9, 322 km

Hej! My name is James and I come from the Philippines. I moved to Stockholm on August 21, 2014 to study in the Joint Master’s Programme in Health Informatics at Karolinska Institutet. This is my first blog post and this time I want to tackle distance between where I am from and where I am now.

9,322 km is the distance between Manila, the Philippine capital where I used to live and work, and Stockholm, the capital of Sweden where I live and study now. If there were a direct flight between the two cities it would approximately take 16 hours and 5 minutes to travel one way. If my calculations are correct, this distance would be equivalent to running 221.95231 marathons or going from north to south of Sweden 5.9 times. I hadn’t known how far apart these cities were in such practical terms until I decided to Google it for this post.  I only had vague impressions of what the distance looked like in a map and what this meant in terms of time difference, how Manila is 6 hours in the future of my now in Stockholm.

A measure of distance is significant because it paints a concrete picture of that leap of faith that international students like me decide to take when we leave the comforts of our home to pursue higher education abroad. In a way, it is also an indicator of success – conquering physical barriers and venturing into the unfamiliar for the betterment of the self.

I remember thinking that it would be just another long haul flight and sooner or later the strange would become familiar. But when I landed in Stockholm and saw for the first time how different it was and how far it was, it felt as though I was watching something dear to me pull away so fast I could not hold on to it. I panicked, so I tried to recall my reasons for coming to Sweden to study in order to calm myself.

A year ago I decided to try my luck and apply to KI. I had been working as a researcher in the University of the Philippines Manila National Telehealth Center and I thought I needed to pursue a master’s degree to deepen my understanding of health informatics. It was a decision to conquer some distance, 9,322 km to be exact, to apply myself in a field of study that I was only beginning to love. Yes, love. For what else would you travel far but love?

I got accepted and was lucky enough to get a scholarship from the Swedish Institute. I quit my job at the university, said goodbye to my friends and family and moved to Sweden with one brown luggage and two backpacks, one gray and the other red, in tow. I went the distance and sang the song too of Disney’s Hercules at least twice in my head while the plane flew past seas and lands from Asia to Europe.

It has been more than a month now since I arrived in Stockholm and so far this city has been good to me. Manila and Stockholm are worlds apart and I have been adjusting as best as I could to all the changes – from Manila’s frenetic pace to Stockholm’s even stride, from chaos to scheduled stillness. The distance bothers me from time to time but it also makes me proud in a way. I have come far and I could only imagine how much further this journey will take me.

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