Volunteering in the COVID-19 department: Dream or shit job?

January 2020: The news had started to circulate about a virus spreading in China. It was related to SARS and MERS and expected to stay in the east.

February 2020: The news channels were now covering the novel coronavirus spreading outside China. Little by little, it was nearing the borders of the EU.

13.3.2020: The Estonian government declares a state of emergency, University of Tartu cancels regular contact learning, and social media explodes with panic. We all make memes and jokes about toilet paper to better survive the shock.

We are three University of Tartu medical students currently in our fourth year. We are groupmates and see each other daily in classes now, but last spring we were colleagues in a slightly different setting. We were all corona volunteers at Tartu University Hospital in the spring of 2020, and now we’d like to tell you a little about our experiences and what we think about volunteering in Estonia in general.

How did we decide to become volunteers at Tartu University Hospital?

Iina Gyldén
Iina with the mask mark on her face. Photo from a private collection

Iina Gyldén: Not long after the state of emergency was declared, I heard from my classmates that Tartu University Hospital, our home hospital, was looking for volunteers among medical and nursing students to help with the new additional infection control measures.

A cynical person could point out that that was a glorified way of saying they were looking for cleaning staff and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, what that simple dismissal fails to see is that when trying to keep a new virus like this in control in a hospital environment the system needs every free pair of hands to do that work.

At that time I had been entertaining the idea of finding a place to volunteer at for a good while already. I am recovering from a burnout and somewhere along that journey I had started hearing people repeatedly mention the importance of volunteering in regard to psychological and emotional well-being.

I now had spare time and already knew I’d be staying in Estonia for the spring instead of returning to my native Finland. In the end, my decision to volunteer was made by the simple fact that they were looking for people to do it; they needed hands and mine were free.

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Five myths about working as a freelance content creator

Young people tend to think that becoming an influencer or a freelance content creator is a way to easy living. Former journalism student and freelance content creator Keili Sükijainen shares some facts about her professional life, several of which may come as a surprise to those who only see influencers’ glamorous celebrity lives. 

“Let’s be honest, my grandparents still don’t understand exactly what I’m doing, and there are probably a lot of people who think that it’s ‘not a real job,’” states Keili, who for several years worked as a TV journalist in Estonia. Recently, she established her own content production company that enables her to mix paid partnership content creation and journalistic work as a TV presenter. 

Though she enjoys the incredibly convenient life of a digital nomad due to Estonia’s e-solutions, she has decided to share the backstory of being an influencer and a content creator.  

People think that influencers or content producers simply make money by posting photos and videos on social media. But there’s more to it – it is a mix of the profession and a lifestyle career. “And it’s not as easy as it seems,” Keili states.

Myth #1: You don’t have to know anything 

Although Keili has her production team – Juhani @juhanisarglep and Katri @katrikats – to help, she also has to know everything about video production. She learned this during her journalism studies in Tartu and in the US. “How to get a high-quality picture, sound, how to perform, how to find customers, how to do marketing, etc. And, of course, you have to have something to say. It all requires a great deal of different knowledge and skills. A bit like being a jack of all trades,” Keili sums up.

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How uncanny sounds make ghost tours spookier

Ghost tours exist within the nebulous categorisation of dark tourism, which is characterised as visiting sites of death and catastrophe as a leisure pursuit. As grim as this might sound, ghost tours are consistent across the international stage in making up part of the cultural backdrop we wander past on a daily basis.

A skeleton in a coffin
A skeleton in a coffin at Derby Gaol. Image credit: Lily Gartland

How many of us have gone on a ghost walk as a fun activity to do with friends, perhaps as a seasonal activity you associate with autumn or winter? The walk was probably in a city you know, or a city much like the next, where you have never seen anything you would be tempted to call paranormal or spooky. Yet on a ghost walk there is new appreciation to be found for aspects of the, usually, historic urban landscape which are often otherwise marginalised or described as being a non-specified element of the overall landscape.

It was on UT’s Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies master’s course that I finally had the chance to look at how the material and immaterial aspects of the landscape can be manipulated in order to craft a particular perspective. I took the opportunity of the master’s thesis to create a project which paid special attention to often-overlooked sonic aspects of the environment in shaping perception.

Tangible and intangible elements make up the paranormal potential

It is the job of the guides of ghost tours to draw out both tangible and intangible elements of the historic urban landscape and combine them in such a way as to provide the impression of paranormal potential. The tangible heritage incorporated is typically anything deemed to have a mnemonic association to what we culturally find spooky.

The Shambles; a little street in York
The Shambles, a little street in York. By day, Instagram famous, by night, haunted by the memories of the butchers and where they slit the animals’ throats, which caused those very cobblestones to run with blood. Image credit: Lily Gartland

Some examples might include old stone buildings, maybe sites where people were executed, graveyards and shadowy alleyways. Examples of the intangible heritage drawn out of the same landscape could be the narratives attached to the place, story-telling techniques such as pitch and intonation, and local folklore, as well as sounds (imagine an eerie susurrus in a churchyard, or the tolling of bells as you stand on the edge of an old plague pit) and bodily sensations such as the smell of damp stone and the feel of cobblestones underfoot.

How the tangible aspects of the environment are selected, drawn out, and emphasised for use in these tours is therefore determined by the intangible imaginative values in which we decide what is ‘spooky.’ These values are identified by the managers and tour guide and it is up to them to find anchors for these in the available environment in order to create an overall impression of space, resulting in meaning being attached to hidden possibilities in a more flexible arrangement.

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Being a mentor fosters your growth

Ülle Susi
Ülle Susi. Photo from a private collection

I am a graduate of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of the University of Tartu from 2018. The studies were very inspiring, and immediately after graduation I wanted to give something back to the university.

As I am a mentor and a member of the board of the Estonian Chamber of Mentors; it was clear that the search for common ground begins here. Last year I participated in the mentoring programme of the University of Tartu as a mentor, and this year we are already participating in the programme by organising mentors’ workshops.

At the Estonian Chamber of Mentors, we always support projects for dissemination and implementation of mentoring. Our members include many leaders, trainers, and mentors working in different fields and with differing experience. Several workshop leaders have graduated from the University of Tartu, while some have returned to the university. Why are we doing this? The answer is simple: we believe in the need for mentoring and its power to support development, and we are ready to share our experience.

What is mentoring? Mentoring is the sharing of knowledge, skills, and life experience to guide the development of another to reach their full potential.

Each mentor has their own story. For me, it is more about showing the direction and a journey of shared discovery. Completing the Fontes mentoring programme in 2009 was a powerful impetus for me to develop along the way. The growth is somehow quiet, unnoticed. After each meeting, you look at what you did well, what could be done better, get feedback, and take the next step. At some point, you will find that you have completed some coaching or training again – all to get better as a leader, person, and mentor. Each mentee teaches their own story, with different tasks and solutions. As a mentor, you must be prepared for difficulties and constantly look for new opportunities – this is how this development takes place: together, quietly.

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Every student’s nightmare – group work. How to make the most of it?

“I simply hate it. Every time I see it coming up, I literally panic!” You might think that such reactions relate to a painful medical procedure, but, in fact, students have expressed these thoughts regarding something much more common: group work.

Good learning practice states that university studies entail work in groups, where people strive towards common goals and offer support to each other, thus diversifying the learning experience and shaping academic culture. However, even to those unfamiliar with the good practice, it’s as clear as day that group work skills are beneficial, since even lone wolves may struggle without support. For some reason, though, group work projects can be some of the most harrowing experiences in academia. But there’s a way around the horror – even in challenging COVID times.

A field guide for group work partners

Undoubtedly, group work projects are one way to figure out who the people working alongside you really are and see who you can count on. We can’t help but envisage the anxious overachiever who wants to get good grades and compete for the performance stipends. They begin working on the project a month before the deadline and push others to do the same: faster, higher, stronger! Then there’s certainly the cool guy who tries to calm down the worried teammate. They assure you that everything is going just fine: we are progressing, and you should take a breather.

Sometimes, a team might welcome a natural leader who loves to divide up tasks but forgets to assign jobs to themselves. And, well, then there are a bunch of slackers who tend to ghost those who call for action. They sit back and let the overachiever work their magic: maybe this time, too, I can skip the heavy lifting…

Sounds familiar? At different points in time, we all notice traits of these stereotypical characters in ourselves, and that is okay: sometimes we have more to contribute, sometimes less, because we simply don’t have the strength and motivation. Why, though, does it seem that the slackers outnumber the hard workers?

These stereotypical characters populate many teams. Moreover, we can all notice traits of these characters in ourselves. Image credit: Icons8 / Inga Külmoja
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Photojournalist Sami Siva: Ignorance is more shocking than harsh events

Sami Siva has covered post-conflict and social-issue stories on three continents. His work has been published in The New York Times, TIME, The Guardian, CNN, and other media outlets. Now Sami studies at the University of Tartu.

Sami Siva
Sami Siva. Photo from a private collection

In May 2010, Sami Siva arrived in Sopore, a town in Kashmir, India. He was there on a mission: to photograph the ongoing civil unrest. Sami was supposed to meet a contact who would take him different places for interviews and photographs. Suddenly, he found himself surrounded by an angry crowd.

It was a collision between the locals and the policemen, and he was in the middle of it. He came from the wrong part of India, as the Kashmiris are wary of people from other parts of the country. Young guys full of anger and holding big stones in their hands stood around Sami. It was the first time he felt scared and in danger. Luckily, Sami was able to speak to one of the guys in front of the mob. Meanwhile, his contact arrived and clarified the situation.

“That’s the nature of the job. If you are a firefighter and you are afraid of fire, then you can’t do this job. It comes down to how you deal with situations and people. It’s a crucial element of being a photographer who works in conflict areas,” admits Sami.

Girls from Sopore (Kashmir, India)
A girl from Sopore complained that the local police had seized her brother. Photo by Sami Siva
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How social distancing affects coworking spaces in Estonia

The year 2020 brought along a massive shift towards remote work within a short period of time. The principles of mobile, paperless, and flexible working methods were conceptually established already in the 1970s. However, surveys show that in many EU countries, more than half of the workers who have started working from home since the pandemic started had no prior experience with teleworking.

The Covid-19 crisis accelerated several trends already under way. An increased demand for contractors and gig workers, as well as more remote work, will remain as the new normality in our working lives.

In this period of rapid changes, a team from the University of Tartu – Professor Tiiu Paas and PhD students Anastasia Sinitsyna, Luca Alfieri, and Kaire Piirsalu-Kivihall – joined the international research on “The geography of New Working Spaces and the impact on the periphery” (COST Action CA18214), which involves 140 research partners from 33 countries.

The project aims to share the scientific outcomes regarding new working spaces. The latter include coworking spaces and smart work centres, makerspaces and other technical spaces, hackerspaces and informal working spaces. Additionally, the aim is to compare the best practices within different countries. The work will continue until 2023, but we can share the first results of the qualitative study carried out among locally owned coworking spaces in Estonia.

Currently, there are 16 registered coworking spaces in Estonia; however, the awareness of such working spaces is still quite low. Image credit: Inga Külmoja / icons8.com

What are coworking spaces?

Coworking spaces are open-plan offices that mobile or independent knowledge workers share as places of work. In the beginning, coworking offices were used by freelancers, start-ups, and knowledge workers in the creative industries. Nowadays, however, 36 percent of the members worldwide are corporate employees, compared to 41 percent of freelancers. Many international organisations do not establish local offices for their branches but rent coworking spaces for their employees. Also, some corporations purposefully look towards coworking to benefit from its advantages. These include community building, a social workplace, and an increase in revenue as well as improved workflow.

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