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March Meeting 2023 Estonia (in English)

Author: Elis Riin Tars

Editor and translator: Liis Rull

Photo: Rauno Liivand


Exactly 20 years later, Estonia repeats history and does so on a massive scale. In March 2003, EstMSA organised the General Assembly of our umbrella organisation, IFMSA, in Pärnu for the first time. This year, Estonia organised a major event once again. March Meeting 2023 brought 811 students from 85 countries to Tallinn. 50 people contributed to the success of the event. I also had a great opportunity to be part of this hard-working and wonderful team, and now I can share this joy with you, readers.

A few months after the end of the event, I met with members of the organizing team: Elina Osi, Veiko Lillipuu and Katariina Idla, to look back on this major event for medical students.

Photo: private collection


Short outtakes about IMFSA and MM

Founded in 1951, the IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations) is an umbrella organization of medical student associations with 1.5 million members from 130 countries and 139 member organizations. Twice a year, delegations from all member organisations meet as a weekly General Assembly - March Meeting and August Meeting, respectively. At the General Assembly, delegates from the member states participate in group sessions to gain and share knowledge on public health, human rights, sexual health, medical education and foreign exchange. The main learning method is “peer to peer”, that is, learning from each other. At the evening plenaries (which resemble the EstMSA general meeting, but with the votes being of each member organization, not a single member), cross-organizational decisions are made and the direction for the future is set. In March, the next IFMSA management will also be elected, who will begin to learn the tasks needed at their new position - in August, the rest of the board will be elected! The management of IFMSA is responsible for the content of the sessions, but the entire organisational side is the responsibility of the member state.

Photo: Rauno Liivand


How did Estonia get involved with organising?

Elina has been closely associated with IFMSA, first as a general assistant to the head of the clinical foreign exchange group and later as a member of the IFMSA audit committee, i.e. Supervising Council. Since attending her first general assembly - in 2018 in Egypt – she dreamed of how cool it would be to bring this big event to Estonia again. Thoughts were exchanged with other IFMSA enthusiasts in Estonia, but the high prices in Estonia and the lack of a large enough conference centre left it as an idea for years. The plan resurfaced in North Macedonia in March 2022 when no host was found for the MM23. Together with Idla and Taur, the topic was brought up again, first as a joke: "oh, so maybe Estonia will organize". However, after further developing the idea, the three of them came to the conclusion that after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of participants is no longer so large and, for example, the Viru Conference Centre, which can accommodate up to 1,200 people, could be a suitable venue for the event. Thus, while still in Macedonia, a video call was made with the then management board of EstMSA to convince them about the credibility of the idea. When they returned home, they immediately started looking for enthusiastic people from the association who had previous experience with IFMSA, as they had to have a list of nearly 10 team leaders in place to apply. Fortunately, in April, the EstMSA 30+1 gala took place, where, after approaching some people personally and with some lobbying, a surprising number of people were gathered for the team, including the former financial VP Veiko, who had also dreamed of organizing the General Assembly during his term of office. The first meeting of organisers was held the next morning after the gala, where it was decided to start preparing Estonia's candidacy together.

It has traditionally been the case that if the organizer of the next March Meetingis not selected in March, the candidacy must be submitted at the August Meeting As an exception, at the request of IFMSA management, the candidacy had to be submitted in May, which led from the initial idea to very rapid action. Immediately, negotiations began with potential cooperation partners to put together the preliminary budget of the General Assembly. The application for visas had to be quickly clarified and Estonian promotional material had to be prepared so that we would be selected. The candidacy was sent at the last minute and we waited for the decision.

How did the preparations go?

In the summer, the preparation was a little stale, as we received a definite “yes” only in July. Elina was also completing her two-year term in the IFMSA audit committee, which included quite a lot of work. From September, we started organizing at a great pace, since there were 6 months left until MM. From there, work was going on every day: even during New Year's Eve we wrote a project application for the City of Tallinn to receive funding. While team leaders were able to qualify before applying as required by the IFMSA, we started taking applications to find team members this summer. The recruitment of volunteers began in mid-autumn. The teams' meetings were held on an ongoing basis, less often at first, but more often towards the end, and someone from the main organising team had to be present at all times to avoid information gaps. The whole team met together once a month. In conclusion, based on her experience with IFMSA, Elina finds that the management period actually went very, very well. The organising went smoothly, the problems were solved operatively, the team communicated with each other, everyone was committed to the tasks and it's no secret that people were passionate about the matter and also dared to take responsibility for their decisions. The Estonian work mentality also provided a smooth working process. Although Estonia is one of the smaller member states of the IFMSA, it turned out to be rather our trump card, because everyone seems to know each other and, based on previous experience, it was easy to find solutions to problems. Overall, the order was like a marathon-long sprint.

Photo: personal collection


How did the General Assembly go?

Looking back, this week went better than we could ever have imagined. The March Meeting is a conference with a peculiar plan – many workshops, long evening plenaries and a large outdoor exchange fair are held at once. The organising state is also responsible for the theme event, and at the same time, the evening entertainment must be ensured with a proper opening and ending - all this must take place under one roof or within a walking distance. The biggest headache was making it work logistically: finding solutions that fit everything and fit the budget as well. There will certainly be plenty of tables to remember, starting from registration files to day-by-day scheduling and volunteer assembling tasks. Due to the tables, many concerns came up before the start of the event, and as a result, we played through different risky situations in order to avoid major mishaps as much as possible. All communication took place in Telegram during the conference, and we had our own staff spot in Viru, from where we tried to manage everything. The willingness of team members and volunteers to do everything on an ongoing basis was unbelievable and nothing was too difficult for them. We trusted the team leaders who had the authority to make decisions, and so many minor concerns probably didn't even reach us.

Photo: Rauno Liivand


The biggest successes

At the beginning of the organizing process, we received feedback from the Estonian Conference Bureau that March Meeting will be one of the largest conferences in Estonia in 2023. They were very surprised that this was all going to be organised by a voluntary student organisation. At that point, we realised what a challenge we had taken on, but we were positively minded, knowing that we could do it.

Already in the spring, the successful decision to lock in the most important price offerings for accommodation and the conference centre was made, as the “energy crisis”, inflation and war, which later caused general economic instability, had a significant impact on the budget. Nevertheless, we managed to find 30 sponsors who supported the event to a great or even greater extent. We are profoundly grateful to them and in the end, the budget of the General Assembly of more than 400,000 euros was nicely on the plus side! We were praised for the outstanding and consistent visuals and quality information materials produced by our PR team. As part of the information materials, we also made several preparatory seminars on the topic “Estonian weather”, thanks to which no one arrived in shorts and flip-flops - this was already a considerable success.

We received feedback that opening day check-in was the most stress-free experience of any General Assemblies to date. Delegation leaders checked in the entire country at the same time, while others were being shared curd snacks in the lobby. Both cute Siim the Hedgehog and the Estonian-themed merch was also received within the first day. This usually only happens in the final days of the Assembly.

The opening ceremony at the MJ Club was a powerful start to everything and stood out in a good way from the previous general assemblies with its pace and show. We got praised for the fact that folk dancing was taught to everyone present, and it wasn't just a performance. The social program as a whole was engaging and a great success. The NFDP (National Food and Drink Party) took place outdoors, and the Viru Centre contributed to its success. Being outside made the event easy to clean and no one could complain about the lack of fresh air – luckily there was snow as well! In cooperation with Viru Centre, we also offered dinner to half of the participants on Viru Food Street, which was also memorable.

The entire MM passed without significant technical difficulties, the speed of the Internet was at the level corresponding to the e-state, the required hybrid stream that lasted until the night hours was excellent. In addition, the elevators at the Viru Hotel were fast enough to move the entire crowd around the house without worry.

By the way, besides the main event, there was a “small” preliminary event with 150 people that lasted for 4 days - the preMM in Tartu - and the team responsible for it managed to organize it excellently.

And it could never be repeated too many times that the greatest success was finding those super cool people who made it all happen!

Photo: Rauno Liivand


Interesting accidents

In particular, the anxious moments were associated with unexpected logistical changes. For example, in the afternoon of the second day, it turned out that there had been a misunderstanding about the NFDP taking place in the evening – not enough tables had been prepared for the party area. The social program team immediately started calling all the companies offering table rentals, and the required number of tables were delivered after a few hours. On the eve of National Cultures Night, we realized that we still needed more space to make this popular part of the program a success. The organizing team made a quick plan, and at midnight, at least 20 people were ready to relocate the furniture in the largest hall of the conference center. Or, for example, the anxious speeches from the social program party organisers came with the question of where were all the 500+ people we promised to send them, but in reality the evening scenarios just went over time and the schedule shifted. In the end, people still made it to the parties and everything went very well.

Not exactly a mishap, but a funny bit: A person in a high position at IFMSA was decorated with an airtag on their participation card, because they were a very deep sleeper. In addition, they had lost their phone, which made it difficult to reach them. However, it was possible to “search” for the airtag if necessary, and thereby attract their attention. As an added bonus, the emoji of a pig was engraved on the airtag.

The only real (but funny in hindsight) mishap was a loud bang in the organisers' room with an iPhone charger during the sessions at Tallinn Secondary School, after which half of the house lost power. Fortunately, this was also resolved.

What did you learn? What would you do differently?

We certainly learned well to work with a large team, delegate, trust, and let go of some things and avoid over-management. It was important to get an overview of the process, but also to trust the teams in their ongoing coping. We developed more in terms of considering people's peculiarities and communicating with people according to cultural backgrounds. Veiko also points out that business meetings with the cooperation partner, frequent official email communications and phone calls with sponsors were great for learning. At the same time, Idla learned to code due to registration, invitations and invoice bases. As the management team was large, Taur learned to make schedules for each day so that the work would be done and no one would feel too burdened.

Otherwise, nothing big would be done differently, but rather small, unimportant, detailed things in the overall picture. If you know that the biggest problem with the event is that the participation card is too small, the event went well. All the important pieces of the puzzle were put in the right place, and looking back, you wouldn't change anything.

The MM23 management team consisted of: Elina Osi, Katariina Idla, Taur Lillestik, Veiko Lillipuu, Karmen Nigul, Liisa Marie Kerner, Anette Remmelg, Kristiina Tideman, Doris Poolamets, Karl-Sten Kõrgmaa, Triin Pirso, Mari-Liis Mets, Triinu Johanna Lume, Grete Raag, Andra Toomet, Ingrid Tamvere, Sonja Liis Kaara, Marta Kohal, Greete Jakobson, Pauline Rummel, Annagreta Õismaa, Anna Marie Paabumets, Mari Liis Sukk, Kerttu-Liis Viires, Annika Alavere, Annika Arrak, Kätlin Kits, Johanna Britt Berzin, Daniel Budõlin.

Volunteers: Andres Kostabi, Martin Ojamaa, Annabel Nelling, Gaida Kertu Roos, Karel Somelar, Mia Luisa Tõnisson, Kadi Kruuv, Anette Joandi, Anna Celine Kraus, Triinu-Liis Loit, Melissa Akkel, Miriam Kalja, Mari Perens, Rebeka Remmel, Astra Ilsjan, Aleksander Mustasaar, Marie Tamm, Kristiina Tasane, Artjom Latuta, Elis Riin Tars, Erik Hurt.

Many thanks also to Emma Keränen, Ermo Säks and Priit Tohver!



DELEGATIONS

Your name and where are you from?

Aarya Shah. I'm from MSAI India.

What SC sessions did you participate in?

NMO management.

Have you ever been to Estonia?

No.

What was your first impression of Estonia?

It is very pretty but it’s really cold.

How did you like your sessions? What was most interesting?

It is really amazing, really well organised and the OC was really helpful. I want to say a big thank you to the OC and to everyone in Estonia who welcomed us. I was also in Tartu and had an amazing time during the preGA.



Your name and where are you from?

Nanati Jemal Aliye, I’m from EMSA Ethiopia.

What SC sessions did you participate in?

SCOPE sessions.

Had you ever been to Estonia before MM23?

I had never been to Estonia.

What was your first impression of Estonia?

First impression was that Estonia is a very cold country… but with a very convenient transportation system.

Memory of MM23 that will stick with you for the longest?

On the day of my departure, I was told to take the tram number 4 and so I followed the advice, only to realize I had taken the tram heading in the opposite direction. So there I was: an hour away from boarding, on the opposite side of the city all alone. However, it all ended well: some nice people showed me that way back and I made it in time for my flight. It allowed me to appreciate the kindness of Estonian people.

How did you like the social program?

The social program was as inclusive as it could have been. I loved how we had two options to choose from, especially to those of us that don't enjoy the party life. I loved all the socials for their creativity and inclusiveness. It showed that the OC cared to organize this.

How would you describe Estonia/Estonians in 3 words?

Cold weather, warm people, affordable transportation/malls.

How did you like your sessions? What was the most interesting part about them?

My sessions were brilliant. The exchange world continues to shine more and more each year. The most interesting thing about the sessions was the fact that they started on time and concluded on time – as much as possible – as well. I admired the OC for their responsiveness and ability to solve most issues that came up unexpectedly.


Your name and where are you from?

Marija Stanojevic, from Serbia.

What SC sessions did you participate in?

Presidents’ sessions.

Have you ever been to Estonia?

No.

What was your first impression of Estonia?

It looks very charming: just like a winter fairytale setup.

Memory of MM23 that will stick with you for the longest?

Long hugs from friends that I reunited with after a few years!

How did you like the social program?

It was logistically tricky at some points, but the energy among participants was great. And that’s what really matters!

How would you describe Estonia/Estonians in 3 words?

Winter wonderland, cozy.

How did you like your sessions? What was most interesting?

It was really good, my favorite part was the roll call.


OC team

Mari-Liis Mets

At this year's March Meeting, my main task was to be responsible for the well-being of everything lifeless. If someone had a lost their pen or marker or needed some extra paper or cable for a session, I was the one who provided it. We affectionately called our two-member logistics team the “ongoing sh*t team” because we dealt with everything that came our way. I also received the merch, gave it to the participants and a reprimanded them with the staple phrase “no, we do not exchange sizes!”.


I decided to join the organizing team because I felt like I wanted to be part of such a big event. I decided to do this as the head of the logistics team, because as they say: go big or go home. MM 2023 was actually my first experience with IFMSA. Now that I know what, where and how is happening, I definitely want to participate as a delegate in such events.


I got sick with angina exactly a month before the March Meeting, and I'm still struggling with it - a few days before the event I thought I wouldn't be able to make it. My performance day was the very first day we started sorting and sharing the participants' merchin our totalitarian state (read: Viru Conference Center, in the Andante 1 room). The first impression was based on the fact that there were so many people and so many things. Truth be told, I was even a little scared because I was afraid of getting something messed up and seem not too bossy. I had such wonderful OC members and volunteers that day, without whom the merch wouldn't have reached the participants. That, too, shaped my opinion of the March Meeting, because the OC and the volunteers seemed like family to me for those 7 days.


The most memorable moment was probably holding the African Regional Session. First of all, the start of their session was delayed because the people did not arrive on time. Secondly, there was the problem of 'computer-TV-HDMI cable'. The session leaders had been standing in front of the TV for the past 5 minutes and clicking on various source options on the TV, but they still did not see the computer image from there. Eventually, we realized that both the cable itself and the computer were faulty. After these tech gadgets were switched, we finally got the session started. It had been about 5 minutes when the session leader pulled the computer and cable out of the TV, saying “I am very sorry; no more picture!”. This was followed by about 15 minutes of me and Ingrid trying to get that cable back in that TV. In the end, though, the session could go on - even though it was accompanied by someone watching Instagram Reels at a very loud volume.


I think I'd sleep a little more and worry less. The whole OC and the volunteers were so supportive and lovely that I can imagine no better company with whom to organize such a large event.

Volunteers

Martin Ojamaa

Last autumn, I received information that the MM23 (March Meeting or GA or General Assembly) will take place in Estonia. Since I had been interested in IFMSA events before, I started to explore opportunities about how to participate in such a major event. At one point, a message appeared in my email that the organizing team was looking for volunteers. It seemed extremely exciting to me that hundreds of medical students from all over the world would come together to discuss topical issues in the field of medicine at the March Meeting. Since it was possible to contribute to the success of such an event myself, I didn't have to think any more and decided to volunteer.

First impressions of the MM were formed already at the end of February, when the preGA, i.e. the pre-training program, took place in Tartu. My first impressions were very positive, because we had a very pleasant team, with whom organizing the event seemed more like fun than work. The students who came here were also very friendly, bright-eyed and smart. I felt the same way about the GA

in Tallinn, but much stronger. Communicating with the foreign students definitely broadened my horizons, as the students spoke very vividly and honestly about the good and bad of their countries' education and medical systems, as well as their opinions on global health problems and other aspects of life.

The most memorable event during this 10-day period was definitely the National Food and Drink Party (NFDP), where the participants had the opportunity to introduce the most characteristic and popular foods and drinks of their country and nation. Since there were many participating countries, I could not reach all the tables, but it was clear that all the participants had made an effort to successfully represent their culture. My personal favorite turned out to be France with its good selection of cheese and freshly baked

crepes. The fact that we had decided to organize the event on the outdoor terrace of Viru Keskus, which meant the wintery weather of a March evening and decent freezing temperatures, added spice to the event. For many participants, the Estonian weather was a real challenge, so as volunteers we had to keep our eyes open throughout the party to notice if someone was dressed very lightly or if someone got too cold.

This GA was, in my opinion, an excellent opportunity to follow the plenaries in which representatives from each country participated. This included discussion and voting on important positions, documents and organisational aspects. This was a larger version of the Association's general Meeting. A characteristic feature of our digital state were the hybrid versions of the screenings and live broadcasts, which made it possible for those interested to watch the events taking place in the large hall conveniently via the screen. At the same time, it was also possible to have some snacks, discuss the decisions and votes taken with others, and do schoolwork that would not have been possible in the hall. This gave more people the option of taking part in the plenaries, as the capacity of the rooms is mostly limited.

All in all, the GA was a perfect success in my opinion. Only positive words and superlative praise from the participants reached my ears. However, there were actually some “whoopsies”, for example, it was quite chilly in the big hall one morning, which is why the participants asked to turn off the air conditioning. This, however, led to the fact that the evening's large plenary, where hundreds of people gathered in the hall at once, became very hot very quickly. But then it turned out that in order to turn on the air conditioner, it had to be done systematically from afar, but since it was already evening, it was no longer possible to do it on that day. Thus, the whole group in the plenary session could also experience the “gentle Estonian sauna”.

However, I find that the GA organised by Estonia set the bar quite high and it will be quite difficult for the next organisers to maintain such a good level. Therefore, I would like to thank and congratulate the entire organising team of MM23, especially the main organisers, Elina, Taur and Katariina.

Photo: personal collection


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