Life feels surreal today. Only a few days ago my biggest worry was not being able to meet university deadlines, now I wake up everyday to terrifying videos and news of people in Ukraine being attacked, whole cities destroyed, lives torn apart. Today is the fourth day since the start of the war, and it's truly heartbreaking to watch. There are anti-war protests going on in all major Russian cities: 'Нет войне!' they chant, which means 'No to war!' It's clear this isn't a decision made by the Russian people, but it's them that take the punishment for the actions of their leader. It saddens me greatly to see academic ties broken, Russian students and scientists abroad being expelled and fired from universities. It reminds of the Iron Curtain, or at least that's what this situation screams to me as a foreigner. I don't want to get into politics, but my heart goes out to those watching their homes turn into warzones.
The best word to describe the last few couple of days is uncertainty. My friends from Latin America and Syria have been having 'daily meetings' in the dorm, trying to figure out what we should do next. We have grown closer than ever. No one can concentrate on studying, even though that's what the university authorities are telling us to do. Some still go to class or to PE for the sole purpose of 'taking our mind off things.' How can it not feel surreal when my notifications in phone go like this: in one group people are discussing physics homework and, in another, footage of bombings and captured soldiers. How can they expect us to write lab reports while we have our eyes glued to Reddit and news channels in Telegram? For now, they said classes will continue as normal and online mode is highly unlikely. So, the only choice we have is to stay in Russia or take an academic leave.
On Monday, many international students already asked for the document needed to transfer to another university. Not everyone plans to leave, but it's better to have it ready just in case, since it takes a couple of days to be ready.
From Panicking to Planning
It's hard to think with a clear head during situations like this one. We either let our instincts and fears get the best of us or think logically to decide on the best step to take. I am embarrassed to admit that I let fear win and was ready to panic leave. My parents moved to Spain only a week ago, and the thought of hopping on a plane to escape my present felt warm and offered me comfort.
At the time, I was overwhelmed and burnt out. Since I had been sick, my exams got moved and I didn't get a chance to recover from the previous semester before starting the current one. I saw an easy way out, not only of the uncertainty caused by the war, but also from an everyday life I wasn't enjoying anymore.
It was clear I was biased in wanting to leave, so good thing Santiago, my boyfriend, was biased in an completely opposite manner. To him, the thought of leaving behind everything we've built here was scary and unnecessary. He argued that the situation would soon calm down, and we weren't in any real danger.
We debated this issue for hours, and on Sunday evening it hit us. While we were watching Euphoria, trying to give our minds something trivial to focus on, Santiago had an eureka moment: instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we should turn this whole thing around and turn in into an opportunity. Why don't we start a new chapter in Europe? The idea is to move to Spain for a short time, get married, work in whatever we can find to save up some money, and then start applying for jobs in Poland. Then in September we can transfer to another university. Then, one of us can work while the other studies and works part time. Instead of letting this situation push us back and loose what we've worked so hard for, we would be taking the opportunity to get ahead in life. We'd start gaining valuable work experience, while living on our own apartment instead of uni dorms, plus the experience of starting from zero in a new country all over again. I am getting déjà vu vibes while writing this. It's crazy to think that this would be my third time moving to a new place, without speaking the language, and having to rebuild myself from scratch.
Why Poland? Well, we believe that is where we have the best chance of finding work in both of our fields. It has one of the best cost of living to salaries ratios in Europe, so it's a great place to start. Also, there are bachelor programs in English, so we can also continue studying.
For now I am taking an academic leave, so I am officially still an MIPT student, and I ready for the leap into the abyss. I also plan on starting a Youtube channel to tell my experiences there in addition to writing more blog posts. Will also keep posting updates on my Instagram, so check that out if you are interested :)
Even though I was biased in wanting to leave, my gut was telling me something I didn't want to hear: I was burnt out and not happy anymore. My mental health was on the decline and the stress levels were too high. Don't get me wrong, I love most of what I do here, but the pressure and the workload are extremely high. It felt more like a never-ending sprint instead of a marathon. I enjoyed it at first, but then routine was killing me. I still can't wrap my head around spending 4 years during my 20's to finish a degree, plus the time I spent learning Russian. There is so much I want to do and experience while I am young, that I winced at the idea of spending my youth stuck in routine. Waiting for an imaginary bar to fill up, so I get a paper that says I know Physics and Math. I mean, I still want my paper that says I'm cool, and I will get it, but how long will I keep postponing life?
The Reasons We Are Leaving
Contrary to what some will try to believe, we are not leaving because we don't feel safe in Russia. I guess if they touch Moscow, there will not be a 'they' anymore, nor a 'we', or a nobody. We can only hope that never happens, but if it does, we aren't really safe anywhere. Though we did get notified about testing of the alarm system in the city today, which is pretty scary to say the least.
Basically, these are our reasons:
Money: SWIFT is not working here anymore, so our parents can't send us money. The ruble is crashing, so the stipendium we receive from MIPT will be worth less and prices are rising. Some sites are being blocked. If binance and other sites are blocked, this means even cryptocurrencies won't save us.
Flights are being canceled and EU closed its air space for Russian airlines. We fear not being able to get out if we don't go now.
There could be incidents of terrorism.
The world is breaking academic relationships with Russia.
If my mental health was already hanging by thread before, I don't see how I could keep studying while I watch the world come apart. When we decided to move to Russia from Argentina it was in the pursuit of a better life, and now I believe it's time to do the same.
Reflections on What This Taught Me
What stood out to me the most during these times of crisis is that everyone will try to tell you what to do. They all have their reasons and most likely mean well, but the only person who knows what's best for you is yourself. Maybe your parents want you to run at all costs, since they fear for your safety. Maybe your professors will tell you to prioritize your studies because they worry about your future. Maybe your friends will say that's it's best to wait and see what happens, since they themselves are having trouble deciding what to do. They all have their biases and reasons. The main thing is to listen to everyone, but decide for yourself. It's also important to take into account your bias and decide if it's valid or not. Listen to those nagging thoughts that make you uncomfortable, they might take you to where the answer lies.
The other big thing that I hope gets drilled into my subconscious and conscious mind is this: if you are not happy with your current situation, there is always a way out. We hate admitting to ourselves that we are not happy because change is uncomfortable. We push these thoughts away, while trying not to drown in the routine that is slowly sucking all the colors out of life. My reason for writing this post is a reminder to my future self that there is always another way, to not keep continuing what you are doing just because you already started and you like where it ends. The moment you feel like you are just surviving until the 'next chapter,' which was in this case getting a degree, that is when you have to wake up change paths immediately. We only get 4000 weeks or less, make each of them count. This opportunity was always there, we were just not looking hard enough.
Another important thing to add is that I've honestly never felt more at home anywhere else. PhysTech is what home feels like for me. My whole life I've felt like I never really fit in anywhere, certainly not in school, but here it's like I've found my people. It breaks my heart having to go, but I am glad to have experienced this sense of community here. I will always cherish the memories created here.
Most Valuable Thing That PhysTech Gave Me: The Chance to Test My Limits
The final thing to add is a breakthrough I had a month ago, before any of this even happened. I was overjoyed to realize that I achieved what I set out to do when I came to Russia and enrolled in PhysTech. The main reason I chose PhysTech and not just any university in Russia was because of the challenge of studying Physics in one of the toughest universities in the country and the world. Plus, the fact that I would be studying in a foreign language, one I spent only 1.5 years learning. The adrenaline rush was what pushed me to apply. I wanted to test my limits, see if I could do it. In the end, I did it. I have proven to myself I can do it, and not just get by, but also achieve high grades. Like an athlete training their body the maximum to see how far they can get. I feel like I did it and now I'm ready to explore new areas. What else am I capable of? I hate that this comes off as bragging, I hate to brag, but this was a beautiful realization and I honestly wanted to share it unfiltered, instead of sugar coating my thoughts so they are more socially acceptable. Anyway, I am ready to take on the next challenge!