Life is all about people and connections.

Life is all about people and connections. You can live in the best place in the world but without being surrounded by your community, you will question your happiness every day, – Anna Provozin, intern at Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy, Master in Peace and Development Work, Swedish Institute Scholarship holder (Visby programme).

photo: Dana Verstak

Fish: A bit more than a year ago, you moved to Sweden to study Peace and Development Work. Tell us how you decided to move? What pushed you forward?

Anna: I have been already working in the field of human rights in Ukraine and Moldova by that time and I wanted to get a higher level of education related to this field. Unfortunately, human rights studies in Ukraine are very narrow and are mainly connected to the legislative field. However, there are so many more ways to make a change so I started to look for something broader and interdisciplinary. That’s how I found Linnaeus University in Sweden and “Peace and Development Work” direction. For Eastern Europe there is also an opportunity to apply for the scholarship (it’s called Visby Programme) and I highly recommend to do so. Otherwise, it’s quite difficult to afford these studies and life in Sweden in general.

Getting back to why I’ve decided to study this subject, I can tell that I often had the feeling that this world was extremely unfair. It didn’t feel right to me that I could have so many opportunities in my life, I could have a roof above my head and a food to eat every day and some people didn’t. And still don’t. Then I realized that we as humans created this situation and we as humans are capable to change it. So I started to feel responsible for my actions – both good and bad – and I promised myself that I would make a difference.

Fish: Was it easy for you to accommodate? Did you get that feeling of being a local immediately? 

Anna: During my studies, I was surrounded by people from seventeen different countries so I didn’t really feel that I was in Sweden but more like I was in every place of the world at the same time. Honestly, people are the best you can get from this experience. Of course, studies were good and teachers were extremely professional but you learn a lot while talking to others. Those who are from different countries, different contexts, different cultures etc. At some point, you just start to understand this world better and you start to love these differences between people even more. You learn how to appreciate diversity. I can say that I had the best group in the world, we were like one big family, and that really helped me to adjust to everything quite fast.

Fish: Sounds pretty honest. Could you tell us more about the education process? 

Anna: My university was very modern and had lots of interactive tools and practices. These studies were a perfect combination of theoretical and practical knowledge. I would say that I’ve received a high-level and complex education that is applicable in real life. Starting from learning about politics in the world and different conflicts, following by studying economic development and peacebuilding, and finishing by getting knowledge on policymaking and project management, you graduate with a feeling that you can now make a difference in the world using all you gained within this year. It gave me so much inspiration and so much confidence to make the world a better place.

What I like about the Swedish education process is that you learn one subject at a time. So it’s not like in Ukraine when you have eleven-twelve subjects in parallel and then thousands of exams in the end of the semester. Here you can fully concentrate on one subject with all its different aspects and I think that helps to understand complex issues better in a way. You have approximately five weeks per subject, not that much, but still quite sufficient amount of time to be able to learn something.

Fish: And what about daily routine? How did you spend your time? 

Anna: Well, I would say that in this faculty you really spend most of your time on studies. (laughing) Every day you have lectures and seminars at the university, you also have lots of work in small groups where you are supposed to develop some new ideas or analyze something or make a project, and then you have lots of individual work and reading. So you basically spend half of your day in the university and a second half in the library. I enjoyed it because that’s why I came there – to get this knowledge. It’s also important that I was really into the field – I was passionate about all this and I was eager to learn – so that helped me to fully enjoy the process even though it was quite tough and exhausting. 

Besides the studies, I was spending most of the time with my group (or I was just laying alone in my bed and digesting all the knowledge I’ve gained, hahaha). We were often having coffee or lunch or dinner together. It just felt so good to be with them that I was trying to spend as much time together as I could. Because I knew that afterwards we would all go back to our countries and it would not be that easy to meet anymore. When I write about them, my heart is immediately filling with love.

Fish: When time passes by, what do you feel about your life in a foreign country? 

Anna: As I said before, it was not that hard to be integrated in the society because I was constantly in the international environment and I have never felt excluded at that time. This feeling hit me later when I moved to another city in Sweden to do my internship in the field of local democracy. And then you start to feel “Oh, yeah, I am actually in Sweden and it’s a different country and different culture to which I have to adjust”. And I am still trying to do so. I’ve never thought it’s gonna be that hard. I mean, when you hear “Sweden” you kinda think of some type of paradise where everyone is happy and everyone is enjoying the life. But then you face the reality – well, this country is not perfect, no, I don’t like some of the cultural patterns I meet here, and yes, it’s hard when you don’t speak Swedish properly and all other people do. 

Adding on this, you face all your fears and you are left on your own with yourself. Sometimes it’s scary because you have plenty of time to think and overthink, you start questioning many things in your life and then you end up with asking yourself “What is the purpose of my life? Who am I? Where is my place in the world?” Of course, those identity crises could happen to you anytime and anywhere but you become especially sensitive to such things when you are far from your home.

Fish: So, it feels like you change your views depending on time and place. 

Anna: Yes, it’s so interesting to observe how my experience in the country differs depending on the circumstances. When I was doing my Master, I had completely different feelings than I have now. Both of these experiences have happened in Sweden. But how different is my perception of the country in these two cases. 

Now I live in the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to, Visby, and I enjoy the architecture and living by the sea, but I still don’t feel happy. I have very nice colleagues at the office, I have interesting tasks to do within this internship, but for some reason I cannot enjoy this all on 100%.

When I think of the word ‘home’, I almost never picture Sweden in my head. Even though I have been living here for more than one year. And that’s because I just don’t feel like home here. I don’t know how to explain this feeling but sometimes you wake up and think “I don’t belong here”. You miss your friends, you miss your partner, you miss your previous life. And at some point you feel that all this routine is just absorbing you. I’ve noticed that I became less creative, I became more exhausted and less happy. And I know that the main reason behind this is people. Or to be more clear, their absence. It’s very hard to not to be surrounded by your community and those who you love. 

I think I’ve never felt that lonely in my life as I feel here. 

Fish: Then, what is the major so to say “inner challenge” you’ve had to face?

Anna: I would say if you come here, be ready to meet with yourself. Be ready to face all your weaknesses and all your strengths. Be ready to become patient to go through your existential crises and nervous breakdowns. But also be ready to believe in yourself. And before coming, ask yourself “Why do I need this?” Because despite all the challenges I am facing, I still can always answer this question. I know I have the goal and this experience is a step towards it.

Life in Sweden is the most beautiful and the worst thing at the same time that has happened to me. It’s all about mixed feelings. I love it here and I don’t. I enjoy it here and I don’t. But the most important thing that I never regret that I made this decision. And if I could move back in time, I would make the same choice and I would definitely come here. 

Fish: Well, to end up with...

Anna: I am grateful. But also lost. And that’s how the life works. In the end, it’s all about finding your path. And hell yes it’s not easy.