“I’m so scared of getting mugged.” She was a little chubby, with skin so pale it was almost blue – except when she was blushing, which was nearly always – and bright blond, shoulder-length hair that always looked like it could use a good brushing.
I rolled my eyes and tried to ignore her, but she just kept going on about it, her voice plaintive and desperate. We had just arrived in Barcelona for a semester abroad and it was the first time we were all together; coming from different schools all around the country, most of us had never met before. Orientation was in a small building just north of downtown.
I looked at her nametag: Katie. She was from some university in Kansas and looked like she had probably grown up there as well. Amid the general chatter, I heard her mention that she’d never been out of the United States before. When she raised her fears with the instructor in front of the whole group, the instructor assured her that the crime rate was very low and she really had no reason to worry. But she just kept mumbling about it.
Less than a week later, the email from the program director went out to everyone: Katie had been mugged. They had gotten her purse, but she was unharmed. In my one class with her, Spanish Art History, I heard her telling some of the other girls all about it. The event itself, what they had taken, her struggles getting a new credit card and cell phone, and thank god, they didn’t get her passport! You know how it goes: “It was really terrible, the worst thing ever, but secretly I love being a victim”. Not so secretly, it turns out: everyone can see through that. She was even more nervous now, she assured them. Her fears had been justified!
And guess what. Within a month she had been mugged three more times. For a grand total of four muggings in one month. You guys, I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of record. She had had enough. She quit the program and went home. She probably never left the country again.
On the other hand, no one else in our program was mugged the whole time. (Or suffered in any other way, for that matter, violent crime or otherwise.) I traveled all over Europe, alone or with only one or two other girls. To London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Prague, Monaco, and more. I stayed in hostels and hotels, I walked across parks alone at night, I stood in the middle of Stonehenge with my eyes closed and spun in circles, I celebrated Carnival on a beach in Sitges and watched the sun rise with a thousand strangers. And never once, in all that time, did anyone ever try to hurt me.
You can wake up in the morning and think of all the things that could go wrong, all the ways that the world could hurt you. Or you can wake up and think of all the beautiful and amazing things that you will experience. Either way, you’re right. Some might say that the latter approach is naive. Maybe.
But if Katie’s approach to life is the not-naive approach, I’d rather be naive. Explain it however you will: her appearance and way of carrying herself sent a message loud and clear that she was an easy target; my confidence allowed me to walk through the night unscathed. Or maybe you believe that in life, you get what you expect. Whatever it is, I’d rather do it my way.
I’d rather dance in Stonehenge and celebrate Carnival on a beach than sit in my house in Kansas for the rest of my life, too afraid of the what-ifs to ever risk anything. You can keep your security. I want adventure.