We have all heard the phrase “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Well, I have been accused a time or two of only reporting the good. Naturally, there have been a few moments that have fallen into the latter 2 categories, but I don’t necessarily capitalize on their presence. Because of this, I am taking a bit of time to recount a few questionable experiences I have had since arriving. Don’t worry, I am very safe where I am and constantly learning how to be more vigilant and aware, but things do happen anywhere and better to learn from my experiences than to have similar ones of your own. I will proceed in chronological order from the beginning of my trip.
To start, anyone who has read blog post number 2 (The Arrival) knows about my experience in the Frankfurt Airport. Well, I learned then that I don’t cope very well when I am not in control. My friends would be astonished, I’m sure, to hear me say that I am a bit of a control freak. Being alone in that airport for 9 hours not knowing the native language and then being pushed back to the lobby and having to make it back through security was probably one of the most terrifying moments of my life. It was 3am home time so nearly everyone I knew was asleep, so I felt alone and cut off. Additionally, I didn’t speak the native language and could not understand all the signs. On top of that, my phone was only good for France, and since I was in Germany, I couldn’t contact anyone except by finding wifi, which was weak at best. Things were not going as planned, I knew no one, and was in no shape to be reasonable. In all reality, I was fine: I had a plane ticket for the next available flight, I had 9 hours to get the pass printed and find my gate, I had my luggage, most people spoke English, and everyone I spoke to was trying to be helpful. I was just exhausted. This culminated in my walking around the airport with a big grin on my face to try and keep myself from crying. My last straw broke when I went to starbucks to try and get a drink using my giftcard and their card machine was broken. For me, this was the end of the world; I couldn’t even buy myself a drink. I got to a bathroom as quickly as I could, locked myself in a stall, and sobbed as quietly as I could for about 20 minutes, trying to regain some composure so I could figure out what to do. For someone who had never been so far from home, I was already regretting my decision to leave everything I knew behind for 4 months. Of course, everything got better. I washed my face, found wifi, received messages from my parents who (God bless them!) were up at 3am calling my program coordinator and checking available flights and talking to me to make sure I was ok. I still tear up thinking about how incredibly loved and blessed I felt at that time. I got directions from multiple people, managed to get my new boarding pass printed without bursting into tears, and took my second trip through airport security. After getting through security, finding my gate was a breeze and I found some open seats where I crashed and slept for about 5 hours.
This experience taught me the importance of not panicking and of letting go of control. Things will NOT always go your way and your maturity shows in how you respond to those experiences.
Less than 2 weeks later, I had my second scary experience, but this one was a little bit of a bigger deal. The first Nice soccer game was coming up, so a bunch of the exchange students got tickets to go together. I bought a ticket as well, but the day of, some other friends were shopping so I decided to forego meeting my group and decided to just meet them at the stadium. After all, we just had to take a bus from Antibes to Nice and then switch buses just past the airport to catch the stadium bus that would take us right to the front steps. Easy, right?? Well, I got to Nice and accidentally deboarded the bus a stop early. No big deal, I just started walking to the next stop which was in sight, but then some random middle-aged guy started talking to me. At first, it was no big deal either. He just commented in French that I was a fast walker and asked me something that I didn’t catch, but which I just responded affirmatively to, and went on my way. (It’s pertinent to mention here that I am pretty sure in hindsight that he was inquiring if I was alone.) Well, I went to the next bus stop and looked around for the bus I was supposed to take, but couldn’t find the number anywhere. I walked to the next stop, and still no bus. Upon the occurrence of this second let-down, I must have had a bewildered expression on my face, but I turned away from the road and this guy, who had sat down on a bench by this bus stop, beckoned for me to come over to him. Now, the next few sentences are going to make you gasp at my idiocy and shake your head wondering how you ever thought I was an intelligent being, but I made these mistakes and they are important to recognize. I walked over to him. I wasn’t stupid enough to go around to his side of the bench or sit down, but I did go over to him. He started speaking in French, at which point I became flustered at my low level of comprehension and he switched to English. He asked me a few things such as where I was from, what I was doing in Nice, etc and through the conversation this is what I revealed about myself: I am an American student; I do not speak French well; I am on my way to a soccer game; I am alone; and I do not know how to get to my destination. Upon my making this last comment, he told me to come sit by him and that he would take me to the game, that we would go together, but I should just sit down with him for a while. I told him I had friends waiting for me and I needed to go and he responded again that he would show me where to go and I should just have a seat. At this point, I bluntly stated (or rather, stumbled) in French that I had to go now, told him good evening, and began walking quickly down the road. At this point, he called out to me a bit and then stood up and began following me, calling to me, and walking with such a speed as to begin gaining on me. I called one of my roommates at this point and told her where I was and what the situation was and she told me to get the h*** across the road. I stayed on the line with her until I got to a crosswalk which, at that moment, turned green for me and red immediately after. THAT is one of the reasons I KNOW there is a God. I got across the street, hung up the phone, and went into a hotel lobby to ask for directions. The man told me that the bus I was looking for picked up from the street behind the hotel, so I checked my surroundings and hoofed it around the building to get out of view of the main road before that guy spotted me again. I found the bus stop and waited there for half an hour, with not a single bus passing in that time. At this point, the game was nearly half over and I knew buses would stop running soon. I made the decision to just head back to the bus stop for the bus returning to Antibes and sat there for 45 minutes waiting for the last bus to come. At this point, I called my parents and they stayed on the line with me the whole time, during which multiple cars drove past, several of which slowed as they were passing and stared at me. As my dad jokingly put it, “I guess you’re never gonna go out at night alone to an unknown city again, are ya?”
This experience was a red light for me to wake up and feel the thorns on those roses. I made several critical mistakes that evening. First, I went to an unknown area alone at night when I had the opportunity to go with friends. Second, I was too bashful to ask the bus driver what stop was the correct one for me to disembark. Third (but really 1.5), I did not research the bus routes nearly as well as I should have. Fourth, I spoke to a male stranger. Fifth, I accepted and approached a male stranger. Sixth (and seventh, eighth, ninth,…), I revealed weaknesses (female, alone, lost, etc). Things could have gone much differently that night, for better or worse, if I had changed my decisions any. I could have been kidnapped. I could have been raped. I could have been killed. I was beyond stupid. And I berate myself heavily for these mistakes. Needless to say, though, I did not and will not make them again.
*I will update this posting as more things come to mind