Knowledge

Knowledge

Private initiatives advance Estonian education

Private initiatives raising funds for education is a rather new approach in Estonia. Several foundations have kicked off only recently to broaden the horizons of Estonian students and enable them to tackle challenges out of their comfort zone. Private donors hope children will get better jobs in the future and possibly change the world.

Eesti 2.0, a non-profit private initiative, was founded just a year ago, but has already launched three projects. In early June, the organisation announced that 50 schools in Estonia would each receive two littleBits STEAM Student Sets, easy-to-use electronic building blocks that empower everyone – of any gender, age or technical background – to create inventions, large and small. The programme’s launch was attended by the Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves; the founder of Eesti 2.0, Hardi Meybaum; as well as other supporters of the cause.

Eesti 2.0 III

“littleBits will enable to make physical objects move around and the electronics are simple enough so even the elementary school students will understand how to build electronic circuits, but the older kids can build more complicated machines,” Meybaum explains choosing littleBits to become the next project of Eesti 2.0.

In May 2015, Eesti 2.0 ran a pilot programme delivering MakerBot Replicator 3D printers to 50 Estonian schools that resulted in 3D printing becoming a major success in the Estonian education system. Almost half of the digital student projects submitted to this year’s national science fair, “World Country Estonia”, organised by the Information Technology Foundation for Education (HITSA), was in 3D technology. Lately, the municipality of Tallinn announced a procurement for buying 3D printers for all schools in the capital, cementing the understanding that 3D printers offer a multitude of opportunities to teach new technologies at schools.

Makerbot

As of May this year, Eesti 2.0 introduced bitcoin computers built by 21.co, a Silicon Valley based startup. Balaji Srinivasan, the founder of 21.co, an influential thinker on bitcoin technologies as well as a lecturer at Stanford University, has set up an exclusive online course providing Estonian schools with instructions on how to get started with bitcoin computing and machine-to-machine micropayments. Students in this programme will gain expertise with the bitcoin protocol, and will learn how to set up machine-payable endpoints and how to write code that uses bitcoin micropayments, such as simple games. The material also covers the blockchain, the special distributed database that underpins the bitcoin protocol.

Eesti 2.0 VI

“Our aim is to inspire Estonian schoolkids to pick their future in technology,” Meybaum, who is himself a good example of how an early interest in technology and resilience can take one quite far in life, asserts. He founded the company, GrabCAD, that in 2014 was acquired by Stratasys, one of the world leaders in 3D technology. 3D printing is one of the fastest growing industries as it enables to produce prototypes at low cost and little time. Literally anyone can print an artificial limb or even a spare part for the space shuttle. As also proven by the Eesti 2.0 3D printer project – even elementary school students find the printers fascinating, but, at the same time, easy to use.

“We want to bring to our schools new technologies that would enable students to span their knowledge across disciplines,” Meybaum notes.

Eesti 2.0 has been supported by a group private donors. Anyone can contribute to the mission and as soon as enough funds have been raised, Eesti 2.0 will help the next school in line to obtain the device.

Go study abroad

Eesti 2.0 focuses on elementary, middle and high school students across Estonia, targeting all 533 schools with 137,236 students. While this is the most ambitious attempt by private capital to influence this most populous segment of education, the foundation follows in the footsteps of those whose charity has focused on higher education.

This summer will be the 12th in row that will see 20 talented high school graduates to receive a scholarship to continue their studies in well-acclaimed European and American universities.

The Young Scholar’s Grant was initiated by private entrepreneurs in cooperation with the ministry of education and the Archimedes Foundation. Last year, the private donations reached €40,000, which was matched by the same amount by the state. Private donations can be anything starting from €10, while some people have committed to donate €5,000 each year.

“Most of the people who want to support students’ studies abroad have experienced living someplace else,” explains Tõnu Pekk, the chairman of the board of the Young Scholar’s Grant. “This is not charity but rather a way to indicate a certain shift in the society.”

The Young Scholar’s Grant has helped 110 high school graduates to start their studies in a foreign university, like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or Yale. So far only one of them has returned home before completing the studies abroad, just to do it in an Estonian university. At least half of the students have by now also finished their graduate and post-graduate studies.

There’s no need to worry that the students who go to study abroad are “lost souls” for their homeland since they have all stayed committed to making Estonia a better and a bigger place even if they are not here physically. Despite the fact that there is no requirement to return home after they have completed their studies, the most active students have initiated the local Estonian Society in Edinburgh and a few students at Cambridge organised a Baltic Conference. Last year also saw the first grant supported by the former students.

While the Young Scholar’s Grant will most often take care of the costs of a student during their first semester of their bachelor’s studies abroad, there is another private initiative that aims to support the students of graduate or post-graduate level. The Tamkivi Foundation for Natural Sciences supports young Estonians’ studies and research in the field of natural sciences.

Tamkivi Foundation Fellow Tuule Mall Kull

Managed as an endowment by the Estonian National Culture Foundation, the foundation has allocated five grants since it was founded in 2013. Last year, three fellows were chosen among the high quality of candidates.

Education is the basis of an open society

Ever since Estonia regained its independence, the Open Estonia Foundation (OEF) has been running dozens of educational programmes spanning from sending Estonian students to study in the UK, the US and the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, to publishing texts by influential European thinkers for Estonian academically-inclined audiences.

Eesti 2.0 IFounded in 1991, the OEF was supported by the Open Society Foundation, a non-profit founded by the Hungarian-born entrepreneur and philanthropist, George Soros. The OSF has been slowly pulling out of the former Soviet bloc and their support for the OEF will gradually stop next year. The OEF is currently allocating funds made available by the EEA EFTA states (Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein), aiming at spreading democratic values and human rights by making the society more tolerant and open to discussion.

The OEF has helped to kickstart more than ten initiatives, like the Estonian Debating Society and Noored Kooli (Youth to School) that have become influential in educating next generations on their own. The OEF still organises the Open Society Forums and lends a helping hand to the Opinion Festival, a thought leaders’ summer gathering in Estonia.

Although it has been a long-standing tradition in Europe that education is a field controlled and advanced by the governments, the private initiatives in Estonia set a good example how private initiatives can also make a considerable impact in the society since it can take the students spanning all levels of education closer to the up-to-date issues of real life much faster.

I

Cover: children from the Gustav Adolf Grammar School in Tallinn admiring a 3D printer, delivered by Eesti 2.0 (photo by Oleg Hartšenko)

Global ambassadors of Estonian e-governance studies

International students have found Estonia on their path. One of them is Crystal LaGrone from Oklahoma, the United States. LaGrone is currently half-way through the e-governance technologies and services master’s programme at the Tallinn University of Technology (TUT).

In Estonia today, there are dozens of institutions offering higher education, including public and private universities, institutions of professional higher education and vocational schools. The University of Tartu is now among the top three per cent of the world’s universities, and the highest ranked in the Baltic states. Similarly, the Tallinn University of Technology, whose alumni include world-class startup entrepreneurs, has ranked among the 500 best universities in the world.

Higher education is open to all eligible students, at bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels. In the universities, many courses are taught in English and have drawn a wide variety of international students through the high quality of teaching and environment. According to the International Student Barometer (IBS), 89 per cent of international students at Estonian universities are satisfied with the quality of education on offer.

An agent for change

One of those international students, who have found Estonia on their path, is Crystal LaGrone from Oklahoma, the United States. LaGrone is currently half-way through the e-governance technologies and services master’s programme at the TUT. Developed in cooperation with the public and private sectors, the programme is listed as one of the priority curriculums in Estonia, even promoted by the tech-savvy Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, among others.

LaGrone says the course has exceeded her expectations and she has become “an agent for change”, who wants to take the ICT to the next level in her home country, after being inspired in Estonia.

Her story is a curious one – first arriving in Estonia as a visitor with the Methodist Church three years ago, she instantly fell in love with the country. “I’m a true estophile now,” she says, warmly.

“I discovered that it is a very progressive country with a very advanced ICT and internet voting, specifically,” she adds.

“LaGrone says the course has exceeded her expectations and she has become “an agent for change”, who wants to take the ICT to the next level in her home country, after being inspired in Estonia.”

Being politically active since her youth, LaGrone believes internet voting will increase political participation and thus democracy, because it gives an opportunity to vote for those who otherwise might not have done it. Since Estonia became the first nation to hold legally binding general elections over the internet in 2005 – something that has become a norm now, while most countries, including the US, are still only contemplating about the possibility – LaGrone decided to learn first-hand how to implement changes, all with an aim to take this experience back home.

“I applied to the master’s programme here, even though I don’t have a tech background. But the university accepted people with diverse backgrounds: bachelor in law, public management, IT, economics or other related field. And I have to say that it really improves the dynamics of the class,” LaGrone explains.

“People at home asked me why on earth do you want go all the way over there to study. But it is because the curriculum is so unique,” LaGrone says.

“The difference is that in the US you can take e-governance, cyber security, computer science classes separately – but there is nothing that can combine all this. You may be able to piece them together, but you won’t have enough to make any sort of degree out of that. Here, it is already combined for you,” she adds.

Tallinn University of Technology's library

Indeed, the master’s programme in e-governance technologies and services gives students broad knowledge about the makings of a modern state – the transition into e-governance, its management and development. The curriculum brings together science, practices and knowledge in these fields.

LaGrone observed that it is all very dynamic. “As we go along, they add new information and also ask feedback from the students – so we get to play part in putting the curriculum together, which is a very unique opportunity. On top of that, you have a chance to study in Estonia, where it is all implemented. We get to see the practicality. We got resident’s permits, so we can use the digital signatures, for example,” she notes.

Only two degrees of separation

The practicality of her studies is what LaGrone emphasises the most. “Back in March, during the last parliamentary election, I got to meet the people who actually implemented internet voting. This reminds me another important point about Estonia: in the US, there is a saying about six degrees of separation – you are six people away from somebody you need to talk to, when you want to dig deep into something. In Estonia, it’s down to one or two, so it is all very accessible. For me as a student, it is a big thing – here, when you ask someone what it actually means, you get a response.”

Crystal I

Both the lecturers and the students involved with the e-governance programme embody the fact that Estonian universities have become more international recently. Most lecturers have extensive global experience. “I’m really happy with the lecturers, because they have been able to pull people who really know their subject,” LaGrone remarks, while highlighting that the head of research at the e-governance academy, the Swedish-born Katrin Merike Nyman-Metcalf, has worked in about 40 different countries.

“In the US, there is a saying about six degrees of separation – you are six people away from somebody you need to talk to, when you want to dig deep into something. In Estonia, it’s down to one or two, so it is all very accessible.”

The students are from different countries too: Ukraine, Georgia, Hungary, Germany, the US, from the Palestinian territories, and of course, Estonians. “Some are jealous of how close-knit our group is. We all learn from each other because we have such different specialities and background. We have taken trips to the Estonian countryside, and we have had cooking nights. We have made a commitment to get through our course together, because we all want to graduate,” LaGrone reveals.

Global ambassadors for Estonia

LaGrone underlines that some students will be global ambassadors for Estonia. “Many will go back to their country, working and implementing the solutions they learned about in Estonia. Some will do it for their governments, some for private businesses. And there are some, who really like Estonia and want to set up startup here. We really appreciate what we have learned,” she explains, while noting that the ever-present startup community has not left wanting either – Skype’s Tallinn office and the Mektory Innovation and Business Centre are in the vicinity of the university. LaGrone herself works at the e-Estonia showroom part-time, while she is not studying.

Crystal II

There are few things that she would improve. While her master’s programme is conducted entirely in English, LaGrone says it would benefit Estonia if the other information around the university and elsewhere would be more widely available in the pre-eminent international language, too. The issue of Estonians still being cautious of embracing people with different backgrounds is also a topic recently, especially since the most serious refugee crisis hit Europe in spring 2015.

“I appreciate Estonians’ will to retain their identity and culture, but we all live in a global society and it is important to embrace other cultures too. Estonia would miss out on some great things if it was afraid of something. I believe the Estonian spirit is so strong that you would never lose your culture and identity. I have watched ‘The Singing Revolution’ – a film about the non-violent path Estonia took to free itself from Soviet occupation – many times, and it spoke volumes,” LaGrone underlines.

LaGrone now sings in Estonian in the university choir – truly trying to embrace her university experience: “Estonian is very phonetic language, so it is not too hard to memorise the songs. More difficult are the vowels – ‘ä’, ‘ö’, ‘ü’, ‘õ’,” she says, laughingly.

“I appreciate Estonians’ will to retain their identity and culture, but we all live in a global society and it is important to embrace other cultures too. Estonia would miss out on some great things if it was afraid of something.”

While there is a widespread stereotype of Estonians being cold and distant, LaGrone insists that she has never experienced that herself: “For me, Estonians have always come across as warm and generous. Because I had heard this stereotype in advance, prior to my studies, my goal was to make Estonians laugh at least once a day – and I have succeeded, although it usually means that I need to poke fun at myself!”

She has also learned to appreciate some of the local food – “kohuke”, an Estonian curd snack, being the particular favourite, as well as products from the local confectionery maker Kalev. “I always bring Kalev back home to my family in the US – they are completely spoiled with Estonian chocolate!” she adds.

Exporting internet voting to the US

As with most of her fellow students, LaGrone has the ambition of going back to the US and making a difference, based on what she has learned in Estonia. In her case, it is of course the internet voting.

“We put a man on the moon – and we brought him back! So internet voting cannot be as hard as rocket science! Ok, I say this half-jokingly, because there are threats in cyber space. Voting is a very important issue and you would want to adhere it properly, but the paper election is more likely to be fraudulent. For example, back home we had a case where the ballot box wasn’t properly emptied and some voting papers were still left inside,” LaGrone remarks.

Crystal - Atko Januson

LaGrone says that the US can learn from Estonia when it comes to internet voting, and she will be one of the ambassadors to implement it, once the time is right – using the knowledge she has learned while studying in Tallinn.

“I believe democracy is heading towards internet voting. Estonia is dealing with the cyber threats very well – the technology is really there to make e-voting transparent. We in the US have a chance to embrace the technology and be at the frontline – or lag behind. I will certainly fight for it – even if it happens when I’m 90 years old, I am determined that I will vote online one day!”

I

The article was originally published in print magazine Life in Estonia. Photos by Maiken Staak and Atko Januson.

How successful is Estonian science?

After the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, Estonia’s economy started to grow again modestly in 2010. However, the budget for basic research has largely remained at the pre-crisis level. Taking into account annual inflation, the research budget has, in fact, been diminishing, but despite of this the standing of Estonian science has improved in the world.

This article was first published by the University of Tartu blog.

As the professor of experimental psychology at Tartu University, Jüri Allik, points out in his recent paper on progress in Estonian science, Estonia deviates from other European countries in terms of how research is funded. Namely, more than 80 per cent of the country’s research funding is project-based, coming from the ministry of education and research, while in other OECD countries national project-based research funding makes up about 20 per cent on average and rarely exceeds half of the funding.

How have the diminishing financing and a heavy emphasis on project-based funding influenced the standing of Estonian science in recent years?

Surprisingly enough, bibliometric indicators of the progress in Estonian science have never been better. During 1996–2006, Estonian papers were cited 17.5 per cent less than the average paper worldwide, as registered by Thomson Reuters’ Essential Science Indicators (ESI) database. In the last eleven years (2004–2014), however, the average citations per paper authored by Estonian scientists exceeded the ESI mean citation rate by five per cent.

The impact of Estonian scientific papers relative to the ESI’s average Graph by Jüri Allik

According to Allik, the success is related to the quality and fairness of the decision-making process in funding research projects. “Ever since Estonia regained its independence in 1991, most research funding applications have had to be written in English, which allowed for use of foreign experts who are more impartial than local experts. In addition, writing all applications in English was an invaluable practice for writing scientifically sound articles, to say nothing about internationally competitive and successful grant applications themselves,” Allik said.

Another important factor is that decision-making panels consist of the best active scientists rather than science bureaucrats.

science

As we look at the key players driving the success of Estonian science, most of them work in biological and environmental sciences. Two-thirds of the 42 scientists who are among the one per cent of the most cited researchers in their field and are affiliated with an Estonian research institution are biologists or ecologists.

“Two-thirds of the 42 scientists who are among the one per cent of the most cited researchers in their field and are affiliated with an Estonian research institution are biologists or ecologists.”

“Each Estonian paper published in environment/ecology and plant and animal science receives about 40 per cent more citations than papers in these fields in general. In addition to these two fields, clinical medicine, molecular biology and genetics, physics, pharmacology and toxicology, and psychiatry/psychology are also above the global average. The fastest growth rate of impact was in computer science, in which the impact of papers increased more than 200 per cent,” Allik added.

20 per cent of the top scientists are women

Estonia passed the threshold established for countries or territories in all 22 fields of science, which is not always the case. Four Estonian institutions have reached the top one per cent in at least one discipline: the University of Tartu in nine disciplines, the Estonian University of Life Sciences in two, and the National Institute of Health Development and the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics in one each.

More than three-quarters of Estonia’s top scientists are affiliated with the University of Tartu, Allik himself among them. It is also remarkable that 20 per cent of the top researchers are women: Kessi Abarenkov, Aveliina Helm, Angela Ivask, Anne Kahru, Mari Moora, Anu Realo, Liis Rebane and Mari Nelis. “This is especially noteworthy in light of the fact that the Estonian Academy of Sciences has only two women among its 79 current members,” Allik noted.

Estonian top scientists

He pointed out that the list of top Estonian scientists was also telling in terms of the system’s openness. Namely, the list includes several foreigners (Michael Brosche, Henri-Charles Dubourgier, Marlon Dumas, Andrea Giammanco, Andrew Morris, Risto Näätänen, Markus Perola and Harold Snieder) who were invited to work either part or full time in Estonia. Several researchers of Estonian origin, for instance Ülo Langel and Toomas Kivisild, have their main affiliation with institutions abroad, but have another affiliation in Estonia.

I

Cover photo by Erik Riikoja (courtesy of EAS)

International students in Estonia: Introduction

Over the years Estonia has welcomed more and more international students. What are the reasons behind that? Do they like it in Estonia and how do they spend their time here? This article tries to answer all of these questions.

According to the Archimedes year book, in the academic year of 2014/2015 there were 2,887 degree students in Estonia. The number of international students increased by 33 per cent. There are 101 different nationalities studying in Estonia, the most come from Finland (1,294), Russia (230), Turkey (112), Georgia (110) and Latvia (101).

First, Estonian universities have done a great job with partner universities implementing new contracts and projects. Students appreciate our academic conditions, infrastructure and learning facilities.

The officials at “Study in Estonia” have also done a great job at marketing. They have made a mobile app for international students called “Survival Guide in Estonia” and started producing webinars that popularised learning possibilities and life in Estonia. Apart from the new and dynamic web page, “Study in Estonia” initiators took part in international higher education study fairs in Finland, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, China and India.

When it comes to India, “Study in Estonia” was cooperating with other Baltic states, organising an info day called “Study in Baltics” in New Delhi.

Erasmus programme

This writer has been a volunteer in a local branch of the Erasmus social network, ESN Tallinn, for many years. Erasmus is an exchange programme for students, scholars and internees. The organisation consists of people who organise trips, events and happenings for international students.

When it comes to Erasmus destinations, in 2010 Estonia was chosen the second best destination according to ESN Survey. What are the reasons? Mainly, the many volunteers (not only Estonians) who work very hard and efficiently. There are not many countries where exchange students are greeted in the airport upon their arrival and then taken to their homes. The majority of them have tutors and personal buddies. Sometimes the attention that a foreign student gets here, has even made ESN activists gasp: “They are not babies, for Christ sake!”

Erasmus students

Apart from many professional skills and contacts, the Erasmus experience has given this writer insight on how foreigners see Estonia.

Why do they come here?

There are many reasons. People from southern Europe or Latin America come to Estonia usually because it is totally different. They have palm trees and beach parties; we have snow and Christmas trees.

“Isabel loves making snow angels.”

“Pedro wants to drink hot wine and try gingerbread in snowy Old Town.”

“Magical old town and cute Christmas markets.”

These are some of the impressions by foreign students who have chosen Estonia.

A lot of students actually preferred Scandinavian countries, but after realising it is not possible to go there (financial reasons, school requirements and competition among students) they come to Estonia “because it is almost like Denmark”. Many students come here for degrees associated with IT, due to Skype and other success stories associated with e-Estonia. Cyber security is also very popular. Medical students go to Tartu, because of the quality of our medical education there.

Tartu by Sven Zacek

Some come to Estonia because it is weird and different. For example, Spanish exchange students really seem to like Estonia for those reasons.

I have also witnessed a lot of word of mouth approval, where a student who has been in Estonia, inspired his or her friend to come next semester.

And – some come here for the blond-haired girls!

Do they party here?

Well, hedonism plays an important role in Erasmus and in youth in general. We are still a YOLO-generation (“you only live once“). The most popular day for Erasmus students is Wednesday, where majority of them go to Club Mynt in the Old Town. Cheap drinks and horrible music – the two factors that make one wait in line for an hour, if needed.

Mynt Nightclub

This place also fuels international love – as well as gossip and drama. Many different nationalities find each other there – for example, an Estonian party host and DJ found his Hungarian wife here. Another one – a French Erasmus student – found his Estonian girlfriend – they have now started an international travel company that provides international students’ trips to Finland, Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Do they only party here?

No, there are many serious internationals, who do not go to parties at all. They take their job, internship, school seriously. A lot of them even join ESN to develop leadership skills. Many of them go on a trip to southern Estonia, take part in language tandems, and write for university newspapers. For example, the Studioosus – the newspaper of Tallinn University of Technology – has had an international section for the past three years.

Artistic students from Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre organise their own small concerts. Some go to movie nights and learn about “Singing Revolution” and listen the interview with conductor Hirvo Surva.

Kalamaja

Creative ladies are keen on getting inspiration from wooden houses in Kalamaja. Some of them find trippy and strange clothes from local second-hand shops, some go for picnics and different surroundings in Rummu, a former mining site, now resembling a blue lagoon.

Apart from enjoying the tranquil atmosphere of Kadriorg or jogging along the sea promenade in Pirita in the Estonian capital, many people travel to St. Petersburg and take part in ESN trips to Rakvere, Tartu and Pärnu. Very popular are trips to Paldiski, to Lahemaa National Park, different bogs and even mushroom and berry picking events!

Pirita - Urmas Haljaste

The coolest event in an academic year is the “Estonian Wedding”, where 80 international students play out the traditional local wedding. Everyone has chosen a role – from the bride to the grandmother, from the groom to a childhood friend. Many years, even “the couple” did not know each other before the event and complete strangers married in an Estonian way. In 2015, however, a real couple got married. They also had to go through different rituals from cleaning the fish and peeling potatoes to changing the diapers and drinking vodka.  This year, the “Estonian Wedding” will be Seto-style instead.

Estonian student wedding

Some international students also fancy sporting events. A guy from Germany might chant for “Eesti” (Estonia) when the national football team is fighting for European qualifiers.

Do they like it here?

The boys who want to find themselves a blond girl love it here. Some women find our children cute and want a baby by an Estonian husband. Some fall in love with the country completely. Some get excited over first snowflakes (actually, a lot of people get excited). If you are friends with many international students, be prepared for Facebook statuses called: “Oh my god, IT IS SNOWING IN ESTONIA!”

Winter Fun in Estonia II

The majority will not get obsessed over black bread, but many will miss “kohuke”, a curd snack. Vana-Tallinn, the most famous local liquor, is so-so for most, but there are people who love it so much here that they write an article about it.

Is it all so lovely?

No. Every country has its issues. It is not just an Estonian thing, it is just life.

One of my Greek friends was beaten up so badly two years ago that he was taken to hospital. One Spanish guy was attacked a year ago.

The biggest problem, however, is a phenomenon called “international students isolation”. This is an issue with every destination country, where international students hang out with only international students. An Italian might learn Spanish or even Korean, but not Estonian, since they might spend time with only those nationalities. It was the same in Cyprus, where I did my Erasmus. This isolation might mean a situation where an international student spends a year in our country and ends up leaving from here, while not knowing anything about our culture, music or the meaning of “aitäh” or “palun” (“thank you” and “please”).

Erasmus students II

I might generalise, but Estonians tend to be more distant and silent, so sometimes foreigners are afraid to make first contact with us.

How could we make it work better?

First we have to hope we will have more international students in Estonia and they will show interest coming here.

Secondly, majority of universities should have “international clubs”, where Estonians could meet, mix and mingle with other nationalities. It would also be a place to practice one’s communication, leadership and organisational skills. Companies could reach out to universities and offer internship positions.

Erasmus students III

Some companies have contacted ESN to offer study or field trips to their company. It is a great, cost-effective way to spread the word and also find new workers. Furthermore, it is a perfect way to bring in new ideas and practices. By the way, students from the European Union can do an Erasmus internship – their salary is provided by the EU, so the company can get a worker for free.

“Companies could reach out to universities and offer internship positions.”

All in all, it seems universities and the “Study in Estonia” promoters continue their hard work. This means we will welcome more international students. Hopefully all the international clubs will continue to work efficiently as well. But how can we, as regular citizens make their stay more convenient? Give your opinion on the comments sections.

I

Cover image by Thomas Haltner.

Marika Seigel: How do Estonian and American students differ?

Marika Seigel, a former visiting associate professor at the Department of English Philology of the University of Tartu (UT), compares the learning methods of Estonian and American students.

By far, the question I was asked most frequently as a visiting professor at UT was, “how do you like teaching Estonian students?” or maybe, “How are Estonian students different from their American peers?”

My standard answers included, “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 7,000 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 US. 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.

The area where I’m from, the Upper Great Lakes of the American Midwest, looks a lot like… well… like Estonia. Despite being a dozen degrees of latitude further south, our climates are similar (except that we get a lot more snow in the winter than Estonia). The flora and fauna are similar. There is even a large Finnish population and in my home community, street signs often appear in Finnish as well as English. Many of my students back home are from Michigan or from the neighbouring states of Wisconsin or Minnesota, but there is also a large international student body (over 1,000 students), many from China and India. We’ve even had some students from Estonia. All of this is to say that when I talk about “American” students, I’m talking about a very specific subset of students at a very specific university, some of whom are not technically Americans.

In turn, I’ve only taught a couple of classes here at the University of Tartu involving a very small subset of students (some of whom are also international), so I hesitate to generalise about what the University of Tartu students are like, let alone Estonian students in general. With those caveats in place, however, here are the most significant differences I’ve noticed between students in classes I’ve taught here (hereafter “Estonian students”) and in classes I’ve taught in the US (hereafter “American students”):

1. It is more difficult (but not impossible) to engage Estonian students in classroom discussion.

At my home institution, I can count on carrying almost an entire period with student discussion alone, and just by posing a few key questions to the class. Once I get the conversation going, American students have little trouble airing their opinions for hours at a time. Estonian students, on the other hand, will answer my questions, but in a matter of fact way, and getting sustained discussion from them (where students discuss with each other instead of just with me) is much more difficult. Some of this is Estonian reserve, true, and some of it has to do with language (as I am lecturing in English), but most of the students in my class are so fluently bi-, tri- or quad-lingual that this really shouldn’t be a significant issue. In general, I’d say that American students could stand to think a little more before they speak, while Estonian students could stand to venture their views and opinions a little more quickly and with a little more confidence.

2. Estonian students don’t try to hide their texting or Facebooking or Tumbling during class.

The majority of my students here pay attention and are engaged, but those who aren’t paying attention don’t try to pretend otherwise, but openly gaze instead at their computer screens or phones while I lecture. Since the class that I’m currently teaching is on the rhetoric of social media, perhaps this can be justified as research. American students do these things, too, of course, but they go to great lengths to try to be more covert about it. Granted, when any student is gazing in fascination at their lap for an extended period of time, there’s no great mystery about what is going on, but I haven’t yet decided which is worse – to be overt that you are not paying attention or to try to seem like you are paying attention when you are, in fact, not.

3. Estonian students are more interested in discussing ideas divorced from practical application.

At my home institution, I more often have to stress the extrinsic value of theories we may be studying, or how class content might directly relate to students’ fields of study. Of course, some of this is due to the type of institution that I teach at (a technological university), and some of it is due to the fact that American students have to pay so much for their education, frequently going into astronomical debt to acquire it. If American students want the most bang for their buck I can hardly blame them, but it is refreshing to teach at an institution where students are interested in literature and philosophy and theory, and seem to, in general, value intellectual curiosity for its own sake.

4. Estonian students get dressed for class!

In my experience, they do not come to class in sweatpants, or pyjama pants, or pyjama pants paired with Uggs (Australian boots, made of sheep skin), or (as happened to me once early in my teaching career) nothing but a bathrobe and slippers. Neither do Estonian students noisily eat their meals during class. If any American students happen to be reading this, please take note: There are places in the world where it is still possible to get dressed before venturing into public and it is possible to eat your lunch on your own time. Everybody wins.

In the end analysis, though, there are far more similarities than differences, the same enthusiasm from some students and disengagement from others, the same excuses for not being able to come to class or for turning in homework late, the same energy for learning new concepts and figuring out how to apply them. I am grateful for the slight differences. It’s easy to get complacent when you teach the same classes to the same students, to get into a rut, and the differences I’ve experienced during my short time here have given me an opportunity to grow as a teacher, to develop new materials, and try different methods that will surely benefit my classrooms back home.

But seriously, Americans, put on some pants.

I

This article was originally published on University of Tartu blog. The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover photo by Andres Tennus, courtesy of University of Tartu. Author’s profile photo by Tõnis Varjas.

10 reasons why a Spanish Erasmus student loves Estonia

Isabel Fernández Felipe, an Erasmus student from Spain, who took psychology lessons in Tallinn University last year, fell in love with Tallinn and Estonia.

In the beginning I thought Tallinn wouldn’t be the best place to live because of the weather and the different culture that might seem distant. But now, as I am finishing my Erasmus exchange studies, I can fortunately admit I was wrong. To be honest, I fell in love with this city from the beginning. So, ¿por qué? Miks? 

1. A small but a caring nation

Estonian population is a little more than one million and the culture is the main vehicle for the Estonian identity. They have a lot of respect for it; their identity is something very special to them. I’ll always remember the Independence Day celebrations in Toompea Hill, where a lot of people were singing the national song while crying and smiling. So many emotions, flags and beauty! Next to that I was really surprised at the national anthem’s lyrics: they are so beautiful that made me want to sing it fluently myself!

Song Festival

But it is not all about beauty. Estonians have suffered a lot under various occupations. History made Estonians fight, good people have died and people now shed tears just to enjoy their freedom. For a person whose country has enjoyed freedom over centuries, it’s very exciting to sense how important it is for Estonians to be united. I will miss them singing all together, singing so gracefully, just to defend their country and make it proud.

2. No more stereotypes with Estonians, please!

Before coming to Estonia, I was reading that they have a cold personality, they’re serious, they aren’t passionate and they are stressed all the time. Well, it’s true that the first impression can correspond to that stereotype, but I’ve realised that in a broader view, Estonians are not like that.

51hePJ5FkYL._SX385_I think it is just a matter of sun. Estonians are publicly polite and silent because they have to save energy due to the lack of vitamins from the sun. Estonians have energy only for few people and at home. If they have saved enough energy, they are energetic, funny and talkative – as long as you are not together with 100 people and alcohol is involved! They like to have fun and they know how to do it!

I don’t think Estonians are boring. For me, they are adventurous, challenging and they like to do random things at random places. For example, I was at a crazy party inside a Soviet-era prison, where many years ago people were tortured or left dead. I went to see jellyfish in a restricted area of the port. I saw how Estonians can drink at 10 am inside a supermarket. Even if considered shy in one moment, they can wear animal costumes in the university or party 24 hours in an abandoned factory the other. I think Estonians are weird – in a good way!

3. Landscape in Estonia is so plush!

The colours and tastes are impressive here. Almost all of the Estonian land is covered by forests and Estonians are more attached to nature than other nationalities. You can do a lot of activities in the nature like visit wild bogs, go cross-country skiing, pick mushrooms and berries.

Landscape in a room of landscape II

Also, there are beautiful villages and towns in Estonia. Viljandi, Pärnu and Tartu are perfect examples of places where you can discover cute places to relax, handicraft shops and historical places to visit. But if you want to enjoy the nature, you should go to Jägala waterfall, Lahemaa National Park or Saaremaa. Or maybe take a stroll at Rakvere Castle.

4. Good public transport

First of all, in Tallinn, public transport is free for people who are registered to live in the city. Secondly, there are lot of buses and trams running during the day. You don’t have to wait for more than 10 minutes (usually less) if you want to go to the city centre. Less cars, eco-friendly, we all breathe fresher air!

Special tram (originating from 1953) Photo by Terje Lepp

5. Estonia is in a geostrategically important area

Finland’s capital Helsinki is only 88 kilometres away, but Estonia also has good connections with Oslo, Stockholm, Riga, Vilnius and St. Petersburg. So, if you are coming to Estonia, be ready with your backpack and start travelling!

Estonia

6. Ask Estonian about their national food!

It is true that “Estonian food” is not the strongest asset of this country because if you ask about it, people will tell you that the most important Estonian food are potatoes (what the heck?!).

kohuke

But – there are some snacks that I really learned to love in Estonia! Cheesecake kohuke is my favourite candy from Estonia. It’s like a sweet snack made from curd cheese and chocolate. I also love Kalev chocolate, made by the local confectionery maker by the same name. There are lot of types of chocolate: with strawberries, orange, nuts, mint, raspberries and so on. You are obliged to try it if you are coming here!

7. Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world

Only the 14% of the population declare themselves religious. It is a country where religion has never played an important role on the political or ideological battlefield. I respect all of the religions, but I think is important to separate religion from politics and education in order to feel and think free in what you want to believe or what you want to follow without the pressure of the highest authorities. Instead believing in God, Estonians believe more in a natural phenomenon that makes it more fascinating for me – they celebrate the “Tree hugging day”, for example!

Tree hugging

8. Children mature faster

I was very surprised when I saw really small children in the tram or walking around totally alone. Also, I couldn’t understand why six-year-old children have mobile phones. Well, I was reading about it and I think the education parents give to their kids is really good in terms that they feel independent more early compared with children in other countries.

programming-for-kids

It seems it allows the kids to mature much faster. Also, I think it makes them less anxious and stiffens them up. It’s important for us to know how to live on our own.

9. If you are a music lover, Estonia is your country

There are always lots of music events everywhere and you can choose what is better for your interests. From electronic, disco, pop, rock, rap to salsa, folk, reggae and jazz – you name it.

Also, music festivals are great here. The most common are the Tallinn Music Week Festival, where you can enjoy concerts all the day, everywhere, during a week, and the Viljandi Folk Festival, inspired by traditional elements played by original composers.

Eesti ETNO (Mikk Mihkel Vaabel)

Do not forget to check out the world famous composer, Arvo Pärt, or an indie band like Ewert and the Two Dragons. Maria Minerva can also blow your mind.

10. There is only one thing that sounds better than the rain: the Estonian language

When you listen Estonians talking to each other you may think they are singing. The language is pretty soft, melodic and it has very beautiful sounds. There are some tongue twisters that can make you crazy: “Võib võid võtta või ei või võid võtta?” (May I take some butter or may I not?), for example; or also some weird and funny words as “töööö” or “jäääär”. I tried to learn the language but it’s so difficult (14 cases!), so I would have to try another time because I really love it!

Photo by Ilmar Saabas for Maaleht

I spent 10 months in Estonia and I declare myself an Estonian lover, so I will come back for sure.

Estonia, we will meet again! Nägemist, kullakesed.

I

This article was originally published by Erasmus Love website. The cover photo is illustrative: winter walk in Otepää (photo by Jarek Jõepera/courtesy of VisitEstonia).

Estonia seventh smartest country in the world, based on science

Based on the data by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the British edition of the US magazine, Business Insider, ranked the 10 smartest countries in the world when it comes to science, including Estonia in the ranking.

Using data from OECD’s 2015 Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard report, the ranking is based on the percentage of science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) degrees awarded per capita.

“If we are to solve the biggest problems of our time – from climate change and food security to – we’re going to need more scientists,” the magazine said.

Estonia earned a respectable seventh position in the ranking, with 26% of its students graduating with a STEM degree.

Business Insider also pointed out that Estonia had one of the highest percentages of female STEM graduates, at 41% in 2012.

10 of the smartest countries in the world, based on science degrees:

10. Portugal

9. Austria

8. Mexico

7. Estonia

6. Greece

5. France

4. Finland

3. Sweden

2. Germany

1. South Korea

I

Cover: In 2013, Estonia became the 41st nation to have a man-made object in space, when its first satellite, ESTCube-1, was rocketed off to orbit the Earth. Around 100 students and scientists contributed to creation of the tiny one-kilogram satellite, which was nearly six years in the making. The satelliite was used as the basis for 40 research projects and three doctoral theses. Picture by Taavi Torim (Wikimedia Commons).

Estonia ranks seventh in English Proficiency Index

Estonia ranks seventh in the fifth annual EF English Proficiency Index, the ranking is out of 70 countries worldwide and is classified as a very high proficiency level.

The seventh place this year is one ranking higher than last year, but still lower than the fourth place in 2013. Out of the 27 European countries in the index, Estonia also ranks seventh.

The first in the index is Sweden, followed by the Netherlands and Denmark. Norway ranks fourth, Finland fifth and Slovenia sixth. After the Estonian ranking come Luxembourg, Poland and Austria.

This year’s edition of the EF English Proficiency Index ranks 70 countries and territories based on test data from more than 910,000 adults who took online English tests in 2014.

Two Estonian universities among the world’s best

The University of Tartu (UT) and the Tallinn University of Technology (TUT) are among the 600 best high-level educational institutions in the world, according to latest ranking by the Times Higher Education journal (THE).

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings, founded in 2004, provide the definitive list of the world’s best universities, evaluated across teaching, research, international outlook, reputation and more.

Times Higher Education ranking

The ranking is based on three sources: an annual reputation survey, the Elsevier publishing house’s database Scopus, and the data submitted by universities themselves. 13 performance indicators are taken into account in ranking the universities and the indicators describe the learning environment, the scope and influence of published research results, reputation survey results, incomes, and the extent of innovation and internationalisation.

The University of Tartu was ranked among 351-400 and the Tallinn University of Technology among 501-600 best universities in the world.

Erik Riikoja

Both universities have for long been considered the leading academic institutions in Estonia. The University of Tartu has previously made it to the top one per cent of the world’s most highly cited science institutions in ten fields out of 22, and the Tallinn University of Technology includes alumni of notable Estonian tech entrepreneurs, such as Taavet Hinrikus (TransferWise), Hardi Meybaum (GrabCAD), Kris Hiiemaa (ERPLY), Vladimir Funtikov (Creative Mobile), and others.

The top ten is still dominated by Anglo-American institutions, with the California Institute of Technology (US), the University of Oxford (UK), Stanford University (US), the University of Cambridge (UK) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) taking the first five spots.

I

Cover: University of Tartu.

A fossil bone in Estonia led to the discovery of the origins of sex

A single fossil bone that was kept in Estonia and accidentally discovered by an Australian scientist led to the discovery of the origins of sexual intercourse.

John Long, a palaeontology professor at Flinders University in Australia, discovered the fossil bone from the collections of the Tallinn University of Technology where he was handed a box of bones by chance. Among these there was a plate with a strange, grooved bone. After studying the bone more closely, Long discovered it to be a sex organ, the oldest and the most primitive one found on Earth.

A computer-generated simulation of placoderms having sex. Source: Flinders University/YouTube.

According to the research, the fossil bone belongs to a tiny fish called placoderm. The first sexual intercourse was, according to the professor, done “sideways, square dance style”. The male placoderm had bony, L-shaped genital limbs to transfer sperm to females, and the females had small paired bones to lock the male organs in place for mating. Measuring about 8 cm long, placoderms called Microbrachius dicki lived in ancient lake habitats in Scotland, as well as parts of Estonia and China.

It is thought the first sexual intercourse took place about 385 million years ago in Scotland.

The findings were recently published in the Nature journal.

I

Cover photo: Microbrachius dicki.

Scroll to Top