Ukranian Twins Studying the Same Field Would Not Change a Thing

The University of Tartu is blessed to have diverse students. This year, we welcomed Ukranian twins Marko and Levko, who came here to study the same thing: Democracy and Governance at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies. We decided to find out what brought them here and why they chose the same field.

Can you tell the difference between the brothers? Photo credit: Marko Orshynskyy

1.      So, a pair of twins studying the in same area. How did that happen? Why this particular field? Have you had the same interests since childhood? Continue reading

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Summer School “Juri Lotman and the Semiotics of Culture”

Getting away from the heat, I moved north to the long-awaited semiotics summer school and a new season of Game of Thrones. Having crossed the Seven Kingdoms (four, to be honest), I found myself in Estonia where dried yellowness of Ukrainian fields turned into the deep green saturation of the forests that always have enough rains to drink and cloudy shadows to rest under. Tartu is my Oldtown: the second largest city in the country, a meeting place of historical heritages, an intellectual and educational centre that boasts its own Citadel – the glorious University of Tartu. But back then, tired after a long bus ride, I saw nothing but an ordinary neat town, unsuitable for stories about great battles and tremendous feats. However, after several semiotics lectures my Tartu experience became more vivid, as step by step I learned to read the city and its inhabitants: from left to right, bottom-up, in boustrophedon, chapter by chapter, as a hypertext, creating my own pagination, commenting in the margin and dropping ice cream on the pavement/parchment.

A weightless touch evokes centuries of grand narratives. Photo credit: Louise Moroz

The first lesson I learned from the semiotics course was to be attentive to the details and read a story behind every object: an abandoned house, a fence covered in graffiti, a signboard, a nameless monument, a cobblestone alley – someone’s aspirations and fears led to the existence of all these things. A weightless touch evokes centuries of grand narratives, so the pure brilliance of a semiotician can be seen in delicacy with which s/he traces resonant omens back to their primordial and ever-changing sources. There are no boring books, just bored and lazy readers. Continue reading

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Play a semiotical game of Greimas Puzzle

You may know what is semiotics (as simple as I can put it, it is a study of sign systems and their meaning), but I am sure you do not know what is a Greimas Puzzle.

And now here is a very short story time for you, how I as university student invented or created a game of Greimas Puzzle.

Sven Anderson, inventor of the game

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The Dark Side of Smart Devices

Have you ever tried to eat ten ice creams in a row? Too much of a good thing can make you sick. Excessive amount of vitamins creates an adverse reaction in the body. Too much sun is bad for your skin. If you eat too many strawberries, it’s bad for your stomach. It’s exactly the same with smart devices. They simplify our lives and provide us with data really quickly… all the while taking over our mind for exchange.

So, what’s the problem? Well, our brains like new input. Novelty is an important learning signal for the brain, because when an organism faces something the brain couldn’t foresee (something new!), it’s time to update brain’s model of the world. The brain has a trick to make sure learning new stuff works efficiently: novel input automatically leads to a pleasure sensation. This pleasure signal enhances learning and hence ensures that the novel aspect of the world is memorized. Smart devices offer plenty of novelty so they bring lots of pleasure, too. Each move of thumb on the smart device brings new input to the screen and hence causes small pleasure signals in your brain. The trouble is that in the brain pleasure always brings the risk of addiction.

Although smart devices bring us pleasure, too much of anything is not good for you. Photo credit: Hamza Butt /

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Sugar Sweet Science at the University of Tartu

In the Department of Botany, there are two very sweet days every year. On those days, researchers and students drive to a meadow near Ahja River, bringing 250 kilograms of sugar with them, and spread it to the soil following a specific methodology. They have been doing it for 15 years already as part of one of the longest running plant experiments in Estonia, to study the effect of soil fertility on plant growth and biodiversity.

Every year, about 50 buckets (500 kg) of sugar is added to the meadow. Photo credit: Riin Tamme

15 Years and 8 Tons of Sugar

Just imagine – during the last 15 years nearly 8 tonnes of sugar have been added to the meadow. It might seem wasteful but the scientists of the Department of Botany have a good reason for using sugar in a plant experiment. Since sugar is a carbon compound it can be used to change soil fertility, and study its impact on plant diversity.

When plant diversity decreases – something that is happening right now worldwide – it damages the whole ecosystem: biochemical cycles, other living organisms and humans as well. In order to conserve or restore plant diversity, scientists have developed ways to study how environmental factors affect plant diversity. One of those research methods involves changing soil fertility by adding a source of carbon or fertilizer to the soil.

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Yuxuan Chen: Estonian Small Cities Give Me a Peaceful Feeling

This blog post was originally published in the Multicultural Estonia website, compiled by the international students from the Johann Skytte Institute of Political Studies. 

Two years ago she moved to Estonia from China to enroll in the EU-Russia masters programme, a year and a half ago she married an Estonian, and today she works full time. Close to the end of her MA degree, Yuxuan’s life is divided between study, family and work. She can combine all of them without a problem, and she is excited about her future in the small city of Tartu, especially if compared to Beijing.

Yuxuan came to Estonia for the first time as an exchange student during her bachelor’s studies. At that time she was studying English Language and Literature, but the University of Tartu offered her a wide range of courses from various faculties, allowing her to choose as many classes as she could handle. Thanks to this opportunity, she frequently visited the faculty of social sciences, and eventually found the EU-Russia studies programme, to which she decided to apply.

The moment when Yuxuan and her coursemates knew their defence results and were celebrating with their professors. Yuxuan is in the middle of the photo. Photo from a personal archive.

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The impact of Facebook (groups) on political discussions

The essence of human beings, biologically and psychologically has not changed much throughout the past 50 000 years. On the other hand, during the same time, we have changed our own world dramatically – from inventing agriculture to the industrial revolution and the creation of the Internet.

The way we have been adapting to these changes (as we can’t change our biology and psychology) has been through social and political institutions. Institutions are, quoting from Samuel P. Huntington and Francis Fukuyama, “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behaviour” – in essence, the rules that shape human behaviour. So, every time the world changed, be it because of changes in climate or in technology or something else, humans have changed their institutions to adapt.

Martin Noorkõiv is the former President of the Student Council of the University of Tartu and currently the CEO of Domus Dorpatensis. Photo: Argo Ingver

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