Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
21 June 2024

& Culture

‘You just try to keep sane’

War in Ukraine, living costs going through the roof, rising gas- and electricity prices, inflation, climate change. There is enough to drive even the most stoic person into a nervous breakdown. Five international students talk about how they deal with all that anxiety-inducing mayhem.

“Most of the time, I feel good. But I have a dislike for politicians in general. They only seem to care about themselves”, says Oliver Ullbrand (18), a first year Mathematics student from Sweden. “Gas prices there are ridiculous. They also plan to shut down electricity for certain periods of time to save gas”.

Oliver doesn’t think his home country will get involved in the Russo-Ukrainian war. “Since Sweden joined the NATO, there is no real danger right now, but who knows for sure. I worry more for countries like Lithuania, these seem to be more in danger of a Russian invasion.” His studying isn’t affected by the current world situation. “If things escalate, we will all be at war anyway.”

Davit Harutyunyan, a third-year Communication Science student from Armenia, has a different view. “Especially as an international student, you don’t only worry about the Netherlands but also about your home country. Recently there have been incidents at the border again. Our neighbor Azerbaijan tries to invade our souverain territories. A lot of soldiers died, and villages have been evacuated”, explains Davit. “I cannot imagine how a peaceful future would look like”.  He constantly worries about his family and being so far away gives him a feeling of powerlessness. “You just try to keep sane.”

Neglected by VU Amsterdam

His life is also impacted by inflation: “I do feel concerned about the upcoming winter”. But the situation in Armenia worries him most. He feels a bit neglected by VU Amsterdam: “When the war in Ukraine started, the VU immediately initiated a number of activities in solidarity with Ukraine. This is not the case with Armenia.” Davit wishes there was more awareness of the plight of his home country. “For instance by way of an Instagram story or something. “Being informed is the bare minimum and needed to achieve peace”, he says.

“I cried when the war broke out”, says Deniz Acar (34), a second-year Psychology student from Turkey. “I have a friend from Ukraine, and she escaped to Scotland. But I know very much from my own experience that even though you are safe when you’ve fled your country, you are not home”, explains Deniz. Because of the inflation she herself had to move, with her family, to Hoofddorp  because Amsterdam became too expensive. “Half of my husband’s salary is spent on gas and electricity nowadays”, she says.  Deniz worries about her friends and mother in Turkey too, “at the same time I have high hopes for the new generation.”

Raúl Cáliz is a 25-year-old student from Colombia, he is doing his master’s in International Migration and Refugee Law. “The Colombian Peso is very weak compared to the Euro. The only reason I am here is because I got a scholarship”, explains Rául. “I am privileged, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but even my privileged family has to scrutinize their spendings. I am worried by it, but it doesn’t have much impact on my study life. I can separate these things.  Also I am not starving, and I guess that’s very important.”

Scary stuff

Back in Colombia there are developments he follows with apprehension. “There is a lot of instability in my country because of the inflation and Colombia has never been the most stable. There’s also unrest because we have a new president who is the first left-wing president in Colombia. Some scary stuff is happening especially in rural areas where rich landowners are attacked  and form paramilitary groups to defend themselves, or at least that’s what it looks like.”

Belgian master student International Migration and Refugee Law Clarisse Poucet (24)  says she worries too, but feels reassured because she knows her country is stable. “I am from a very privileged country. I can feel the effects of inflation, but it doesn’t put real obstacles in my way. I am just lucky not to be a victim of it”, explains Clarisse. Climate change worries her more: “We already had to deal with the consequences of climate change in Belgium, being plagued by floods. I think it was the first time Belgium people realized climate change poses a serious threat”, she says.


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