applied research centre RAKE.

The study served to confirm the age-old understanding that the main reasons for leaving Estonia are about jobs and low wages. Also a notable reason was the feeling of disappointment and rejection while living in homeland. Over a half of such as have returned said they were not doing good financially, wherefore over a third were considering leaving again.

What affected the return decision the most was having family and relatives in Estonia. Secondly, it was preferring to live in Estonia. Also important was a desire that the children attend school in Estonia – abroad, the Estonian general education was highly appreciated. What also mattered was finding a job, and counselling about how things are done here administratively once back.

Most admitted they would have returned without the return benefit; still, overwhelmingly they thought the benefit should continue. The maximal return benefit is €2,000 per applicant.

Estonia has 150,000 – 200,000 compatriots dwelling abroad. This academic year, 3,500 children are studying the Estonian language abroad. The study is based on Internet interview responded to by 747 Estonians, and a general poll responded to by 1,161 Estonians. On top of that, they performed document analysis, focus group interviews and 62 in-depth interviews.