One truly adventurous and inspirational walk

Anna, a student at the University of Tartu, posing with a sculpture of Juri Lotman.
Image credit: private collection

My name is Ana Marić and I am a first year MA student of semiotics at the University of Tartu.

I participated and won some valuable prizes in the autumn orienteering walk dedicated to Juri Lotman, which was organized by the Department of Semiotics and the University of Tartu.

My quest to find all 20 checkpoints which were scattered throughout the city was quite an adventure, actually.

First of all, the map wasn’t that clear, so I had to guess and improvise the potential places in the city where those checkpoints could have been; with some help from Lady Luck, my improvisation turned out to be successful.

Some checkpoints were quite easy to find, like the ones around the University Main Building and the city center, but some were almost impossible to find and I almost gave up. However, my mind kept telling me: You have a goal; don’t be a crybaby, just work very hard and you will accomplish.

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Talis Tobreluts: Regular immersion in cold water wards off stress and has positive effects on health

University of Tartu alumni Talis Tobreluts.

Even though I now work as a personal trainer and lifestyle coach, I have spent most of my life sitting at school or behind an office desk and experienced all the possible downsides of this lifestyle. It has resulted in a variety of health problems, including quite a significant weight gain. In summer 2019, after another viral infection accompanied by an acutely sore throat and runny nose, I decided – enough of this! I have coped with everything in my life, so why I have to suffer now such regular discomfort!

Winter swimming keeps the body and mind healthy

I was advised to start taking cold showers to boost immunity. Well, it didn’t feel at all good to have a weak stream of cold water running down my body! This was not a solution! I had to find a new one and followed the logic that if a weak water stream is not the answer, a full body immersion in cold water must be!

This is what happened and since August I started swimming in all kinds of places – bog lakes, rivers, seas. And I have done it regularly for over two years now, at least 2–3 times a week. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, hailing, snowing, or if it’s +30 or -15 degrees outside – I am always in the water. And I haven’t had a cold since!

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10 useful saving tips for students. How not to go broke as a student?

Image credit: Freepik

People often think that saving is only for high-income earners and that it is not possible to save at all as a student. This, in fact, is not true. As little as 10 euros a month is enough to start saving, and over the course of a year you can accumulate a perfectly respectable amount. The most important thing about saving is consistency – getting into the habit of putting money aside every month.

Now you might say, “But I can’t afford to save!” In that case, ask yourself if there is a way you can spend 10% more wisely. We know that managing your finances as a student can be quite a challenge, so here are ten tips on how to do that.

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Recreating history: time travelling with virtual reality

Stone Bridge and Tartu 1913.
Let’s make history come alive – Stone Bridge and Tartu 1913. Image credit: BLUERAY


First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Egle Rääsk, and I have studied history and most recently entrepreneurship and technology management at the University of Tartu. My master’s thesis focused on the Virtual Reality (VR) user experience of the historical tourist attraction. From the topic of my thesis grew our family company, BLUERAY, which is also a spin-off company of the University of Tartu and a member of Estonian Virtual and Augmented Reality Association. We visualize history and offer virtual time travels.

VR Toila 1938
VR Toila 1938. Image credit: BLUERAY
BLUERAY team at the “Ida-Viru’s best new adventure for families 2022" award ceremony.
BLUERAY won the “Ida-Viru’s best new adventure for families 2022” prize with the adventurous time travel “VR Toila 1938” and it`s special program. Image credit: Mari Makarov
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How do different ethnic groups move? Studies based on mobile phone data

The settlement processes of different social and ethnic groups is a very relevant area of research in contemporary multicultural society. Starting from the Chicago School of Sociology in the early twentieth century, segregation scholars have put a lot of effort into understanding segregation processes based on the spatial distribution of people’s places of residence.

Residential segregation can be the outcome of various causal factors, such as socio-economic differences, preferences, social networks, life experiences, and different policies. However, along with new data collection methods and analysis techniques, it is possible to analyse also other activity sites of human behaviour.

The notion of activity space includes a diverse set of human activity sites where people of different background can meet and interact with each other, such as place of residence, but also workplace, school, leisure time, and commuting. The importance of considering the full range of human activities is important to better understand the underlying mechanisms of the process and to seek answers to the questions as to why segregation processes are so persistent in time and how the vicious circle of segregation can be broken.  

With anonymous mobile phone data, it is possible to cover the full range of human activities, which was not possible solely using census and registry data. Mobile phone data enables researchers to understand the spatio-temporal dimension of human activities for different social groups.

Our research has shown that the Estonian- and Russian-speaking populations are distributed in Tallinn more evenly during the daytime, but more unevenly during the evening and nighttime. During special occasions such as holidays, spatial segregation tends to increase. The studies conducted with Tallinn inhabitants show that when leaving the capital city, Russian and Estonian speakers tend to visit different municipalities and districts, which are related to their social networks. Russian speakers pay more visits to East Estonia, but their activity space range is smaller when compared with Estonian speakers.

These differences, in fact, occur across all age groups and are more pronounced in younger age groups. The combination of traditional (census, registries) and new datasets (mobile phone) facilitates more precise knowledge that is important for scholars but also for policy-makers.

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Mapping the value of Estonian nature with social media

Social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., have been with us for many years. As a result, they have accumulated a wealth of data on billions of people’s whereabouts and life events worldwide. After the famous Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook and Instagram restricted access to their data for external researchers. Fortunately, some social media sites, such as the photo-hosting Flickr, still allow researchers to analyse anonymised data stored by their owners in open access. As Flickr is designed for sharing pictures, it has become especially noticeable in urban studies and visual landscape research.

Common touristic data (such as overnight hotel stays) provide some insights into the number of tourists in Estonia, but they hardly capture the quality of their nature and city experiences. Moreover, traditional surveying rarely concerns local citizens. By mapping various aspects of landscape experiences – for example, taking evening or daylight landscape photographs – we get evidence of people’s values, preferences, and even unexpressed concerns related to city life and nature. As a result, social media data recognises problems in city governance, tourism policy, and protection of nature, which should be addressed to achieve a better quality of life for us and future generations.

If you would like to contribute to social media research conducted at the University of Tartu, we encourage you to share descriptions or photos of your experiences in Estonia and abroad via your favourite social media with the hashtags #mycityexperience and #mylandscapeexperience.

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Sergei Põlme: critical thinking helps survive in the digital jungle

I studied biology at the University of Tartu, first focusing more closely on the study of fish and later, fungi. Currently I am involved in research studies describing the biodiversity and regularities of fungi and also microbes. Biology does not have all the answers, but it is a prism that helps me better understand what is going on both in nature and with humans. In a very short time compared to the duration of evolution, essentially just over the last generation, we have become buried under an exponentially growing flood of information. However, all fast and great changes involve adaptation difficulties.

From jungle to the digital jungle

Screens of different forms are taking up an ever-increasing portion of our time and attention. Both the computer and the smartphone may be effective tools but they also open up an ocean of information in which everyone is fighting for our attention. The Homo sapiens has spent most of its evolutionary history living in small communities, where the accepted information was not only different in its amount but also in character: natural landmarks and footprints did not compete for our attention; hunters-gatherers had to be skilful to notice details that were necessary to make adequate decisions. Now the situation has turned 180 degrees – in the jungle of the web, each custom-designed title, banner, comment and thumbnail competes for an opportunity to plant their narrative into as many brains as possible. So it is no wonder that the fledgling Homo digitalis may get lost in the digital jungle more easily than the Homo sapiens in the real jungle. While for the Homo sapiens, the price of an error was empty stomach or danger to life, the Homo digitalis just risks a head full of rubbish, mental disorders and social division caused by polarisation. It is true that the most striking cases may also pose a threat to life and health.

A group of Homo sapiens in the jungle in the French Guiana in 2006 (private collection).

Science and critical thinking

Those trying to find their way in the digital jungle may find critical thinking extremely helpful. Critical thinking has the same core features as the principles of simple scientific methodology. In this respect, it is hard to overestimate the role of the University of Tartu in my personal development story. The result is not just a black-and-white view of the world where all information is placed on a scale of verifiability, but a perception of my own subjectivity. Thereby it becomes clearer that subjectivity is one of the main human characteristics. I dare say that most narratives that people have and most memes that they spread describe just small fragments of reality, and describe it either incompletely or do not desribe it at all. On the contrary, the success of memes can be estimated according to their rate and range of circulation, and not whether they have anything to do with reality. What matters is that the meme speaks to the recipient.

At its most simplified, science can be defined as a discipline that applies methods to minimise subjectivity when describing reality.

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