Mariam from Georgia: I knew more about Tartu semiotics than about Estonia

Mariam Nozadze
Mariam Nozadze receives her master’s diploma from the rector of the University of Tartu. Photo by Andres Tennus

On the day of our interview, Mariam arrived to Tartu from a week-long conference. She walked through the streets and said: “Oh my god, this is so familiar!” She had the feeling of opening the door and saying: “Hey Mom, I just got back!”

Mariam’s family is back in Georgia, though, which is where she headed after graduating from the master’s programme in semiotics at the University of Tartu.

Mariam had been studying in Tartu with a Georgian governmental scholarship funded by the International Education Center. Her only obligation was to study well, which she did. Now she would present her study experience and diploma and see what the ministry would like her to do.

Prior to coming to Estonia, Mariam knew more about Tartu semiotics than she did about the country itself. The Estonian climate took her by surprise. While many find November the most difficult month to cope with, for Mariam it was October – not winter yet, but cold according to her Georgian standards.

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Iris: Estonia came after Nicaragua and Taiwan

Photo from a personal archive

When Iris first landed in Estonia two years ago, she remembers seeing a huge lamp in the clear, dark sky. It was the full moon, so big and so close; it felt like you could grab it. In other parts of the world where Iris had lived, the moon seemed to be so far away.

This was the beginning of what Iris calls a magic experience with Estonia. Here she first saw the snow and the sky so blue. Having lived in Taiwan for seven years, she appreciates the purity of the air. In Tartu, everything is so close – you can walk everywhere and, importantly, at any time, as Estonia is a safe country. This is one of the similarities with Taiwan, which is one of the safest countries in the world.

Another similarity with Asia relates to the native people’s character – Iris has noticed that Estonians are composed and don’t show emotions, pretty much like the people she met in Asia.

Iris came to Estonia from Taiwan, and to Taiwan from her home country, Nicaragua, where she had received her first bachelor’s degree in banking and finances. Supported by a stipend, she aspired to a second bachelor’s in Taiwan. This time it was Chinese as a second language. Having learned Chinese, she still finds Estonian difficult. She sums up her experience with Estonian as “I tried and I cried”.

After studying and working in Taiwan, Iris came to Estonia to pursue her master’s degree in Innovation and Technology Management. She learned about the University of Tartu with the help of a friend, who also found a fitting programme and came to Tartu.

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Your ideal project manager, Anastasiia

Photo from a personal archive

Anastasiia is a fresh graduate of UT’s Democracy and Governance master’s programme from Ukraine, busy with numerous projects. She even calls her master’s thesis a project, which it surely is. Her first visit to Estonia was also within the framework of a project.

Anastasiia works with the Institute of Baltic Studies, she is a grant officer in an international project, she initiated the series of 15×4 Tartu events, she acted as the president of International Student Ambassadors at the University of Tartu, she organized jam sessions for ESN, and so on and so forth. And, she is looking for a job, which is fully understandable if you consider the fact that much of the work she does is unpaid volunteering.

Before starting a project, Anastasiia goes through a mental checklist: How much time should I offer to this project? How much time is required to offer? Is there a clash? How important and how impactful can this project be for me? How is it going to change my life? Can I put it on my CV? Can it give me new contacts with people? Can I get some profit from it?

Photo from a personal archive

Anastasiia admits that she is into multitasking. She is organized and likes to plan everything in detail when it comes to projects. She is used to working with people, as you would expect a project manager to be. Was it difficult to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds whom she met in Tartu? Anastasiia’s smart, spontaneous answer is: “It’s always difficult to communicate with any people, even from your own country.”

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HK’s leaderless global movement for G20 – everything you need to know

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung’s ad on Hong Kong. Credit: Facebook page of Freedom HONG KONG

Hong Kong has its own way of appealing to the world. 

After staging two peaceful demonstrations of over a million Hongkongers within a week, another miracle has taken place in this former British colony. Over USD 641,000 was raised online to publish newspaper ads in Britain, America, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Belgium within hours of the campaign created by a group of Hong Kong netizens. But the world has already been watching Hong Kong since the beginning of June. 

1. What is the global movement about?

It was trigged by controversial legislation proposed by the local government earlier this year, which would allow extradition to take place between Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as with other jurisdictions where Hong Kong has no existing agreements. 

The Hong Kong government refused to withdraw the legislation after a wave of protests in Hong Kong. Overseas Hongkongers living in Britain, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, America, Canada and many more countries showed their solidarity by staging demonstrations from afar. 

Hence, some Hong Kong netizens started crowdfunding a global campaign to call for international support regarding Hong Kong’s diminishing autonomous status, thereby raising the awareness of the world leaders who will take part in the G20 Summit in the Japanese city Osaka later this week. 

Overseas Hongkongers’ campaign to show solidarity with Hong Kong. Credit: Facebook page of Global Solidarity with Hong Kong
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To the first man who sacrificed himself for Hong Kong

Hongkongers mourn the tragic death of Leung.
Photo: HK01 media

Freedom isn’t free.

Last week, waves of protests against an Extradition Bill took place in Hong Kong. The first protest gained international attention, as one million demonstrators marched peacefully to oppose this controversial legislative proposal. 

As the local government remained indifferent, the protest turned ugly and clashes were seen between the young protesters and riot police. 150 canisters of tear gas, 20 rounds of bean bag bullets, and several rounds of rubber bullets were used to disperse the protesters. Violence erupted at this global financial centre’s protest, and the government decided to suspend the legislation. 

Within a few days, two million Hongkongers demonstrated again to demand the withdrawal of the Extradition Bill, resignation of Hong Kong’s leader, and release of protesters being charged with “rioting”. The Hong Kong leader only apologised. The bill wasn’t completely withdrawn. 

Two million Hongkongers protested to demand the withdrawal of the Extradition Bill.
Photo: HK01 media

Between these events, a tragedy occurred. A 35-year-old surnamed Leung climbed up to the rooftop of a shopping mall and displayed a banner, reading “No extradition to China, total withdrawal of the Extradition Bill, we are not rioters, release the students and injured, Carrie Lam steps down, help Hong Kong.” After standing for 5 hours, he fell to the ground and was later certified dead. 

Mr. Leung’s death is, perhaps, a symbol of Hong Kong’s bygone legacies. Arguably, Leung has become the first man to die in the name of defending Hong Kong’s core principles of “One Country, Two Systems”, “High Degree of Autonomy” and “50 Years Remain Unchanged” under an international treaty signed between Britain and China in 1984. 

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Everyone’s nature conservation – what can you do?

Diverse and functional ecosystems are critical to our mental and physical health.
Photo by Estonian Saunas on Unsplash

Species-rich and well-working ecosystems are the very things that keep stuff circulating – globally, on the landscape level, and in one’s garden. They provide us with pure water and air, fill the earth with nutrients, and guarantee the sustainability of food production. They give us something to identify with and a sense of well-being. They are critical to our health – both mental and physical.

Our children are healthier, better able to concentrate and study, while adults are more peaceful and happier when the living environment is green and biodiverse.

Nature’s aforementioned contributions that provide us a suitable environment in which to live are called ecosystem services. We use those services for free and constantly, thus tending to see their existence as a casual fact, not thinking much about their origin or current conditions. Still, all of those services do not come from some sort of endless cornucopia. They are related to the situation of ecosystems, which depend on our own activities.

Biodiversity and the natural environment are both in a deep crisis

During the last 50 years we have destroyed nearly 50 percent of habitats.
Photo by Sandra Kaas on Unsplash

Despite its importance, the state of biodiversity and the natural environment is not good. It’s true around the world, and in Europe and Estonia as well. The IPBES review published last week collected the best data that we have about the state of the nature surrounding us, and concluded that during the last 50 years we have destroyed nearly 50 percent of habitats and pushed one in every eight species to the brink of extinction, with every fourth one now deemed endangered. 

Both biodiversity and the natural environment are in a deep crisis. The main cause is too intense and careless use of Earth, which has led to rapid loss in habitats.

Estonia is no exception

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Becoming a Tartu student – becoming a globally minded student

Dear reader, I would like you to take a minute and think about borders…

If you are in Estonia, or another country, you can easily imagine that official line which gives shape to a specific physical territory. But what about our borders? To be more precise, what are the borders of our mind and thinking?

My interpretation is that our mind’s territory ends with our understanding of the world. With this as a starting point, I would like to show you how I occupied new territories for my mind and how it is connected to Universitas Tartuensis.

Tatiana (Yes, this is me) from Moldova

Map of Europe
Tatiana (Moldova). Map credit: Ivan Vasilyev

As I was physically “captured” within the first borders (Moldova), I had a specific mindset, filled with irrational and unjustified beliefs about the situation in my country. I do not pretend now that my beliefs are true, but at least I hope they are approximately close to be true.

Going back in time, one of my false ideas was that only few people make an effort to protect the environment and that the outcomes are insignificant. And only one change of physical borders (moving to Estonia) and two relevant courses (Spatial Data Studio and Strategic Environmental Assessment for Urban Regions) made me realize that the situation is not as tragic as I had imagined.

There are higher-level organisations that are concerned about the issue and new legislation is being adopted at the moment in Moldova in order to align and enforce best practices in sustainability. In addition to that, we, consumers, in the majority of cases are limited in visions and see only the bottom-up behaviour, which certainly requires some time to follow the top-down strategy and approach.

“When it comes to protecting the environment and not exacerbating the current state of things, all our small actions matter” and “pollution has no borders, so we have to keep it in mind, no matter the country of residence (at least before the human migration to space)” – these are my mind borders so far.

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