Goodbye Sweden, Hello Estonia!


Blake and Ash here again. After quite an adventurous boat ride to here from Stockholm, we finally made it to Tallinn, Estonia. Getting to walk around the Old Town it was great to see that a country that is so technologically advanced can have parts that look so old!  There was even free public wifi in Old Town.  



The Center of Old Town and a nearby street corner

Our first visit was E-Estonia, where we learned that in America we are so far behind when it comes to technological advancements for the society as a whole.  For example, they have high-speed internet available to everyone, and they use the internet and the chips built into their identification cards to streamline all of their information gathering and sending.  The Estonians have developed a system where all critical information pertinent to a patient (medical, financial, etc.) is tied to their ID card and a digital signature.  For example, if you need a prescription filled, or you need to access your medical files, any doctor or pharmacy can do this for you using only your chip ID card and the PIN associated with it.  This is something that America is severely lacking.  Estonian citizens can vote online for a week before the election. They can even change their vote at any time before the deadline. This is much simpler than the absentee ballot or having election day being in the middle of the week.  Imagine if we could register to vote and cast a ballot in just minutes.  We saw an example of how fast it takes to vote (a demonstration that took a mere 15 seconds). Some would fear that fraud would occur, but each ballot must be tied to an ID number (similar to a SS number but it isn’t directly tied to the person’s identity past the birthday). This would make it fairly difficult for people to attempt to game the system.


The Estonian Parliment


A Russian Church located Across from the Parliment

Their system goes much farther than that, banking is 99.8% online, they have a paper-free administration, tax forms (online or paper) come pre-filled with all of your information (remember, all of their databases speak to each other), and filing your taxes is as easy as 3 clicks.  They are even dissatisfied with this and are trying to make this process as easy as 1 click.  This is an idea that we cannot even begin to fathom in the United States, where one must purchase expensive software (every year), or hire a tax accountant to make sure that all of the paperwork is done properly.  Their chip identification cards are also used for public transport, driving, state services, traveling and more.  It is evident that Socialism has had a large impact on how private corporations and government entities work together to make it easier to live and work efficiently.   


An anchient walkway

Our next stop was the Tallinn Technical University (TUT).  This was another eye-opening experience for us because not only did we learn that all of their academic programs are free (yes, FREE even to people not living in the European Union), it also includes undergraduate, graduate, and even PHD doctorate programs.   In the United States, just paying for a 4 year university can leave a student in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt; it really is hard to imagine not having to pay for education and using it to better ourselves personally, and for the betterment of society.  



Ash Sitting in the Chinese group room and The Ventilation Lab

At TUT, we also had a chance to see the Modern Estonian Knowledge Transfer Organization for You (MEKTORY).  This was part of their school that is dedicated to working as a startup lab, but also is a place for students to study and innovate in the field of engineering.  We learned some great facts like they have rooms for engineers (that is open and free to all, just bring your own materials and use the equipment), access to over 20 3D printers, and they are even setting up a virtual reality area that will make it easier for students to learn how to operate the equipment throughout the facilities.  We saw that they have a woodshop area that children as young as 6 years old come to learn how to use the equipment.  This was an eye-opening experience because there are no opportunities like this in the United States.  In America, at age 6 we are not allowed anywhere near power equipment (whether it be a lack of resources, or fear or lawsuits), and it has allowed countries like Estonia to surpass us when it comes to educating their youth from an early age on practical matters for the future.  


The Woodworking room, one of many open labs (Metal, VR, electronic, and more)


A photo of the previously mentioned 3D Printing Lab

Overall, we were impressed with this infrastructure of Estonia.  We were not expecting them to be this technologically advanced and we feel as though a big part of this is due to their ability to listen to the wants and needs of their citizens and give them practical and effective long-term solutions.  


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