Top 10 Most-Read Stories from 2019

Did you have enough time to read last year? Are you planning to read more this year? In any case, we have compiled our ten most popular stories from 2019 so you can easily find something valuable to explore.

1. 30 Maps of Estonia in 30 Days

In late 2019, Evelyn Uuemaa, a geographer and Senior Researcher in Geoinformatics at the University of Tartu, accepted the challenge to make 30 maps in a row – one each day. She posted the maps on Twitter as a part of the #30DayMapChallenge. Evelyn used open data and open-source software to make the maps. See the story to see them all.

Geographer Evelyn Uuemaa compiled 30 maps of Estonia in 30 days. Image credit: Evelyn Uuemaa

2. An American in Tartu: Subtle differences between living in the US and Estonia

Martin Hayford, a master’s student in the EU—Russia Studies Programme at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, compares living in the US and Estonia. He looks at transport, the friendliness of people, and shopping opportunities. “Overall, what has surprised me the most about Estonia is how similar it is to the US,” concludes Martin.

3. The Pen

This is a short story that won the fifth place in the international students’ contest. The story happened in Karlova, Tartu:

So, I was sitting in front of this building, smoking, in Karlova, and there was this old guy approaching me, presumably drunk, humming while he walked.

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An American in Tartu: Subtle differences between living in the US and Estonia

Most students in the US don’t travel outside their state when pursuing a master’s degree—much less their country. So, whenever I tell someone what I am doing here in Tartu, I am bombarded with a litany of questions. Being that Estonia is outside the current geopolitical understanding of most Americans (compared to, say, the UK), I must deal with even some very fundamental questions: Where is Estonia? (South of Finland, north of Latvia and Lithuania, west of Russia.) Isn’t that part of Russia? (No.) What language do they speak? (Estonian.)

Estonia (Not Russia). Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

But even I—a supposedly informed American—had some questions before I arrived. How do people get around? How do I interact with strangers? Where can I buy [item]? These are more grounded, practical questions, but they are also questions that come up in everyday life. I’ve made a list detailing some of these differences and my thoughts on them.


Walking is the preferred method of transportation. I know that this could be more specific to Tartu, but even in Tallinn and some other European cities I’ve been to it holds true. Everyone knows that us Americans love our cars. The reality is that it’s not so much of a love affair as it is a hostage situation. Especially in the suburbs, every destination is simply too diffuse to get away with not having a car. Even with the help of a bike, oftentimes the distances remain infeasible (not to mention the lack of any sort of bicycle infrastructure).

But in Tartu, everything is within walking distance. Even places you think are outside of walking distance are within walking distance if you’re determined enough. The Police and Border Guard office down Riia is a common destination for students dealing with immigration documents and is oft cited as “out of walking range.” I’ll admit, I took a bus to get there. But I walked home, and it was lovely.

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30 Maps of Estonia in 30 Days

About a month ago, Evelyn Uuemaa, a geographer and Senior Researcher in Geoinformatics at the University of Tartu, accepted the challenge to make 30 maps in a row – one each day. She was posting the maps on Twitter as a part of the #30DayMapChallenge. Evelyn used open data and open-source software to make the maps. Please scroll to see them all. Clicking on a map opens a larger view.

So, here come the maps in the order that Evelyn Uuemaa posted them on Twitter.

1. One year of traffic accidents (2016) in Estonia

The map contains approximately 32,000 data points. Map credit: Evelyn Uuemaa
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The problem with Disney’s live-action remakes: Creating emotion with animation

Do Disney’s live-action remakes have the same life and magic as their older animated films? Illustration by Jason Mario Dydynski

Currently, a trip to the movies may make you feel as though you’ve gone back in time to the 1990s. Disney has been on a streak of recreating their classic animated movies into live-action remakes. Disney has been no stranger to live action remakes, including their 1996 adaptation of 101 Dalmatians and their 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland.

But, since 2014, starting with their remake of Sleeping Beauty: Maleficent, Disney has been churning out remake after remake. Their list of live-action remakes now includes titles such as Aladdin (2019), The Lion King (2019), and Dumbo (2019), with many more remakes in production including Mulan (2020) and The Little Mermaid (TBD).

Many of these live-action remakes have been incredibly successful, and have brought in billions of dollars for Disney. The Lion King (2019) has been projected to have already earned over $1.6 billion worldwide, surpassing its 1994 animated counterpart by $968.5 million. Capitalizing on this success, Disney has no signs of stopping and already has plans for at least ten known remakes for future release.

But these remakes have not been without their controversy. Many have considered these to be a cash grab banking on nostalgia, and  the reception of these films has been rather mixed as a whole. While many moviegoers have enjoyed these films, many of these films have received lower ratings from both the public and critics.

For example, the IMDB rating for The Lion King (1994) is highly proclaimed at a 8.5, while the 2019 counterpart is rated lower at a 7.1. Many are finding the live-action versions to lack a certain heart and energy, making for the movies to be less emotionally impactful. But what exactly makes these original versions have so much emotion, and what is the problem with Disney’s live-action remakes? Well, looking into a bit of animation theory and semiotic research can provide some answers to that.

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How do embryos talk?

We start speaking with our mother in uterus.

When did you start speaking? Conventional wisdom would suggest that it would be around the one-year old mark. The conventional wisdom could be off by quite a bit in this case. I believe that the first word of our lives was uttered even before we opened our eyes.

We have been talking since we were embryos. Yes, embryos do talk. The language is not well understood, and it is inaudible, but embryos do speak to their mothers even before implanting in the uterus. In fact, one big reason we are here is probably because we were such big talkers in utero.

Since the inception of in vitro fertilization in 1977, the rate of successful pregnancies has not increased beyond 50%. One of the biggest causes for the low success rate is the failure of the embryo to implant in the endometrium, the innermost lining layer of the uterus.

Scientists have been busy trying to come up with reasons for the low amount of implantation. One of the hypotheses trying to describe the phenomenon, posits that embryos and the endometrium communicate with each other and this communication, if successful, causes the endometrium to change chemically, physiologically and morphologically bringing about the “window of implantation” which leads to a successful implantation.

In the Transgeno research group led by the University of Tartu professor Alireza Fazeli, we are very much interested in baby talk, that is embryo-maternal communication.

Since it would be highly unethical to test any actual human embryos for embryo-maternal communication, we have used a malignant cell-line based system to replicate the microenvironment immediately prior to embryo implantation.

A scheme of embryo-maternal communication
This is an enlarged view of an embryo in the mother’s uterus. JAR cells were used to mimic the outermost cell layer of the embryo, while RL 95-2 cells were used to mimic the innermost lining layer of the uterus.
Image credit: Kasun Madhuranga Godakumara Godagedara
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The Pen

The story happened near to Kuu Street in Karlova, Tartu. Image credit: Inga Külmoja

So, I was sitting in front of this building, smoking, in Karlova, and there was this old guy approaching me, presumably drunk, humming while he walked.

As he reached me, he stopped in front of me and started saying a few things in Estonian. I let him know that I did not speak any Estonian, to which he changed to English immediately. He said that he had tobacco, papers and everything, but he needed a lighter.

Of course, mate, I told him. And as he started looking for some tobacco in his bag, he dropped his pen. I told him, mate, you dropped your pen.

– It’s my weapon, he said to my surprise. I’m a poet.

I had to say something. Really? I told him, that’s really cool.

– Everybody is a poet, he claimed this time.

Then he lit his cigarette, we exchanged good wishes, and he left.

Boy, Tartu is beautiful.

Murat Can Yüksel is a master’s student of semiotics at the University of Tartu. This story won fifth place in the international students’ contest.

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My Internship at the EU Delegation to Ukraine

Hello, my name is Pavlo Cherchatyi, and for the time being, I am doing an internship at the Press and Information Office of the EU Delegation to Ukraine. By reading this post you will find out how studying at the Democracy and Governance Master’s Programme helped me to pursue an internship at the EU Delegation.

What is my internship about?

Back in July, having successfully participated in the last stage of the internship competition and an interview, I was invited to join a dynamic team at the EU Delegation in Kyiv.

First and foremost, the Delegation of the EU is the official external mission of the European Union that represents the organization in the world. The diplomatic mission carries out the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

For me this internship meant a lot: first and foremost, I was very interested in the role of the EU as an influential external actor in helping Ukraine to conduct large-scale political and social transformations, as well as EU-Ukraine relations a bit more generally.

Secondly, I was directly exposed to the work of the organization as an insider. Last but not least, I was planning to conduct comprehensive thesis research on how the EU is trying to induce positive change in Ukraine with regard to tackling the issue of corruption.

Therefore,  the idea of interviewing the experts who advance EU initiatives on the ground and know the “hidden stones” and gaps of the system served as serious motivation to apply for this internship. To cut it short, this experience, in all respects, was something I really wanted, and I was lucky enough to be selected.

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