- Posted August 21, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Speaking up about sexual violence
Living Abroad: Everybody's Story
I was born and brought up in India. Although I’ve always travelled abroad I’ve never lived anywhere other than in India. Five months ago I left my house to go study in a Pastry school in a small village in the south of France. When I got there I didn’t know the local language nor did I know much about the people or the town. Like any other person living abroad for the first time I was scared of a number of things like safety, racism, theft, etc., fears and anxieties that were shared by all my batch mates who had come from different parts of the world. During my five-month stint, there were a number of occurrences that made me realize that there is no such thing as an absolutely safe town or city or country for women. One of my friends got followed and subsequently chased by a man on her way back home one night and another realized that the friendly neighborhood bar owner was actually harboring voyeuristic traits. One month after we arrived a man living two blocks away from us was arrested for keeping a young girl captive in his home for almost two years. These things happened in a place that is considered to be one of the safer parts of France. While traveling in France and around Europe I encountered a number of drunken unruly men at stations, drug addicts on the streets and petty thieves. On a few occasions I was followed, some made passes at me and some simply stared. I am now living and working in Paris. I walk to work at 6 am every morning, and every day there is at least one instance where I get the feeling of uncertainty or fear for my safety. Do these incidents make me feel like Europe or France in particular is unsafe? No. Would I come back alone again and travel like I’m doing now? Yes, in a heartbeat.
Every country has it own complex culture. Simply wearing the local clothes, eating the local food and memorizing simple pleasantries doesn’t make you a part of it. Initially a lot of my fears and apprehensions of living here came from the fact that I was absolutely alien to the local culture. As I allowed myself to understand my surroundings better, I got braver. As a foreigner when you come to live in a country, in the beginning you are bound to stick out like a sore thumb. People stare because they’ve not seen many like you before and so are curious. They don’t come right up and strike a conversation because they don’t know how to communicate with you in a manner that you will understand. However, as time passes, and if you make an honest effort, you will start to understand the people and their quirks. You will be able to gauge what is safe and what’s not, and more importantly you will know when to walk away and when to engage. Living abroad alone is difficult and challenging for anybody anywhere, what you need to keep in mind is to not take everything personally; these are people who don’t understand your culture in the same way that you don’t understand theirs.