April 2020, Aarau (Switzerland)

“Saskia, what was it like for you to leave friends and family behind?”

Almost two months ago, Saskia wrote me an e-mail. 24 years old, born and raised in Austria, she moved to Switzerland 4 years ago because of her job. She’s a nurse … and she would be happy to be part of my project.
‘Can you tell me more about yourself?’ I wrote back.
The first sentence of her response made me smile: ‘If you’re looking for somebody who is able to lick his elbow, then don’t read on.’ Her message seemed thoughtful, including the part where she writes that ‘… she likes to bake to sweeten her and other people’s day. Because life offers many sour experiences.’.

A few weeks pass by, the Corona virus hits and one day, I am thinking about her response again. ‘I’d like to write about you during these times,’ I text her.
‘I’m happy to help,’ is her answer. So, a few days later I call her. This time, I’m not so nervous anymore. It’s April 17th.

“Hi Saskia. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.”
“Yes, sure.”
“You live in Aarau, right?”
“No, I only work there. Maybe I wrote it incorrectly?”
“No, no, I’m wrong.”

It can be strange to hear somebody’s voice the first time after you only communicated through written texts. She seems a bit shy at first – which is no surprise, when a random guy wants to ask some personal questions. I explain my idea to her. “Only answer what you’re comfortable with,” I add.

I would like to know how she’s currently doing. “It’s not so much different for me than usual,” she says. “The people I generally talk to the most are my colleagues at work. And due to the current situation, I have no bad conscience to say no. I’m bad at saying no. I try to see the good in everyone and everything which probably isn’t always the best strategy.”
She tells me that she left Austria because in Switzerland her job offers more possibilities.

“Do you notice any differences in our lifestyles?,” I ask.
“I don’t mean it in a judgmental way, but in Austria people tend to be a bit more spontaneous. I text somebody and ten minutes later we might meet. I think spontaneity contributes to deepening relationships. When I left my country, I lost some friendships. You realize which ones were superficial. The people closest to me mainly live in Austria. I miss them and I struggle with not knowing when I’ll see them again. There’s one friend of mine which I call daily. I have known her since we were 9 years old. She’s going through a breakup at the moment and if I were in Austria, we would meet every day. The past weeks made us strong, I didn’t know before, that we can get this close. I thought it would happen with somebody else.”
“How hard was leaving 4 years ago?”
“It was very difficult. I had taken care of my grandmother who was heavily sick. She was almost blind. She had originally moved from Germany to Austria because of my grandfather. They had a house and my grandmother’s wish was to stay there and not to go to a retirement home. She let me know that she wants to see me happy and if I wanted to move to Switzerland, I should do so. It’s 10 hours by car and when I left the first time, I cried during the whole drive. I felt bad for leaving. Half a year later, she died. It hit me. I realized how far away I am from home. The fact that I had done my part in fulfilling her wish gave me a certain inner peace.”

She told me that after more than 2 years of long-distance relationship her boyfriend finally moved to Switzerland too. “What would it be like for you to live alone during this time?”, I ask her.
“I have no problem with being alone, but I cannot imagine life without him. There’s somebody waiting for you in the evening. He knows me so well. He knows my friends in Austria, he met my grandmother … he knows how I feel.”
5 days later, I decided to make an exception. I met her and took her picture. Only from afar. I know this area very well from my childhood, and I get the feeling that I got to know Saskia quite well too.

“Why did you tell me all this?” I ask her this day.
“These are my experiences … everybody has them. Why should I hide?”