When I decided to study abroad in Paris I had some expectations, mostly about the food, the scenes, and the dream of living in a big city. I never thought that I would be present during a national crisis or be stranded in a foreign country. I also never expected I would learn valuable life lessons.
My first life lesson hit me in the face shortly after my arrival in Amsterdam, December 26, 2014. After exploring the city for a few hours, I noticed that my wallet was no longer with me. I frantically retraced my steps in a hopeless effort to retrieve it, but it was gone.
In the middle of freaking out over my wallet, I learned my room reservation though couchsurfing.com had been cancelled. I was in a foreign country for the first time, with no place to stay, and no funds to purchase a room for the night.
I called my parents. They agreed to wire me money and I waited at the train station for it to arrive. It was Boxing Day and in Amsterdam it’s a holiday. The currency exchange at the train station closed before my money arrived.
I wandered aimlessly through the city looking for a place to go. I ended at a McDonald’s restaurant where I called my sister and promptly broke into tears. I was so homesick. I wanted nothing more than to be back home in Michigan. Then something amazing happened. A manager working at the restaurant noticed I was upset. He asked why and I explained what had happened. Before I knew it he was seating me. He brought me food and his friend, Laiming, offered me a place to stay for the night. This man, Hamid, told me he was helping me because his religion, Islam urged him to help others in need. Hamid saved my life. If I had not met him, I may have been wandering the streets until morning. Little did I know the impact Hamid’s kindness would have on me in the weeks to follow.
On January 7, 2015 I was out traveling between work and class. I had arrived at my destination where the breaking news headlines displayed a live tragedy. A group of radical Islamists shot staff members at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris. The suspects remained at large while other extremists terrorized citizens at a kosher foods store outside of the city.
All of the events that day left me feeling empty and confused. I remember making my way home that night, having to walk almost half way due to demonstrations disrupting the metro lines. I will never forget the image of thousands of French citizens gathered in protest at Place de la République.
A panic swept over major cities in the U.S., fear that they were also being targeted by terrorists. I remember reading an article about a situation that took place that same night in New York City, where a Muslim woman was pushed in front of a moving train. People react out of ignorance and fear and sometimes in terrible ways. It is illogical to assume actions of one group should be projected upon a whole group of people. All I could do was think of my friend Hamid, a Muslim who saved my life rather than taking it.