Paris Attacks: A View from Abroad


Samantha Hirschman

Samantha Hirschman | Blogger

American University of Rome (AUR), my host university, was holding a 24-hour film festival, a race to create a film in 24 hours, the night of the event. It was about 1 AM when I heard the news. Meghan Harmening messaged me via Facebook asking if I was okay:

Meghan said, “Are you in Rome right now?”

I responded, “Yeah, what’s up?”

She quickly messaged back, “Just making sure you’re safe. Paris terrorist attacks.”

The second I read her message, I felt my body go cold. I couldn’t believe it; I logged on the computer and I read what was happening. I was absolutely stunned. Paris really isn’t that far away from Rome. I called my dad via Facebook (that’s my only way of communicating here). My family was at my sister’s swim meet. When he answered, I told him I was safe and what was going on.

Throughout the weekend, I continued to be on my toes with everywhere I went. I was scared and worried about what might happen next. What did relieve some of my tension was my program, International Studies Abroad (ISA); they sent out an email on Saturday asking if everyone was safe. Throughout the week I’ve received emails from AUR, ISA, and the American Embassy not only asking about our whereabouts, but also informing us what is going on and how to stay safe.

December 8th is the start of the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy. Starting this day, there will be another 1500 troops within the city of Rome. Since Tuesday, the 17th, there has been another 700 soldiers in the area as well. We now have an armed guard at AUR, whereas normally we only have one person at a booth monitoring the gate. Although it bothers me to require more safety measures, it comforts me that we have people looking out for us.

I think what bothers me most about the whole thing is that I wouldn’t feel this scared in Iowa. Iowa is an area that most people don’t look at twice. “Oh yeah, farms right? Corn everywhere? Yeah, I’m not ever going there,” is what I hear from most of the other students I encounter. A lot of people don’t even know where it is. In Iowa, we can leave our cars unlocked, keys under the seat, and nothing happens. It’s something that I’m not used to and it puts me in a difficult position.

The weekend it happened I went to my military friend studying abroad with me and asked how much I really needed to worry. He said, “Nowhere is safe, Sam.” And from that I realized something: he’s right. Nowhere is safe, because there will always be bad people. Whether it is as low level as pick-pocketing or as extreme as terrorists, there are always bad people.

I think the biggest difference between my experience and the rest of the students at BV in America, is the fact that while everyone else forgets about the issue, I’m still being affected and everyday I have to question my safety. I didn’t start off liking this experience what-so-ever and this event doesn’t help it all that much either, but I’ve learned a lot from it. Please do not assume you are “fine” or “safe” simply because you are in bum-fuck-nowhere. The dangers of this world are very, very real.

Photo courtesy of Sam Hirschman