by Devina Gunawan
That statement applies to a lot of people in my life, and sadly that is the truth.
I took my study abroad time in France right after I turned 21. And the truth was that, the whole experience had been a turning point. It was life changing, and I am very much grateful that I had come out of it alive.
Not to say that I had been a very good girl most of my life, because that would be a lie. But France had this certain charm, a certain tease, an appeal I could not resist.
Right after I had turned 21, I flew my way to Paris and then to Pau, a small city in which I would be risking my life.
There, with the full glory of alcoholism, I had gone from a wine glass per meal to a bottle per assignment I had completed. I could take my alcohol really well, and I did not waste anytime pondering upon the calories of my wine.
I had also stopped complaining so much about life, perhaps it was because nobody could speak English and I was not fond of bonding over cigarettes.
I was then enchanted by the beauty of knowing that I was a solo traveler, and that none of my family or friends was around to supervise my every move.
Given the fact that I was thought of to be beautiful, I was delighted with the attention I was getting. And love affairs were haunting me, and they still are to this very day.
I was lost in walking around in the AMs, looking at the stars and avoiding the drunks. I was up in the later AMs running and getting lost in the city.
And I was lost in the unreal setting that I was stuck in.
I had lost count on how many times I was sexually harassed, grabbed, kissed, and hurt. The first week of class someone snatched my laptop away from me and I had spent few trips to the police station instead of making friends. I walked by a community of Gypsies and their children threw rocks at me for ignoring their “Play with us” request.
And it did not stop there. A lot of things happened, every single day, that I had stopped complaining and started fighting back.
France was a dream in many ways. Pau was enchanting. It was so difficult to hate a place so cruel to me. The city had no mercy on me but I loved it more than any other city. I think it was because I was actually challenged and growing.
Despite the conflicts, I was changing. I was transforming.
I had learned the hard way about a lot of things, and I had lost my security deposit of life. It was so bad that I had come back to my dorm room every night praying, thanking God that I was still alive.
When the semester ended, I was a different person. And I was no longer afraid of anything.
To be honest, I think that is what living abroad does to a lot of us. We start from the scratch. It is a language we do not speak, the people we do not understand, the cultures we do not like, and many more.
That to not lose ourselves, to find a place for ourselves, we need to fight. And we stop being babies but start becoming warriors.
At least that is how I see my journey. Like a virgin, I had come to France innocent and gullible. Yet I left the country a fierce woman, and I do not think I will ever give that up.