You must've seen Mian Hassan Raza around town. His natty suits, bowties, and chains are hard to miss.
"There goes a character," you'd rightly think to yourself. "He's so confident to wear such distinctive clothes."
But that's not who he was before he moved to Skellefteå from Pakistan in 2021 to study a master's degree in cybersecurity.
– I was so painfully shy. I hardly ever left my house in Pakistan. Only to go to school, but then I went straight back home.
It wasn't a state of affairs Mian was happy with. He wanted to be more adventurous. But he was crippled by anxiety and shyness.
– I wanted to explore more, meet people, and have new experiences.
Something needed to change, and he got a little nudge when a friend of his went to study cybersecurity in Luleå.
– I was also interested in cybersecurity, because I’d done my degree in software engineering. My dream is to be a cybersecurity expert. European and western countries are really advanced in technology and in cybersecurity. That's why I really wanted to learn here, to study from here from the best. Then in 2020 my friend mentioned that he is going to Sweden to study cybersecurity. That was the push I needed. Then the opportunity came to study my dream subject, cybersecurity, in a new country, Sweden: I was really excited.
It also gave him the opportunity to reinvent himself, to lose his fear of life.
– I felt that I would have to do that somewhere else, somewhere away from Pakistan. I needed to change.
Did you decide to put on a new personality when you arrived in Skellefteå?
– Yes, exactly. And it was really hard for me, but I didn't have a choice. Because I was here studying, I was living here, meeting new people, so I had to be someone else; I couldn't be the person I was in Pakistan. But I really wanted to do this. So I did it. The clothes were all part of it. I love dressing like this. And now when I tell people I used to be very shy, that I was afraid to meet people, they laugh because they see the changed me.
So this was a deliberate plan to offer the world a new you. What were the steps you went through to become less shy?
– I wanted a new environment with new people. Where no one knows me, where nobody has prejudged me, where I can meet a stranger, make a mistake and it doesn’t matter, because I’ll never see them again. So my challenges were how will I find accommodation, where do I buy my groceries, what are the job opportunities? And doing this in a totally different country, and in a new culture where the first language is not English. Dealing with these challenges is what made me today.
Did anything about Skellefteå surprise you?
I spent a long time on Facebook, where I met several people from Skellefteå and eventually ended up on the Expats & Friends group, which is a hugely helpful community. I had lots of questions, and they answered them all, so I wasn’t really surprised by much when I arrived.
One aspect of Skellefteå Mian has found surprising is that the local Swedes are hard work, when it comes to social interaction.
– I come from a very open culture where people meet and greet nearly everyone they meet. I thought everywhere would be like this. But not so in Sweden. I was saying ‘hello’ to everyone but nobody replied. I live at Campus, and I’d sometimes make some food for others who live there. We’d chat and have a nice time. But then the next day, I would greet them and they would ignore me. This was really depressing and distressing.
Mian needed a genuinely local perspective, which he found when he asked a Swedish girl about the not-so-social locals.
– I told her that maybe it was because I wasn’t used to meeting people and that perhaps I was doing something wrong. But she said, ‘No, we Swedes are just like that. We don’t bother to chat to people because our social groups are full, and we don’t need any new friends.’ That really opened my eyes.
A chance encounter at Max offered another, darker, viewpoint.
- This woman, she was a teacher. I asked her if the reason people weren't talking to me was that Swedes are shy. She said, "No. We do it on purpose. Because a few years ago, there were some foreigners who were involved in criminal activities. So that's why we are afraid of them and don't talk to them." @@Despite the occasional disquieting conversation with locals, Mian is happy in Skellefteå. He likes the compactness of the city, and the way you can walk pretty much anywhere in the center. @@But most of all he's happy with how his move here has allowed him to become the outgoing, friendly, adventurous person he's always wanted to be. @@- On the flight from Pakistan to Sweden, I was terrified. I had a kind of panic attack, because I was so scared of flying. But since I moved to Skellefteå, I've now started climbing, and I want to go skydiving. @@And then he pauses and smiles: ┣
– I used to be scared of everything, and now I'm not afraid of anything.
Name: Mian Hassan Raza
Born: Punjab, Pakistan
Education: PhD studies (Cybersecurity) at Luleå University of Technology, finishing summer 2024
Work: Process operator at Northvolt