The Paranoia of Studying Abroad That No One Talks About
By Sophia Kalogeris
Four girls sat nervously on two twin sized beds in their Florence apartment, staring at the white walls and anxiously waiting for the thunderous silence that filled the air to ease.
Finally, someone spoke.
"So, do you guys feel safe enough to go to Barcelona this weekend?"
My eyes began to peel away from the baron walls and lock with those of my friends. No one wanted to be the first to admit how they felt, with worry that she might look overly dramatic, or on the opposite end too naive about the state of our world. The scenarios in our minds spanned too vast and the comfort level for a conversation this heavy was far out of reach. Unfortunately, for us, this feeling was one we were beginning to feel familiar with.
Questions of safety in traveling and in daily life abroad seemed to lurk like a stark grey cloud in the sky above us at all times, it started to feel like. Never in my life have I put into question my personal safety as much as I have in my past month abroad. Prior to leaving my comfortable Reading, Massachusetts home to fly 4,000 thousand miles to live in Florence for four months, I was aware of the basic safety protocol that one would expect to follow while living in a foreign country. However, for the most part my focus was on how I'd manage to find the best gelateria here and what caption I would pair with my future Oktoberfest Instagram. With all of this taking precedent, I still always knew in the back of my mind the golden rules that everyone tells you: to always use the buddy system when going out at night and to hold onto your belongings while walking in crowded areas to avoid pickpockets!!
I remember sitting through group meetings in Hancock classrooms where we were shown videos and countless PowerPoint slides on the importance of zipping your bag and never leaving your belongings unattended. Getting my new iPhone 7 stolen paranoid and terrified me. I am now one month into my abroad semester, and it's unimaginable how frivolous all of my material items seem to me in the grander scheme of my vital safety in this chaotic and often threatening world.
Muggings, robberies, rape, break-ins, stabbings, protests, murders, the list goes on. In crowded streets, down deserted alleyways, in a friend’s apartment, in Florence and in other major cities. In Europe and in America alike. It's everywhere, and I'm all too aware of that.
What transpired in Las Vegas this past week took the wind out of me whilst sitting in a crowded café late Monday morning with three friends. My Twitter feed was saturated with innumerable updates and news coverage retweets regarding the mass murder that took the lives of 59 innocent people and injured over 500. Goosebumps spread like wildfire as I read off the tweets to my friends at the table, which is when our comfortable Cappuccino talk turned into a grim and suddenly uneasy moment of realization. While we cannot live in fear, being abroad and physically completely unattached from our loved ones back home, at this very moment the only thing we could all feel for certain was the crippling fear that we were alone and there is always going to be doubts on our safety, wherever we are.
Suddenly the protection of my new glistening gold iPhone 7 seemed so trivial.
When considering coming abroad, I only ever thought about the glamorous Instagram possibilities and the incredible food I’d be eating. I dreamed about the casual weekend travels to far off cities, thought about the unique and enthralling classes I’d be taking, and the incredible memories that would transpire throughout all of it. Sure, safety was always on my mind, but only to the degree that one considers a far off grey cloud in the sky when he/she is enjoying a day at the beach.
In a world like ours today, moving across the world for three months is something that takes serious thought and a grand leap of faith. Major doubts and dangerous occurrences will unfortunately always be something we deal with today, but it is important to stay positive through it all and to keep living. I am infinitely grateful for this opportunity to explore the world and open my eyes to new cultures and lifestyles, but I always have to remember to never take my safety for granted in any case. I cannot let my fear win, and I always have to be smart. I will say ‘yes’ to new experiences and remember to stay aware of what’s happening in the world. I will see the world and always be gracious to people. And with a curious yet cautious mind, I will continue to live my life without fear but rather with a zest for welcoming and alluring travels.