Twins Ege and Efe in the steps of Baer and Pirogov

Ege and Efe
Ege and Efe. Follow them on Instagram. Photo from a personal archive

When Efe and Ege approached the Old Anatomical Theatre, they did not notice me. We had not met before, so it was no wonder. I could not mistake them for anyone else, though, for Ege and Efe are perfect lookalikes. You can see they are twins from a long distance. And it was twins that I was waiting for to chat about their studies and life in Tartu.

Most of the time it is others who get confused. The twins admit that sometimes people think they are one person. They see one of them downstairs, the other one upstairs, and cannot believe their eyes.

Having once mistaken Zeynep (a Turkish female name) for a man, I made sure to check before the interview that Efe and Ege are brothers. I was inclined to think otherwise, though, as Ege is a female name in Estonia.

The twins’ similarity is only increased by identical haircuts and similar clothing. Moreover, Ege and Efe continue each others’ thoughts. They have lived together for 19 years, or a lifetime. The brothers have been separated for no more than two months so far.

That was when Efe came to Estonia for a month as a part of the student exchange programme two years ago. When he came back, Ege left for a month to Belgium. With a little help from Google, Efe found out about the University of Tartu’s medicine studies. Efe’s host family took him on a small tour in Biomedicum. Ege confirms that after seeing his brother so happy about the school and the city, it wasn’t a hard decision to come to Tartu.

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My life story: 23 academic degrees and 239 gold medals

I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1947. It’s a city in the northeastern part of the United States, just south of the Canadian border. Because it was cold and snowy for 4 to 6 months each year, I tried to stay inside as much as possible, waiting for the snow to melt, although I did engage in a few snow ball fights with friends.

Four generations; me as a baby. Photo from the personal archive

I think that remaining indoors for extended periods of time helped me to develop my love of reading, since there wasn’t much else to do. In those days, television consisted of just three stations, so there wasn’t a large selection of programs to choose from.

My favorite television programs in those days were documentaries about World War 2, which had ended just two years before I was born, game shows, news shows, and history programs. During the election season, I watched political programs. I enjoyed watching the election results in presidential election years. I wanted John F. Kennedy to win in 1960, mostly because he was Catholic. Erie was a Catholic city – Italian Catholics on the west side and Polish Catholics on the east side. I was Irish Catholic.

My parents subscribed to three weekly magazines that contained stories about current events. There were many photos and short articles at a reading level that was suitable for 12 year-olds. I tended to look at every photo and read most of the articles. My father used to talk about the war, politics, and current events, which also piqued my interest in these topics.

Going to Catholic schools exposed me to theology and philosophy. We would ask the teacher whether God could make a rock he couldn’t lift, and why non-Catholics couldn’t go to heaven no matter how good they were (because the nuns told us that only Catholics could get into heaven).

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What are Estonians like?

In December, our Institute of Psychology celebrated its 50th anniversary with a conference entitled “Estonian Measures”, where researchers presented their findings on Estonians.

Märt Avandi and Ott Sepp
Estonian actors Märt Avandi and Ott Sepp performing true Estonians
at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Estonian film.
Image credit: Ülo Josing / ERR Archives

What is the Estonian character like?

Based on research, the Estonian character is not much different from that of other nations; however, the way Estonians perceive themselves is another story. The research, co-authored by Professor of Experimental Psychology Jüri Allik, showed that Estonians’ self-image is based on what they think of Russians. Estonians imagine themselves to be the opposite of Russians.

Estonians believe that Russians are extroverts while Estonians are introverts; Russians speak a lot – Estonians are mostly silent, which is a sign of intelligence; Russians are insistently friendly – Estonians are withdrawn; Russians are lazy and disorderly – Estonians are industrious, orderly, and goal-oriented.

Allik stressed that these are stereotypes which are far from reality.

How much do Estonians eat?

According to the National Institute for Health Development, the average body mass index of an Estonian is 26,2. Anything beyond 25 is considered to be overweight.

Every fifth person’s body mass index in Estonia is over 30. In comparison with 180 countries, Estonia is in 92nd place. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2025, every third person in Estonia will be overweight.

The question is what we do with this knowledge. Jorgen Matsi, a psychologist, head coach, and consultant, says that the usual advice – that especially people who don’t struggle with overweight like to give – is to eat less and move more. “Technically speaking, it is correct, as is the advice to a drowning person to inhale less water and swim more. This means that saying this is not always helpful”.

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Solving the puzzle of the Kurds in the Syrian conflict

“After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home!” wrote Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, on Twitter on 20 December 2018.

A barrage of fear, presumptions, and confusion resulted from the evening tweet, as the 55-kilometer-radius security zone in Syria where the US troops are based is a temporary retreat for at least 50 thousand internally displaced people (IDP) in the country. The tweet not only has international importance due to the number of IDPs living there, with the Syrian conflict raging on since 2011; the conflict has also created a refugee crisis unseen since the Second World War and has caused a rise in xenophobia and radical right populism in some EU member states, like Hungary and Slovakia.

The main reason why the tweet caused such a sensation on the international level is the possibility of changing power lines in the region, where Syria, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the US, and some other countries have their own concerns and are interested in their own dominance.

Currently, some areas in the northern part of Syria are under the control of Syrian Kurdish forces called the Syrian Democratic Forces, where American troops are working and fighting alongside the Kurds and Arabs engaged. What will happen with areas inhabited mainly by the Kurds, when the US pulls out its forces, in light of Russian forces helping the Kurds to patrol the area since the end of January? Where do the US troops stand
politically on this question and how much will the Kurds influence the division of the power lines in the region?

Who are the Kurds?

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The usefulness of medicinal plants is more than folktales

Ain Raal, Professor of Pharmacognosy at the UT Institute of Pharmacy, is the co-author of the recently published Estonian-language book, “Medicinal plants of Estonia”. The book is more than a treatise of folk medicine, as the authors provide a mythological and historical overview of plants, along with science-backed knowledge. The book describes the medicinal effect of many plants you can find in Estonian nature.

A juniper tree with its berry-like cones. Image credit: Alina Miroshnichenko, Unsplash

People being skeptical of modern medicine and looking for folk remedies is very topical in Estonia. The book might therefore be regarded as a step in the right direction by explaining scientifically why and how the plants can be useful. Here are some examples from the 80 plants described in the book.


This plant is mostly seen near seashores in Estonia. It might look like a bush as well as a tree by its size and shape. Juniper is regarded as a magical plant because of the cross sign on the top of its berry-like cones, not to mention that one should use this conifer in the sauna for “whisking” oneself. Its health benefits are also recognized by the European Medicines Agency.

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Tatiana from Moldova: How my dream came true

Tatiana Surdu

This story is about dreams and how becoming a student at the University of Tartu, Geoinformatics for Urbanised Society (MSc) showed me that all dreams come true if you have time and self-reliance.

Let’s start from October 2017. I had a dream TO STUDY ABROAD, and found out the University of Tartu’s interesting master’s programmes (trust me, these programmes are really interesting because I spent a lot of time on analysing and choosing the programme).

Basically, I met some of the requirements: bachelor’s degree, prerequisite courses, motivation; and the only issue was with English language proficiency. But wait, application deadline was 15 March, so I have enough time to prepare myself (I was thinking like that).

With my Upper Intermediate English, I started to search for TOEFL preparation courses near me.

At the first language center, TOEFL teacher was on maternity leave, but she helped me by recommending another TOEFL tutor.

Afterwards, I went to the second recommended center and took one test to assess my overall English. The feedback was that I need to take one more English course and only after that, start to think about TOEFL preparation and, if I want it so much, take the test in May 2018. But wait, what will I do with TOEFL in May if the application period will be closed?

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Words of Wisdom at sTARTUp Day 2019

On the last day of sTARTUp Day, I met a Latvian entrepreneur over my modest lunch. We talked about machines taking over erratic humans in service and how it’s difficult for older companies to keep up with the times. I told her my story, and, before she left, she repeated several times: “Don’t give up!”

This is something I have heard before, and not long ago. sTARTUp Day – the biggest business festival in the Baltics, with 4,000 participants and a huge programme on three stages, plus a number of seminar rooms – started with a slackliner show. Jaan Roose shared his story after the performance. His piece of advice was something along the lines of: when you have failed again and again, ask yourself: Can I do it just one more time?

Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang, a guest of honour at sTARTUp Day, had the patience to train for over 14 years before he eventually got to space.

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