22 June 2022

Helping ghosts

Flavia Ercoli joined the Student Wellbeing Point in December after moving to the Netherlands from Germany to study psychology. Having had to adapt to a new culture, building new friendships and finding a suitable home, she now realizes she can do a good job helping others.

I am starting my shift at the Student Wellbeing Point, it is about 10am. Due to the increasing covid-19 cases, we have been working remotely from home. Although I really miss being physically at the Point, working the morning shift from my room is comfortable. I am not necessarily a morning person. I open all the mediums through which students can reach us: zoom, e-mail and chat. I like the diversity, while some prefer to speak, others prefer to write, and some prefer anonymity.

An email comes in. It is not very long, nor very detailed. I am looking at the screen, staring at 5 lines, reading them over and over again. So much and yet so little information. I close the email and open my loyal friend and helper, the referral tree. I open the email again. For what feels like the 100th time I read carefully through the words.

I start my research, pulling up the webpage of every option the VU has to offer that could be of interest for the student. I start writing, carefully choosing my words to make the person behind the screen on the other side feel as comfortable as possible, as heard as possible. I invite them to join the Zoom or come to the Point once we are on campus again. It takes me about half an hour to gather all the information in a way that makes me feel satisfied with the response I am giving. One more look at the referral tree, just to make sure I have included every relevant source of help. And I click on send.

I stare at the screen for another two minutes. I start imagining the person behind the screen on the other side. Did I include all the information I could? Are you okay? Will you be okay? It feels like I am helping ghosts.

Reading through personal emails of ghost writers is an interesting feeling. Despite them being invisible to you, the feeling of empathy one experiences remains the same. Do you have someone to talk to? Are you getting help? Will you be getting help? Will this email change something?

I snap out of my daydream and start smiling.  These are questions that I will probably never receive an answer to. But that is alright. I potentially helped a ghost today. And that is all I need to know. Perhaps, at some point the ghost will materialize itself and come visit us at the Point. Or not. It is important to give the students the option to reach out anonymously. There always will be people who prefer being ghosts.

At the end of the day, without the Student Wellbeing Point, this ghost might have not gotten any help at all. It reminds me of how grateful I am for being able to do this. It also makes me aware of how much I miss being able to talk to the students and have conversations with them, despite not being a morning person.

Tip: Whenever I feel like my mind is drifting and I become a ghost to the people around me, I try to refocus using the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1-method.


Flavia Ercoli

Student employee



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