It was right around this same time of year. I have never been so excited or more nervous. It was finally happening. I was starting to say farewell to my friends, getting ready for finals, excited for the holidays and to see my family and friends at home one last time before I left for my semester abroad. I was going to Torino, Italy and I just knew it was going to be the greatest experience of my life. But, like everyone at the time, there was also a dark cloud of fear and doubt hanging over that excitement.
This January 5, 2015 will mark 14 years since the day my parents dropped me off at the airport with tears in their eyes, and fear in their minds as I was soon to board my plane for Italy. Fourteen years since a relative said to me “Are you sure you should do this?” before hugging me and slipping a $100 bill into my pocket. It’s also fourteen years and four months since terrorists attacked our country and fourteen years since I lost my cousin to those attacks.
When I arrived abroad, I was met with an outpouring of love and sympathy from the Italians and Europeans. People would hear I was an American and frequently say how sorry they were for America. Many of my friends didn’t even know I lost a relative on that day. What they knew was that I lived in a country that was attacked by terrorists and they treated me with compassion, kindness, and welcomed me with open arms.
I had the most incredible experience of my life. I felt like I was alive for the first time. I experienced the world in ways I never could have imagined. I learned a new language and a new culture. I discovered myself and learned what I was capable of. I stood up to my fears. I got lost. I explored. Those 5 months shaped my life and will likely shape the rest of it.
The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France, have brought back a lot of memories for me. Watching them unfold, I was reminded of the fear and sadness I felt on 9/11. Every phone call I received that night, I had the memory of answering the phone and hearing that my cousin had been on Flight 93. I remember the four months between the attacks and my departure and all the doubt and fear all of us in the US experienced. Will it be safe for me to go abroad? Is this the right time? Maybe I will do it later? I asked myself a lot of questions during those four months, and in the end, I chose to go abroad and I have never doubted if it was the right decision.
So why am I sharing this today? Because I too, was once scared of what might happen if I travel abroad after the country I loved was attacked. But I knew that life does go on. Allowing our fear to guide our decisions only holds us back, when we should be pushing forward. France, just like America, is a safe place and worth visiting and exploring. The world is still worth exploring! We are just as safe in the many study abroad destinations around the world as we are at home. I know when you turn on the news, it’s easy to think that staying still and living each day the same is the safe route. But I would not have my job today, or be living where I do, or be who I am if I had not studied abroad then.
I may not have ever stood face-to-face with a terrorist, but I have stood hand-in-hand with a friend from Italy, and one from France; and a friend who is Catholic, and one who is Jewish; and one who is Muslim. That my friends, is how you stand up to terrorism. You live your life fuller than you had lived it before. You stay aware. You become more vigilant. But you live and you dream and you let nothing hold you back from the life you want!
Students getting ready to go abroad or those that are thinking of traveling, GO! Seize the opportunity. Be safe, pay attention to your surroundings and heed the State Department Travel Warnings and Alerts. But still go. Still live the life you dream of.
Learn about each other, our differences, and our commonalities. Study something you never thought you would. Discover a place you’ve never been and a life you never knew.
Live. Learn. Discover. That’s what studying abroad is all about and that is the best cure for the hatred and fear in the world.
Written by Michael Nieto, USAC Northeast University Relations Coordinator
Mike studied abroad with USAC for the spring 2002 semester in Torino, Italy. He is also a fomer staff assistant at the USAC Viterbo, Italy program in spring 2008. Mike was the Study Abroad Adviser at CSU, Chico prior to coming to USAC.