Estonian Wildlife Headliners

With the awakening of nature, representatives of Estonian wildlife are reaching local and international media headlines.

Deers in Matsalu

Deers in Matsalu. Photo by Toomas Tuul.

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How Russia and Estonia Remember WWII?

Alexandra Yatsyk is the Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies of Post-Socialism at Kazan Federal University in Russia and a former guest fellow at the Institute of Government and Politics, University of Tartu (Aurora and Estophilus programmes).

Victory day banner

St. George ribbon on the Victory Day banner in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Image credit: Marco Fleber / Flickr Creative Commons.

This year the world celebrates the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the bloodiest in the history of mankind. 1  Russia attaches particular importance to this event – around RUB 7 billion is expected to be spent for its commemoration, with the largest chunk of the budget allocated for mass media coverage and advertising. Such generosity against the backdrop of the current economic crisis testifies of the extraordinary salience of Victory Day to the Russian elite. In fact, symbolically the mega-project entitled ‘The Great Patriotic War’ becomes key to on-going Russian nation building.

Yet the high symbolism of 9 May is accompanied by the shrinking public space for debates about the war, with alternative interpretations being emasculated, marginalized, or simply prohibited along the lines of the well-known totalitarian practices. Archive materials are kept classified, human rights NGOs – such as “Memorial” – are declared detrimental to national interests, and monuments attesting to crimes committed by the state against its citizens during the Stalinist repressions vanish from the public gaze.

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  1. Update from 9 May, 2015: In the initial version of the post, it was misleadingly stated that the world celebrates this anniversary on 9 May.
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English in Estonia: The Country’s Future Lingua Franca?

Josep Soler-Carbonell is a research fellow at the Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics of the University of Tartu and a lecturer at Stockholm University.

Like many foreigners in Estonia, my first memories in this country are full of language-related anecdotes. Back in the summer of 2005, when I first set foot in the country, I remember that I ordered a beer at Tallinn’s Raekoja Plats by saying, “Pivo, pozhalujsta”, trying to brush up the little bit of Russian I had proudly learned a couple of years before that.

Maybe not the smartest choice to order a drink, I admit. The bar attendant did not look so happy about my attempt, and she replied somewhat angrily, saying: “We also speak English in this country”. Indeed, it was quite apparent that I was a foreigner, and the fact that I tried to use Russian with her, not her language either, did not seem to match the expectations of what was appropriate in that context.

English, as we know, is probably the world’s first second language, and over the past half-century or so it has made important inroads into areas and contexts hardly ever present before. In that sense, Estonia has not remained immune to this phenomenon, and for foreigners like me, English is the resource that allows us to get by over the first few months, maybe years, in the country, before we manage to learn some decent Estonian, and past the survival skills stage of “pilet Tartu kell kaheksa, palun”.

But what about the local population? How is English perceived by Estonians and Russian-speakers in the country? Is it a language that is appreciated or feared? And, most interestingly, can English actually evolve into the country’s lingua franca, a language of inter-ethnic communication?

"Greening Lasnamäe" project

Organisers of the “Greening Lasnamäe” project used bilingual signs to appeal to both the Estonian and Russian population. Photo by Carl-Johan Sveningsson / Flickr Creative Commons

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Kaari Simson at Playtech: What It Takes To Be a Great Leader?

UT Career Cafe with Kaari Simson

Career Cafe with director of Playtech Estonia Kaari Simson. Image credit: TÄFF.

Kaari Simson is a natural born leader — she recalls organising her peers already in kindergarten when she was four. At the age of fifteen, Kaari, a promising sports talent,  moved to train in Sweden. That year she realised that professional sports were not her cup of tea, but more importantly, after being enrolled in a Swedish school with zero language skills and becoming proficient in Swedish in just two months, she knew that the sky was her limit.

Kaari’s career path is far from anything typical or obvious. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science (2002) and master’s in conference interpretation (2005), both from the University of Tartu. Her master’s project was an English-Estonian-English Explanatory Glossary of Yoga Philosophy Terms with Sanskrit Equivalents. Six years later, Kaari Simson became the Director of Playtech Estonia, the world’s largest supplier of online gaming software.

Big fans of the investing game Cashflow, Kaari and her husband have been putting aside a substantial part of their income, investing and reinvesting it for years. By now, they have achieved financial freedom and, technically speaking, don’t have to work for money to sustain themselves and their two kids any longer.

What motivates Kaari to work when she does not necessarily need more money? How can you learn to be a leader? Can introverts make good leaders? What are the challenges of being a female leader?

Watch the University of Tartu Career Cafe with Kaari Simson:

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How Do Estonian and American Students Differ?

Marika Seigel is a visiting associate professor in the UT Department of English Philology where she teaches courses in rhetoric. She is the author of “The Rhetoric of Pregnancy” and “Expecting: A Brief History of Pregnancy Advice,” both with the University of Chicago Press. See Marika’s personal blog.

Marika Seigel

Lecturing in the States. Photo by Matt Seigel.

By far, the question I am asked most frequently as a visiting professor at UT is, “how do you like teaching Estonian students?” or maybe, “How are Estonian students different from their American peers?”

My standard answers include, “I like teaching them quite a bit,” or “they’re not that different. Estonians are a bit quieter, maybe.”

The truth is a little bit more complicated, as it often tends to be. First of all, when I am talking about “American” students, I’m talking about students in a very particular university in a very particular part of a very large country. My home institution, Michigan Technological University, is a small school (about 7000 students) in a very remote area of northern Michigan (the state that is surrounded by the Great Lakes). Houghton, Michigan, is wild and remote, not what most people typically think of when you think of the U.S. It makes Tartu seem urban by comparison.

My students there, for the most part, are destined for careers in engineering and other technical fields, and are thus rather pragmatically career minded; they frequently want to know how learning rhetoric or writing or philosophy or literature will help them get a better job. Continue reading

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Should I Drink Tap Water or Bottled Water?

Artur Pata and Kristjan-Julius Laak

University of Tartu students Artur Pata and Kristjan-Julius Laak promote tap water drinking among students. As a part of this environmental project, drinking water taps that are convenient for refilling bottles (unlike the one in the photo) will be opened at the university library on 27 April. Photo by Andres Tennus

Sales of bottled water are soaring. By 2016, bottled water is expected to become the number one packaged drink in the world. Last year, the average Estonian consumed 45 litres of bottled water — significantly less than beer, but more than any soft drinks.

The big question is whether bottled water that costs up to 1000 times more than tap water is actually any better?

Astrid Saava, an emeritus professor at the University of Tartu Department of Public Health, makes a distinction between bottled drinking water, mineral water, and flavoured water which is rather a soft drink.

“There is no significant difference between bottled drinking water and tap water in Estonia, because both originate from underground water pumped through artesian wells”, says the professor. “It’s just that the bottled water costs 500 to 1000 times more”.

The taste of drinking water can somewhat differ based on where exactly and at what depth the water is pumped. Long storage in plastic bottles can also influence the taste, because over time some plastic particles may dissolve into the water. Continue reading

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Career Podcast: How Anna Manages Her Marketing Jobs

Anna Amelija SeleckaIt may or may not surprise you, but Anna Amelija Selecka, our third-year student of Business Administration from Latvia, has never properly applied for a job. Nevertheless, Anna works as a social media marketing manager at the Estonian startup Click & Grow, and manages a few side jobs with the online designer store Creative Latvia and the email marketing company Mailigen.

All of Anna’s jobs have come from knowing someone and showing what she had been doing in the past. As a genuine social media person who not only blogs and posts for her employers but also finds time for her personal blog and Instagram, Anna knows how important contacts are: “The more you interact with people, tell them what you are doing, the more things are gonna come your way”. Although not everyone is a social media kind of person, it is really useful for networking.

She heard about the opening at Click & Grow from another Latvian student, Arnis, who knew that Anna was doing social media. So, she got a chance at a job interview with the company’s owner, Mattias Lepp, and it obviously went well. What started as a summer internship developed into a full-time job.

Anna’s job title at Click & Grow refers to social media marketing, but as she says: “In a startup, you end up doing so many things”. She is also copywriting, working on newsletters and visual identity, and helping with whatever else is needed. This means constant change, no routine, and — what Anna values above all — learning something new every single day. She praises startups — her side jobs are also at startups — for the great teamwork and the sense of accomplishment. “In a startup, you see what other people are doing, so it is easier to figure out what you like to do most yourself and what you are talented in”. Continue reading

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