This blog entry was submitted by Victoria Cantu, who is studying abroad in Paris, France.
“Since I enrolled at St. Edward’s, I knew I wanted to study abroad. It was constantly being advertised and I knew so many people who came back every semester from different countries, happier than ever before. I reached out to the global engagement office my sophomore year, in hopes to study abroad Spring 2018. I got all my paperwork done, my visa and passport completed, and continued to prepare for the experience of a lifetime. I slowly let my family members know that I was planning on leaving the United States to study in Paris, France. I knew what I was going to hear when I told them my plan.. “Why do you want to leave America?” “It is dangerous to travel to other countries, especially by yourself!! You are a young American woman; you are a target.” I had my own anxieties about going to Paris, so hearing these remarks always made it so much worse. I have always thought of myself to be extremely aware of my surroundings so I reassured my family and friends that I would be okay. I wasn’t sure if I even believed myself when I said those words, but it eased them so I did it anyway.
I got on the plane by myself and landed in Paris. A couple of weeks went by and I got into the groove of doing things to settle myself into the enormous city. I rode the metro every day, I went grocery shopping, I visited museums.. all by myself. As time went on, I started to notice men staring at me on the metro. I was told by multiple Parisians that this happened and was given the advice to never make eye contact because if you do, it is implied that you want something from them (sexually) back. This was extremely hard for me to adapt to because I am not the type of person to stay quiet about controversial issues such as men being entitled. It is difficult to ignore these sort of things, but I would rather be safe than sorry.
I made friends through my program so of course, as time went on, I was alone less. I was thankful for the company because although Paris is beautiful, it can be frightening, especially as a woman traveling alone. The 3rd weekend I was in Paris, my friends and I went out to a bar and we took the night bus home. Multiple Parisians (again) had told me to be careful on night buses and to never take it alone, as many drunks use this transportation option. It was late but I was with friends, so I thought everything would be fine. We got off at our stop, I reached into my pockets, and I realized my phone had been stolen. The bus had already taken off. My friend had my location so we tracked my phone and extremely doubtful, we went to the location my phone appeared to be at. We stood outside the apartment with plenty of floors with no way of knowing which room the phone would be in. 10 minutes passed and we then realized that there was no way I was going to get my phone back. To this day, I do not have a phone. My father sent me a phone from the U.S. a couple days after this incident and that package is nowhere to be found. It has been 3 months. I struggle every day without a cell phone and although I get more used to it every day, living without a cell phone to get you around such a big city, can be difficult. However, this was not my biggest concern, but rather it was not having a cell phone with me in the case of a man ever following me home. That is what frightened me.
My host family’s home was actually located outside of Paris, so I had to walk 15 minutes to the metro in Paris every morning and 15 minutes back every night. The walk home was always something I dreaded due to my constant fear of being harassed, or something even worse. Men would follow me for about 10 seconds before they realized I was not interested and would give up. I am thankful it never went further than this.
I had to take the night bus one more time after the phone incident and I was harassed a total of 3 times in the 1-hour trip. The whole hour I hoped the men would stay on the bus when I got off at my stop. Thankfully they did, but what if they hadn’t? I was alone in a city without a phone. Defenseless.
I had finally begun to realize why my grandma was so worried about me. Being an American woman, who didn’t speak the French language, did indeed make me an easy target. Every city is different. Every country is different. Every culture is different. It is extremely important to learn about your host city/country’s culture before traveling abroad. Traveling alone is extremely dangerous, but you should never hold back on the opportunity of a lifetime. Anything could happen to me anywhere, whether it be in the states or in Europe- as a woman I have to be on guard 24/7. It is extremely infuriating that this is the case, but I did not let my anxieties stop me from going abroad.”