Here’s what international students in Sweden say about the coronavirus crisis

Here's what international students in Sweden say about the coronavirus crisis
Shared student accommodation in Stockholm. Photo: Izabelle Nordfjell / TT
From adjusting to study and self-isolation in shared accommodation to deciding whether to stay on campus or return home, here's what international students across Sweden have told The Local about their coronavirus experience.

Most of the students who spoke to The Local were happy with the measures taken by their universities, which included moving courses online and sharing information about the virus and its impact.

As of March 17th, Sweden recommended that all universities close from the following day, and introduce distance learning so that students can keep studying. The decision also applied to schools for over-16s and to municipal adult education (komvux).

“The university has been very helpful and cautious about offering as much help as the students need,” said one Syrian student in Uppsala.

But Elena, a Spanish Masters student in Stockholm, noted: “I received an email from the university and have been offered advice from my teachers, but I would have liked a bit more information, especially as an exchange student.”

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She was one of several students taking further steps than those advised by their university, such as isolating themselves as much as possible.

“I live with three of my friends in a house and we decided to isolate, although none of us have symptoms or are a risk group. We believe it is the best option at the moment, in solidarity with our loved ones back in our home countries and to protect the most vulnerable in the community,” explained Elena.

“We now stay home all the time and only go out to the supermarket and for walks by the lake right next to our house. It makes things very hard for us because we make up our own rules based on what we believe is safer for people and what is being done in our home countries, which is avoiding social contact.

“I question myself a lot on whether it is a necessary effort, to what extent we should do it, if we're being too strict and for how long we should be doing this. It is mentally exhausting, and it puts a lot of responsibility on us as individuals, a responsibility that I'm not sure we're ready for.”

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“I'm isolating to try not to get infected. To do that I have to reject all my Erasmus parties and trips,” said Jose, an Erasmus student from Spain.

“I've self-isolated, and I'm really sad because I'm supposed to be here for only five months and I won't be able to enjoy them as it was planned, and I will never have the chance to live that again,” said French student Aude in Jönköping. “But unfortunately, I think it was necessary.”


Students in shared accommodation may not have access to a suitable working space. Photo: Emelie Asplund/imagebank.sweden.se

Aude was conflicted about whether to move back to her home country early, as some international students have chosen to do, but ultimately decided to continue her semester in Sweden.

“I'm really lost about what to do. The situation in France is bad, but it's my home. At the same time I don't want to end my semester in Sweden like that and I prefer to avoid travelling,” she said.

The communal and sometimes small nature of university accommodation also posed problems for some.

“As a student, the only place to study is home, and it's challenging to adapt in a small student room,” another French student noted.

Sagnik, an Indian Master's student, is one of many who live in a dorm with communal facilities.

“I am in a student dorm with nine other people sharing a kitchen. As there is no lockdown, most are going out every day so I'm not sure if self-isolation even helps in any way in this situation. Meanwhile my friends are not meeting up any more, so it feels quite lonely,” he said.

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While Sagnik was happy with the measures taken by his university, the distance from his family made the experience especially difficult.

“With all the anxiety around about the growing numbers in the world, as well as in Sweden, it feels pretty depressing. My parents' view about the country is shaken since they fear Sweden is taking the situation very lightly. They are worried and I have to assure them everyday that I am well, even though I am pretty worried myself,” he explained.


Some students in shared dorms or houses had taken a group decision to isolate, whereas others felt their efforts were undone by housemates who continued to go out as normal. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Meanwhile, others felt they were able to cope with the adjustments for now, but felt uneasy about the impact on their future plans.

“My university is conducting all studies online, as well as my SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) class. This is good, but the vibe of real teaching and learning is somehow missing,” explained Syed, a Bangladeshi national who is a student in Borås together with his wife. 

“To be honest, I am not worried about this current situation but the later impact of it. What will happen in 2021, 2022 and so on? Economic recession? As an international student, I am thinking to build my career in Sweden and I already spent a good amount of money in my education and living here. I am from a developing country, so life in Sweden is of course precious to me. This is the most concerning for me at this moment,” he said.

We'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to our questionnaire. Although we couldn't include all of the hundreds of responses we received, we read every single one and have included a representative sample of those relating to student life here. Your experiences will inform our coronavirus coverage, and you are always welcome to get in touch if you have further feedback, a question or a story to share.

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What should you be doing to help reduce the rate of infection?

In Sweden, the official advice requires everyone to:

  • Stay at home if you have any cold- or flu-like symptoms, even if they are mild and you would normally continue life as normal. Stay at home until you have been fully symptom-free for at least two days.
     
  • Practise good hygiene, by regularly and thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, using hand sanitiser when that's not possible, and covering any coughs and sneezes with your elbow.
     
  • Keep distance from all other people when in public places. That includes shops, parks, museums, and on the street, for example. The World Health Organisation recommends keeping at least a 1.5-2 metre distance.
     
  • Avoid large gatherings, including parties, weddings, and other activities.
     
  • Work from home if you can. Employers have been asked to ensure this happens where possible.
     
  • Avoid all non-essential travel, both within and outside Sweden. That includes visits to family, planned holidays, and any other trips that can be avoided.
     
  • If you have to travel, avoid busy times such as rush hour if you can. This reduces the number of people on public transport and makes it easier for people to keep their distance.
     
  • If you are over 70 or belong to a high-risk group, you should stay at home and reduce all social contacts. Avoid going to the shops (get groceries delivered or try to find someone who can help you), but you can go outside if you keep distance from other people. Read more about the help available to those in risk groups here.
     
  • By following these precautions, we can all help to protect those who are most at risk and to reduce the rate of infection, which in turn reduces the burden on Sweden's healthcare sector.
     
  • Read more detail about the precautions we should all be taking in this paywall-free article. Advice in English is also available from Sweden's Public Health Agency and the World Health Organisation.

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