Irene Käosaar: “I want to bring the foundation closer to people”
Is it easier to leave Estonia than it is to come back to it?

Organiser of Estonian language courses for teachers from Ida-Viru County announced
Want to voice your opinion? Come to the Opinion Festival!
Come to a conference in Pärnu
Young foreign Estonians are upgrading their Estonian in Viljandi County, the youth of Ida-Viru County in Võru County

Irene Käosaar: “I want to bring the foundation closer to people”

The supervisory board of the Integration Foundation has elected as its new chairperson Irene Käosaar, who will continue in her role as the head of the General Education Department of the Ministry of Education and Research until the end of August. Agnes Aaslaid met with Irene to find out what approach she will be taking to her new role.

The supervisory board is signing a three-year contract with you. What will you want to have achieved by 2020 to be able to look back and say you’re happy with what you’ve done?
The board’s expecting big changes from me – they really want me to think outside the box. I hope the foundation’s a little more visible and a little closer to people in three years’ time. I’d also like it to be playing more of a role in shaping society and influencing how people think. Procurements and competitions will continue, of course, but I’d like to reduce the amount of bureaucracy that comes with them if I can – so that people can focus more on the content and on talking to our partners and less on paperwork and reporting. I’ve also been charged with the task of moving the foundation to Narva and ensuring that a good team gets set up there. The pace over the next three years is likely to be pretty relentless!

Your first day in the job will be 1 September. Where do you plan to start?
I’m hoping to spend the first few months talking to everyone in the foundation as well as to representatives of all of the networks and target groups we work with. I want to get as clear a picture as possible of how things are at the moment and some ideas on where and how to move forward.

What do you think is the most positive thing about the foundation at present that you could continue with in the same spirit?
To my mind the people who work here really have a sense of mission, and they do what they do from the heart. People have really taken to the counselling service, cooperation with national minority cultural associations is very effective and the media education projects are really important. I don’t doubt there are lots more positives, but I haven’t had the time to delve into everything yet!

There have been some major shifts in society in the last 20 years, and the foundation’s played its part in that. I don’t agree at all that the integration process has failed. It’s not a process that can be rushed, after all, since it depends on a whole lot of factors in society.

You worked for the foundation from 1999-2007 as well. What do you remember most vividly about that time?
Back then we really did think we could engineer change in society. The atmosphere that we worked in then is something I want to bring back. I’m convinced you can work miracles by generating a positive atmosphere and motivating people. If your team members feel important and valued, they’re happier, more creative and more adventurous.

You travel a lot. Which of the four corners of the earth are you most drawn to?
Travelling around post-Soviet countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine always warms the cockles of my heart. The most recent place I’ve been to is Zaporizhia in Ukraine, where I provided some training to people from the universities there. I’m amazed at how eager they are to learn. Looking from the outside in, you get to see that Estonia’s done pretty well for itself.


Is it easier to leave Estonia than it is to come back to it?

Those who have returned to Estonia say that whereas it was easy to leave the country, coming back to it was much more complicated. Sometimes they even feel as though their return isn’t welcomed. However, I can confirm that the state welcomes everyone who decides to return and offers its assistance for them doing so.

The Integration Foundation advises those looking to return to Estonia and also provides support to ease the cost of returning (
Applications for this support can be lodged by anyone with Estonian citizenship or ethnic Estonians with an Estonian residence permit who:

  • in general emigrated from Estonia at least 10 years ago or were born in another country;
  • and require support to return to Estonia due to their financial or social status.

Anyone below the age of 30 who has acquired both a Master’s degree and a doctorate abroad does not need to have lived in another country for at least 10 years.

Sometimes returning to your country can prove harder than setting out into the world. When you come back you have to start looking for work again, find yourself somewhere to live, wrangle places for your kids in kindergartens and schools and get yourself a GP. This might all go smoothly, but it can just as easily turn out to be very complicated. Each comes with its own rules and deadlines. Problems arise when important things fail to get done within the timeframe given and services designed for those living in Estonia remain unavailable when needed.

Where do such problems start?

The main reason most obstacles crop up is failing to register yourself and your address in the Population Register. Where you live forms the basis of the provision of services. That’s why you should check (and, if necessary, update) whether you’re registered as living in Estonia and in the local government area where you want to make use of services like kindergartens, schools and public transport.

Another potential stumbling block is health insurance and GP services. Here, too, it’s important that your name’s in the Population Register, but it’s even more important to remember that getting your name added to a doctor’s list takes time and that this is something you should deal with as soon as you return, not leaving it until you or someone in your family needs to see a GP.

Coming back involves quite a bit of paperwork, and for the most part seems more complicated than leaving. Whereas most people who leave the country do so on their own with nothing but a backpack, many return with family in tow – and as such have less freedom of choice. Finding a suitable kindergarten or school often takes quite a bit of time. This in turn affects where you choose to work and simple everyday logistics. And if the person coming back to the country is a single parent, their choices are even more complicated. Those returning to rural areas have to try even harder to find work or even start working in a different county to the one they’re living in. You have to make compromises you weren’t counting on.

The happiest families are those who have friends and other family members to support them in their day-to-day lives. As a counsellor I’ve seen just how positive an influence a social network can have on people coming back to the country.

Kätlin Kõverik, Senior Adviser, Integration Foundation
E-mail: [email protected]


Organiser of Estonian language courses for teachers from Ida-Viru County announced

A public procurement which came to an end in July has seen the right to organise Estonian language courses for teachers from Ida-Viru County once again awarded to OÜ Algus, which has been organising such courses for the last two years.

Jana Tondi, the head of language and cultural immersion with the Integration Foundation, says the goal was to find an enthusiastic training company to teach Estonian to 200 teachers from the county. “Their job now is to motivate the teachers not only to learn, but also to sit the state exam, which everyone on the courses is required to take,” she explained.

The training, which is being provided to teachers from pre-school institutions and general education schools throughout Ida-Viru County, will be held in Narva, Sillamäe, Kohtla-Järve and Jõhvi. Each course will last for 200 academic hours – 40 more than the courses held in the last two years.

The training will commence in September and end in May next year. All of those taking part will be required to take the state exam at either the B2 or C1 level at the end of the course.

Last year the Integration Foundation offered Estonian language courses to 210 teachers from Ida-Viru County, 194 of whom completed them. 155 of the participants went on to take the state exam, with 28 passing.

OÜ Algus CEO Diana Luptova says the results of the exams showed that many of the participants were just a few points away from passing. “The aim is to give these teachers the courage they need to communicate in Estonian and the opportunity to take part in national conferences, and not to feel left out,” she said. “Skills don’t improve overnight – it’s a much longer process.”

Estonian language training for teachers from Ida-Viru County is financed to the value of €120,000 by the Ministry of Education and Research via the state budget.

For further information please contact:

Jana Tondi, Head of Language and Cultural Immersion

E-mail: [email protected]



Want to voice your opinion? Come to the Opinion Festival!

The Ministry of Culture invites everyone interested to come along to the Opinion Festival to listen and contribute to a discussion seminar on culturally diverse workplaces and their impact on Estonian society. The festival will be taking place in Paide on 11 & 12 August.

The discussion seminar (in English) will take place on 12 August at 11:30-13:00 at the education area.

Diversity in the Estonian workplace and society: the good, the bad and the ugly – Find out more:   
FB event here:

Leading the discussion will be Austrian Embassy Consul and Deputy Head of Mission Cornelia Godfrey. Also speaking will be Dennis Ulrik Kristensen from the yarn-dyeing factory AS Sindi Lanka.


Come to a conference in Pärnu

The Integration Foundation is inviting you to a conference “Multiculturalism – threat, opportunity, value?” taking place on 19 September 2017 in the Strand Spa and Conference Hotel (A. H. Tammsaare pst 35, Pärnu).

The presenters at the conference will create a picture of our cultural background and how it has changed through history and about external influences in different time periods.

The speakers include Marju Kõivupuu, Valdur Mikita, Katri Raik, Urmas Vaino and many others.

We are expecting heads of local self-governments, employees of the social sphere, educational staff (both heads as well as teachers), employees of the cultural field, health promoters, support persons, youth workers, and community work representatives to participate in the event.

Registration is open until 10 August 2017 or until the maximum number of attendees is reached. Register here (

Participation is free of charge. The conference is in Estonian.

The partner of the conference is the University of Tartu. The event is supported by the Pärnu County Government and financed by the Ministry of Culture.

Conference programme:
Registration form:


Young foreign Estonians are upgrading their Estonian in Viljandi County, the youth of Ida-Viru County in Võru County

If you wish to improve your Estonian skills, go to Viljandi or Võru County. Both counties have proven themselves great communities for learning Estonian.

The culture and language camp for young foreign Estonians organised by the Integration Foundation brought, in total, 66 young people from 24 countries in three shifts to Venevere Holiday Village. Currently the third camp for young people who speak Estonian fluently is underway.

The youth of Ida-Viru County practice their Estonian as part of family stays in Võru County. The first shifts were in June and July. The families will rest in August and continue with renewed energy in the autumn. Those undertaking family studies in September and October will have to attend school during the day and a hobby group during the evening. A family studies shift lasts for ten days, during which the students are hosted by families and several common events take place.

Most of the students are from Narva Language Lyceum, the principle of which Nadežda Tšerkašina is a passionate supporter of family studies. She says that the language skills of the students improve significantly. In addition, there are young people from Kohta-Järve City Centre Basic School, Kohta-Järve Ahtme Secondary School and elsewhere. The total number of participants is 120.

According to Maivi Liiskman, the project manager of MTÜ Volonta that organises the family studies, the youth blend in quickly and are interested in one another’s activities.

Pille Kulberg, the project manager of the other non-profit organisation (MTÜ Veeda) that organises family studies in Võru County, says that the youth are a bit shy on the first day, but the ice starts to melt as early as the second day. Many of the youth have participated several times. “I have been connected to family studies since 1998, but I cannot remember any young people who behaved badly. Students like this kind of language learning format and one of the family members is always a teacher. Teaching skills are useful for this project.”

The language and culture camps are organised for young people with Estonian roots as part of the ‘Countrymen programme 2014-2020’. They are run with the support of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education and Research.

The organisation of Estonian language and culture studies in families is financed from the state budget by the Ministry of Culture.

Further information:
Jana Tondi, Head of language and cultural immersion, 
e-mail: [email protected]