I am a Canadian.
More specifically, I'm an African-born Bangladeshi-Canadian who has lived/worked in over 20 different countries in the last few years. I'm also dark-skinned, have a pretty dope beard and a middle name of "Ahmed", which is relevant only because we're discussing Europe.
Somehow, some way, after 25 years I found myself in a tiny, frigid country in north-eastern Europe called Estonia. And I fell in love.
I won't go on some long-winded diatribe on why this tiny country of hilariously introverted weirdos unlocked my soul and made me a man . Instead, I'll just tell you why I freaking love this place.
1. They're beautifully weird, and weirdly beautiful
Estonia is just... strange. They've had such a turbulent history, particularly recently (nearly 10% of the population was killed in WW2, and that was just the start of an overall horrible half-century), that you'd think they lack a strong historic or cultural identity.
And yet they have one, and a strong one at that - the Estonians have an extremely unique character trait of what I would call "self-deprecating pride". They'll poke endless fun at themselves but god damnit, they're proud of their refusal to stand within 5 feet of anyone else. They're also immensely proud of their technological advances and appreciation/conservation of their nature, and revel in enjoying it's every detail (I've had friends invite me to drive 3 hours to look at a rock. A rock, dear reader.)
Oh, they also happen to be the most beautiful people on Earth. Seriously, they produce the highest number of models per capita. I'm not saying this to be superficial. Well, actually, I am. Jeez they're good looking.
2. They're extraordinarily entrepreneurial
Estonia is the 132nd smallest country in the world by land mass. Its biggest city ("metropolis") would pass for a town in most countries. And yet, it churns out the highest number of startups per capita in Europe, and has spun out some top companies including Skype, Hotmail, Transferwise, Pipedrive, Toggl, Kazaa, etc. Damn near everyone I know there is working on something. They're the pioneer of e-residency and are the most digital country on Earth. The national average for filing taxes is 3 minutes. 3 minutes. It takes me that long to email my accountant asking her why I'm broke.
What is it about this tiny country that makes it so innovative? It's hard to say - the most common local theory is that it's so cold and dark they have nothing else to do but work. Whatever it is, it's allowed them to come from rationing food 25 years ago to being one of the most digitally advanced societies on the planet.
3. Its climate is unrelenting
As a Canadian, I've experienced brutal ice storms and frigid winters. As a Bangladeshi, I've experienced stifling heat and mosquito bites more painful than flu shots.
But Estonia, well... Estonia is something else. Have you ever walked out of the office at 3pm to complete darkness and a freezing blizzard?
It takes character to survive an Estonian winter. Learning how to laugh and be happy while seeing the sun about twice a month takes a resolve and appreciation of the finer things. The weather really makes the Estonians - a character of humility and "pessimistic optimism" is one that only comes from centuries of being in an abusive, emotionally-distant relationship with vitamin D.
4. They're just good people
Of all the people I've met on Earth, Estonians are the ones who really make the most out of life. They enjoy spending time in nature, traveling the world, summer weeknights with their family. They're humble, despite being some of the most interesting people you've ever met. Every bar or coffee shop you walk into shows an originality I haven't seen anywhere else. They're progressive and extremely well educated (Estonia has the 2nd highest literacy rate in the world).
When I came to Estonia, I didn't know what to expect. If anything I was prepared for a negative experience (eastern Europe doesn't have the greatest record of race relations). Instead, what I found was some of the most fun & welcoming people I've ever met. The rich mix of nature (50% of the country), history (for instance, the most well-preserved medieval old town in the world) and technology, is one I haven't seen anywhere else in the world.
Ask any Estonian, and they'll say that Estonians are unfriendly & unwelcoming people. Nothing could be further from the truth. The beauty of the Estonians really is that they don't know how great they really are - they're like an adorable, homely alien race that are frustrated with themselves because god dangit if only they could be a bit nicer. Indeed, if the rest of the world were as humble and self-critical as the Estonians, maybe our planet wouldn't be on a one-way rocketship straight to hell.
Also, they do a ton of really weird shit. Like.