I am a study abroad student writing to you from Barcelona, alongside 53 other extremely excited Barcelona-based female students abroad for the Summer Semester. I was on my way to explore your crystal blue shores, sandy beaches, supreme shopping selections and local delicacies that I've read about and imagined of for years and years. However, something came up, causing us to regress from our journey back to home base.
As my tour bus (en route for nine hours to you) abruptly pulled over to the side of the road on the highway after already taking a thirty minute rest stop at one of the many luxurious gas station/rest stops Europe is known for, our tour guide came on the mic. She was a girl not much older than I, and the words that anyone abroad or anyone in general that no one wants to hear were spoken. "There has been an emergency."
At first, we were notified without elaboration. Chills ran down my spine, and my heart dropped. When things like this happen, as immediate as we want each detail to be, social media and technology can only transmit crisis so fast. You, Nice, were under attack. Was it a drunk driver who plowed through the streets in your time of celebration, leaving 80+ left for dead? Was it an accident for one who lost control of his motorized truck on a main road in your Bastille Day, breaking apart husbands from wives, children from mothers and friends from friends? On the flip of a dime, everyone around me on the bus was calling their worried families, inquiring about any information anyone had heard on the home front. Thoughts in my head started battling each other between whether I should be more terrified that it could have easily been me, or whether I should be ecstatic thanking my lucky stars that it wasn't.
As I flipped on my foreign data plan that I purchased specifically for emergencies to touch base with my family who I am sure was in a panic due to my close proximity, I received a breaking news alert which stated "Police find firearms, explosives and grenades in truck, French official says." It was an act of terrorism. An act that is a citizen's, visitor's, vacationer's and student's worst fear; an act that has become much too common today. As a student from the United States, the terrorism that has occurred over the recent years has been publicized so often in our media in what has begun to sound like a repetitive tone, that we somehow feel distant and unaffected due to this form of desensitization. Until, of course, it happens to you. Refreshing my phone over and over again wasn't going to change or speed up the same five poorly written breaking news articles I was reading because all everyone wanted to do was get the word out as quick as possible.
The quick turn around to venture back "home" was filled with tears, unrest, confusion, speculation, and several French policemen. I can't say I've ever been closer to a rifle in the hands of the authority than I was returning back into Spain at the French-Spanish border, but I can tell you one thing, without the armed officers prepared to shoot down the driver of the ramped truck down your street, the terror could and would have escalated beyond our imaginations.
Nice, my heart aches for you, my stomach unsettles for you, and the global community who fights alongside you stands behind you. Life is happening all around us. As a student studying abroad, this is my first of many travel reality checks I am sure I will endure along my travel adventures. To those of my friends and family who have future travel plans, as well as those living in the perimeters of states in distress, be smart, be safe, be strategic with your plans, use your resources and support each other in a time of tragedy. Life is not meant to be lived in fear, and travel is not meant for confining.
I am sorry I couldn't experience the beautiful places and people you have to offer, Nice. But it is my job, along with the rest of the world's, not to define you by your tragedy, but by the way you rise and carry on from it.
With hope for better days,
A girl in Barcelona