From Latvia to California to Estonia — a Jobbatical story for the ages
Originally published at jobbatical.com on February 13, 2017, this story was written by Jobbatical’s head of talent, the wonderful Alina Basina, who joined our team in Estonia for a year.
If you’d asked me one year and 4 months ago whether I would consider a job offer in Estonia, I would have laughed. But thanks to Jobbatical, I have been living in Estonia for almost exactly a year now, and the experience has challenged and changed me in the best of ways.
Allow me to explain…
In late 1994, my family and I immigrated to California from the formerly Soviet-occupied country of Latvia. I was raised in a Communist society and also got to see the post-occupation freedom that caused chaos for many in the three Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) who suddenly had no passport to their name. We immigrated because my parents saw an opportunity for a better life for their kids, but we also immigrated because we were cultural and religious Jewish refugees. We were lucky enough to be welcomed into a new country with open arms and lots of support from local communities.
For the past 22 years, I have enjoyed a beautiful and sunny life in California while becoming a US citizen at the age of 18. I have had an opportunity to get a good education and work at some of the most fun companies that Silicon Valley has to offer. But what I craved the most after 10 years of working in the Bay Area was the experience of working abroad, living and embracing a completely different culture. I remember dreaming of working in London or Paris in my 20s, but every time I tried to transfer or apply for a job abroad something always got in the way.
So after taking a year-long sabbatical around the world, I decided that I wasn’t ready to come back to the Bay Area full-time. As stars tend to align, an Estonian friend of mine mentioned Jobbatical at a random tech meet-up in SF in 2015. That same day, I browsed the site and thought, “WOW, job opportunities abroad with companies who are willing and ready to help you relocate and assist with immigration? WHAT? AM I BEING PUNKED?” I read up on Jobbatical and the 3 founders and decided to reach out through the support portal just to say that they were doing a great job and if they ever needed help, I would be up for it. The very next day, I heard from the founder and CEO, Karoli Hindriks, who was ready to interview me for a job at Jobbatical. Three video interviews later, I was offered a job in Estonia with residency sponsorship in this tiny Northern European country.
MIND BLOWN, STOMACH DROPS TO MY FEET, SPEECHLESS.
So it wasn’t Paris or London, but I knew I wanted it. I also knew, however, that I didn’t want to go back to my roots of living in the Baltics, leaving my family behind, and wondering if I would still face the anti-Semitism that my family experienced 22 years ago. First, I told my boyfriend about the job and he was more than supportive. Then came the task of telling my parents, who immediately thought I was nuts. I get it. To some extent they likely felt betrayed that I would go back to the place that they rescued us from. Their disappointment was obvious. And well, being the stubborn child that I am, I was up for proving them and ultimately myself wrong. Challenge (and job) accepted!
On March 1, 2016, I arrived in Tallinn (the capital of Estonia with approximately 450,000 inhabitants, 60% of whom are Estonian and 35% Russian). Snow was on the ground and everything felt gray. My cynical side was sneaking up on me at every corner. As if I hadn’t questioned my decision enough before leaving California, I was feeling anxious and wondering if I had totally messed up and if my parents were right. I would walk by cafes and in a stalker/jealous way, stare into the window and see groups of friends sitting together, brunching, laughing. I wondered if I would ever form this kind of closeness in a culture that is known to be reserved and distant.
Well, let me try to summarize my year abroad . . .
Week 1: My taste buds quickly remembered my favorite childhood treats…
Week 2: My boss and founder of Jobbatical bought me a cake to celebrate my birthday — because she knows I like a birthday parade and she gets that I miss home…
Week 3: Estonian cooking night at my Airbnb!
Week 4: I found my lovely permanent apartment for the year.
Week 5: I got to meet the President of Estonia — WHAT? That happens?
Week 12: We got cozy in Jobbatical’s beautiful new office!
Week 13: I explored Estonia by car. OK, so this happened more than once because IT’S SO-SO PRETTY!
Week 14: I traveled to Pärnu — a cute beachfront town where our founders are from
Week 15: We bought the same delicious cake for Karoli’s birthday and surprised her at the airport! Yes, we like cake — it’s a common theme at our office.
Week 16: We went to Muhu Island for some much-needed team bonding and learning!
Week 18: Exploring Saaremaa, Estonia’s biggest island, with my gal pals!
Week 19: We ate a lot because that’s what we do!
Week 20: I got to see my childhood friend that I hadn’t seen in 22 years in Riga, Latvia.
Week 22: Book club! Also known as wine and food club. Let’s not kid anyone.
Week 24: Another fun conference in Berlin and I got to see my college friend!
Week 25: My friend from NY visited and I got to share the beauty of Estonia with her!
Week 26: My friend from SF visited me and the Baltic countries!
Week 28: I traveled back to SF with one of the founders so he could dress up like a chicken. #dontbeachicken #takeajobbatical
Week 30: I went to Paris to speak at Disrupt HR
Week 32: We welcomed fall!
Week 34: I welcomed Ahmed, our developer from Egypt, to Estonia
Week 36: We are a rowdy partying bunch!
Week 37: I traveled to NY to work from our investor’s office
Week 39: I hung out with our office dog because I missed mine — yes, there were tough days while on a jobbatical, that’s normal.
Week 40: Christmas market in Tallinn’s Town Hall Square!
Week 41: A holiday party at Kau Manor
Week 42: More Saaremaa before I leave, please!
Week 44: I celebrate the New Year with a few of my favorite people!
Week 46: A quick trip to Lithuania for another cool speaking opportunity
Week 50: I’m taking my time to explore my second home and take it all in one more time before leaving
This week is my last week in Estonia, and almost exactly one year from my arrival here, I am feeling extremely torn, because I have really grown to love it here. I have built friendships that will stay in my heart forever and I will seriously miss it. In one year, I formed relationships with people from 10 different countries, I have been challenged personally and professionally, I have been given full trust, I have experienced four beautiful and distinct seasons and I learned that I can be ok in ANY environment. I had the opportunity to travel around 9 different countries, speak at conferences and even record my first podcast. But more importantly, I helped build a team of really beautiful people from Estonia, Italy, the U.S., Egypt, India, Ukraine, UK, Hong Kong and Brazil — to name a few. When I sit around the conference room table with these people, I feel overwhelmingly inspired and challenged.
So, what’s next? The beauty of Jobbatical is that we really try to encourage honest and open communication between the employer and employee. Because I promised my family that I would be back in a year, I am going back to California, but I will continue to work for Jobbatical and will try to return to my home away from home as often as possible. To Estonia, Jobbatical, and the 24+ unique relationships that I have built, this is not a goodbye.
To anyone contemplating taking a jobbatical — no matter your age, your passport, your gender, your race or your family situation — Jobbatical will do whatever it takes to make your dreams come true, because we truly do think beyond borders despite our current political climate.
If I was to ask my 90-year-old self how I did in my lifetime, I’m pretty certain she’d say, “I’m so glad you went on your first Jobbatical 55 years ago”. And let me say this in the tiniest font so my parents don’t see it — yes, I would even consider moving to Estonia, because THAT’S how great my experience has been.
To everyone I met on my journey — from my co-workers who have become my friends and confidants, to my hair stylist, to the wait staff at my favorite restaurants, and the sweet cranky old ladies at grocery stores — I thank you for enriching my life.
Every jobbaticler’s story is super special, but I do believe mine takes the cake!
While we’ll miss Alina’s presence in our Tallinn office, we’ve learned that remote work doesn’t have to get in the way of close relationships. See you soon, Miss HR with the great hair!