I moved to Sweden to do an Erasmus exchange program for one semester in January 2022. I’m kind of sure that the 2019 version of me who was trying to apply for universities abroad never imagined that in less than two years, she had already studied in two different countries. Let alone one of which would be Sweden.
I see Sweden as a country of snow, forests, and work-life balance. Before coming to Sweden, I never knew I was struggling with anxiety. I was suffering, but I used to think I was anxious and deadly stressed or burned out occasionally since I was supposed to be this way at this stage of my life.
I’m not sure if this can be a general statement, but I feel people in northern Europe are more open than in the south, meaning they open up and talk about their problems. At least people in the community around me were like that. That’s why I also started to talk about myself, which made me realize that I’m not the only one facing these struggles.
At Stockholm University, we were only eight students doing master’s in astronomy, and I was the only exchange student. At first, it was such a big step to approach people and make friends, especially with the mindset I got from being in Italy during the pandemic for a year and a half. In Italy, I was very lonely for several reasons, one of which is definitely Covid; I didn’t manage to make many friends. Particularly with my classmates. I found myself surrounded by many who didn’t change their language from Italian to English while I was in their company, which made me feel excluded. There was always a massive gap between us.
That’s why during my first week in Stockholm, I mainly chose to sit by myself on the other side of the class; I was afraid if they didn’t like to sit next to me or preferred to be with themselves. All of them knew each other. They were a community, and I was the new person who felt shy at that moment.
Maybe it was the second week of me being there that a classmate of mine came up and said, hey can I sit here? And while I was nodding my head with a smile, I started to question myself why on Earth I didn’t do such a thing myself? Why was I waiting for another person to approach? I could have done it as simply as he did. I didn’t seem scary at all anymore.
That Norwegian guy became my closest friend in Stockholm. We studied together almost every day. He was smart, sensitive, and kind. What I liked about him was that he was kind of down-to-earth. I sometimes have found the tendency in some physics students to pretend that they have understood a complicated subject while they have not. You may see them nodding their head while the teacher is speaking, making you doubt if you’re the only one who feels so stupid. Sometimes, you see another face like yours at that particular moment, which makes you feel relieved. And in the best-case scenario, that person dares to ask some questions, which leads others to say: oh, yes, I have the same question too. And then you appreciate that person for their courage and sincerity. He was one of those people for me. And that’s why I like him in the very first place.
Then over time, we started to communicate more and got close. He told me about his anxiety which opened the space for me to talk about mine. I didn’t realize it when we actually started to become closer, but we did.
It was just so easy and safe to be around him. We helped each other out and gave energy and motivation to the other one. Studying astrophysics and trying to keep yourself up to the academic standards, defining a good or bad student, is stressful enough that only one similar person to you can make it way much easier.
Five months and we built a profound and genuine friendship. He left a few days ago, and I unexpectedly began to feel so much pain. I know we’re friends and care about each other, but it just felt so lonely.
Some other friends of mine had also already left Stockholm, coming back to their home country or going to another country for an internship. Suddenly, the land of forest and beauty turned into a sad and tragic scenery. It hit me so hard.
I spent the last four days in my room. My room is usually clean. But then it was a mess, and I couldn’t help it. I was so desperate, lonely, and sad. I ignored going out to parties and places that I was invited to. It was hard to reach out and ask for help. I still had to study cause my scholarship deadline is coming up next month, but even the simple routine tasks, such as getting out of bed, seemed so difficult all of a sudden.
If I were back home, my sister or my parents would probably come to my room, give me a hug or a kiss on my forehead, and then drag me out of my bed. They would eventually persuade me to change my clothes and sit in the car for a drive outside to cheer up. My dad would probably tell me whom the fuck would care about money and scholarship, assuring me that I don’t need to be worried about money and that the most important thing is for me to be happy and healthy. My mom would then make me a nice meal and bring it to my room with a tray telling me that I didn’t have to come to the dining table and I could eat in my bed. And my brother would probably tease me a little bit, telling me jokes to make me laugh.
But here, there is no such thing. No mom, dad, or siblings. And no one to drag me out of my bed.
It’s all me.
It’s my money, my scholarship, my health, and my life. I’m all responsible for.
And as soon as I got this revolutionary realization, it got easier to get up, shower, clean my room, eat, and head to uni to study even for a little bit. It felt like one of the last scenes of the Titanic movie when the rescue boat passes by, and Rose, who is deadly freezing and can barely move, goes into the cold water to get the whistle and ask for help. She knows that if she doesn’t, nobody will. Everyone else was dead. And she was all responsible for saving her. So she tries to survive. And that’s how it works in life in general. It is very nice to have the rescue boat somewhere around, but in the end, it’s you who need to take action first.
Nothing has changed in my life since yesterday. My issues are all the same. But I just realized that I have to help myself to survive. And I tried.
It’s not that now I rock it, and things are perfect now, but you know, I just made little progress compared to yesterday. And I will try tomorrow too.
This time it took me four days to get up. And who knows, maybe next time it will take three days.