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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The “Narva Paradox” and a Reality Check

Andrey Makarychev is a guest professor and Stefano Braghiroli a lecturer at the Institute of Government and Politics of the University of Tartu. They both teach in the European Union–Russia Studies master’s programme.

Brigita's love for Estonia

“This is how I love Estonia”, says Brigita Salkute, our master’s student from Lithuania. Image credit: Anette Parksepp

The annexation of Crimea and the military insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern provinces under the “Russian world” slogan triggered political and academic debates centred on the whole set of issues related to post-Soviet borderlands. Territories populated by Russian speakers and those culturally connected to Russia are obviously at the core of this debate. In this flammable context, the Estonian city of Narva has become one of the hottest points in heated discussions over the prospects of a new Cold War between Russia and the West.

According to Russian political analyst Andrey Piontkovsky, Narva turned into a double metaphor signifying both the remnants of Russian military glory and the Western passivity in containing Russia. In later polemics, Piontkovsky formulated “the Narva paradox” as “Putin’s ability by one single move to make the entire West face an unthinkable choice – humiliating capitulation and marginalization, or a nuclear war with someone who lives in a different reality”.

Of course, this is a highly hypothetical scenario, and there are many signs that both the EU and NATO keep a close eye on its probability. In this context it was highly symbolic that the military parade on the occasion of the Estonian Independence Day on 24 February 2015 was held with the participation of UK and US military personnel in Narva, only 300 metres from the Russian border. And it was largely accepted by city residents as an element of Estonian security policy. Continue reading

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10 Estonian Tongue Twisters for Language Hackers

Being a hacker does not necessarily involve information technology, but certainly implies bold attitude. With time, the meaning of the term hacker has widened to embrace everyone who is curious and enthusiastic to undertake something creatively and learn by doing. This is exactly what this post is about — here are ten words and phrases that scale high on difficulty and challenge you to learn some of the dark and quirky sides of the Estonian language. As you’ll see, the last phrase on the list ain’t easy even for Estonians!

If you need a warm-up, try the 10 Tongue Twisters to Get You Started on Estonian.

So, let’s go. The first one is easy and might even turn out practical:

1. Ma armastan Sind

ma armastan sind

2. Iseseisvuspäev


Continue reading

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My Memorable Moments in Tartu

Desiree SimpsonDesiree Simpson, an international exchange student from Canada, writes about her study abroad year 2014/2015 at the University of Tartu. See also Desiree’s travel blog.

It’s mid-morning, and from the dorm window I watch people walk by, their pace is brisk: taking very short, quick steps. Their shoulder’s are hunched, and their ears are tucked in to the top of their hats and the bottom of their scarves, to keep the cold at bay. A low fog hangs just at the tree tops, burying the peak of the church in the distance. The flat is empty and quiet, save for the light sound of jazz coming from my computer. And, at a short distance the hum of the elevator running, carrying the last of the tardy students on their way to class.

It’s already February. September and October passed at an unfathomably quick pace, fuelled, in part, by mild weather, but mostly by social outings that included a myriad of events, both university and non-university related. November and December passed in similar fashion though the promise of snow had left latent enthusiasm in some, and dread in others. Now, even February is coming to an end. As I stand here, I think back on a few of my most memorable moments in Tartu:

The first thing that struck me the most upon my arrival in Tartu in late August was how quiet it was. Sure, I arrived at the bus station sometime closer to midnight, but even the cabs sat quietly, waiting patiently nearby. The driver too, of the cab that I hopped into, spoke in a modestly low volume.

Graffiti in Tartu

The first thing that struck me the most upon my arrival in Tartu in late August was how quiet it was. Photo from personal archive.

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Commemorating Boris Nemtsov

This is an opinion piece by Andrey Makarychev, a visiting professor at the Institute for Government and Politics, University of Tartu. Professor Makarychev teaches in the political science master’s programmes in Tartu.

Boris Nemtsov

This picture was taken in Moscow the day after Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed. People gathered at the site of the murder to mourn the victim. Image credit: @Jay / Flickr Creative Commons

Words kill. Discourses matter.

Whoever physically triggered the gun that killed Boris Nemtsov, one of the most charismatic Russian opposition leaders in Moscow, his death on February 27th was definitely a result of Putin’s provocative invectives against “the fifth column”, “foreign agents”, “national traitors” and “enemies of the people”. The murder was politically prepared and justified before it happened in reality. At some point the boundary between giving a direct order and passively observing how others interpret your accusatory words is blurred.

Unfortunately, there is nothing new about political murders during Putin’s presidency: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and now Boris Nemtsov. These assassinations once again confirmed how sovereignty in Russia is installed – as Michel Foucault would have said, not through encouraging people to live, but mainly through taking their lives, in Ukraine and within Russia itself. Continue reading

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