July 2, 2009
Today was a rather busy day. I’m not even sure I would have survived if I’d attended the whole thing (well, I probably could have but I would be REALLY tired). Anyway, we started off with a lecture at 10am about eGovernment in Estonia and how all that works, which lasted for about 2 hours (a half hour longer than planned). Then after lunch we had a 4 HOUR LECTURE on Russion Foreign Policy. Surprisingly it turned out to be pretty interesting however, after the first 2 hours my friend Brittany felt really sick (she thinks from dehydration) so I walked with her back to the dorms since it was pretty far. We also missed a city tour that immediately followed the lecture which turned out to be 5 hours from what I heard. I guess I can’t say I’m terribly sorry I missed it. Well, the tour would have been kind of nice.
But no worries, I’m sure I’ll attend everything else there is. Thank goodness we won’t have any more crazily scheduled days like today. Anyway, I should probably explain the whole e-government thing that Estonia has going on. Basically, Estonia does everything with the Internet. This year, 90% of the population filed tax declarations online (called edeclarations). I thought that was pretty amazing. Not to mention everyone does online banking (entirely online), the government has gone paperless, everyone gets a smart-chip ID card with ALL of your info on it, and they even have e-voting. So far all of it is working out beautifully and they haven’t had nearly as much trouble as you would think with identity theft and things like that. I think one of the major reasons people are so involved with this process is that the internet is very very accessible here and free in places like restaurants, hotels, airports, and libraries. Plus there’s something like 700 public internet access points which I believe are also free. I think it would be great to have the internet more accessible to the general population in the US. I realize that children can get it at schools but there are so many other places that it would be great for if it were free. I couldn’t believe I had to pay for internet at the airport in Detroit…I’m pretty sure it wasn’t like that a year ago. Of course I didn’t pay for it though; why should I have to pay so much for internet in a public space that I’m only going to be at for a few hours?
So far at this point in the trip, it seems to me that Estonia’s got some really good ideas about things even though they haven’t been independent for very long. I really wish the US could get more inspired by other countries to change some stuff. There are great ideas in the world and the US does not always have the best ones. When will we accept a little humility and see that there are other ways to do things that might just be better?
Other than those lectures, we had a group dinner and I've also gotten to know my group members a bit more. It's an interesting mix of typical tech students except lots of girls and only two guys but we're all pretty nerdy. There's even already been a late night, highly witty discussion of various pieces of literature (which included but was not limited to Twilight, Stephen King, C.S. Lewis's works other than Narnia, and R.L. Stine). It's been entertaining. Thankfully we all get along pretty well.