Thursday, September 26, 2013

What do a brain scientist, an MP and a standup comic have in common?

On September 25, 2013, I teamed up with a brain scientist, a member of parliament, an architect, a standup comic, a prison official and a few others to talk about “borders” in Estonian society and how we can bridge them. Despite the speakers’ varied backgrounds, they all had a fresh perspective to share that stemmed from their own discipline and life experience. And our standup comic host, Stewart Johnson, kept us laughing all the way through!

Member of Parliament Liisa Pakosta questions assumptions
The event was the first in a series of seminars that is being put on by Estonia’s U.S. government exchange alumni NGO with fresh perspectives on social, cross-cultural, and cross-disciplinary issues. These alumni have participated in U.S. State Department funded exchanges such as Fulbright and the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) and are now teaming up to stimulate discussion in Estonian society on hot topics. The whole event felt like a TED Talk with short, intense presentations, lots of audience participation and cameras everywhere to capture the action.

Audience members kept the Q&A sessions lively 
The seminar kicked off with Jaan Aru (a neurosciences researcher at Tartu University) who proposed we cut open someone’s skull to examine where consciousness begins. Despite no volunteers from the audience he went on to talk about what is known and unknown about the human brain. He was followed by IVLP alumnus and Member of Parliament Liisa Pakosta who questioned our ideas of whether maternity leave and bans on youth labor are really the best thing for families and children. In the last talk of the morning, Fulbright Student alumnus and architect Ivan Sergejev discussed how buildings and built spaces create or bridge boundaries between people.

Neuroscientist Jaan Aru asks where consciousness begins 
The afternoon kicked off with IVLP alumnus and director of the Tartu Center for Creative Industries Raul Oreskin, who talked about the butterfly effect and how Estonian society can change as a result of small but impactful inputs. Mathematician Kristjan Korjus challenged the audience’s ideas about god, the brain and mathematics. And finally, Prison Department official and Humphrey Fellowship program alumnus Anne-Marika Maschorov talked about her work crossing borders and breaking stereotypes as a woman professional working in correction.

I was impressed with the range of topics and passion that our speakers brought to the dais, but the audience’s (mostly university students) enthusiasm was also contagious. By the end of the day, people were pretty exhausted, yet we’d all learned a whole lot more about our world, Estonia and the borders that we can overcome together. To learn more about the U.S. Embassy’s exchange programs and how you can apply, visit our website.

Blog post by Assistant Public Affairs Officer Alison Davis

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