What It’s Like to be an American in Europe Right Now

We’ve seen the hashtags, retweeted them and some of us have even posted pictures of the times spent in the affected countries. Yet, it’s still hard to believe it’s a reality. Perhaps it’s because the event seems so distant, both in actual distance and then in terms of memory. Most of us can remember where we were and who we were with on Sept. 11, 2001 — but what about the feeling? The feeling of fear, desperation and the unknown. These are some of the feelings spread across Europe. In November, 130 people were killed and several hundred wounded in Paris. On Tuesday,  a terrorist attack in a metro station and airport left 31 dead and over 200 hundred wounded in Belgium. So, who’s next? That seems to be the inevitable question.

Media headlines in the United States do stories on ISIS and those affected by the terrorist group on a daily basis, yet it’s become a norm. Prior to living abroad, I studied ISIS, I’ve interviewed people that had to escape their home country of Iraq because of the war (one here), yet I didn’t think twice about living in Europe in the midst of turmoil. Maybe it’s because I dream of being a foreign correspondent and I’m naturally interested in these topics. But perhaps it’s because the distance still existed and the circumstances had not yet become my reality.

Many students study abroad for the freedom, adventure and travel opportunities, but I came with a different agenda. I decided to use my time abroad to focus on my career, to learn a new language and to fully delve into this unknown territory. As the months pass by and the conflict in the Middle East increases, I often receive messages from friends back home asking what it’s like here in London during  such a  high-tension time, and the truth is it’s not what you would expect.

In London, life is quite normal. People go to work, take their kids to school and keep in the flow of everyday life. Although I am in Europe, I don’t live in this bubble of fear, but I would be lying if I said there isn’t an underlying sense of urgency. Now, this sense of urgency isn’t solely based on the possible attack from this global terrorist network. It’s based on the ever-growing refugee crisis, the much talked about #Brexit and the future of Europe. It’s important to note the history of places like London, which was once haunted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the same group that killed 52 people in a series of attacks across the London underground transportation system on July 7, 2005. It seems as if the experience with the IRA have caused Londoners to not live in fear.

Talks about a possible attack in the United Kingdom have been circulating since I arrived. Just two days ago, papers published a warning of ten possible terrorist attacks to happen across the city. So what’s it like to be an American living in Europe at this time? For me it’s weirdly exciting, eerie and slightly frustrating. But as I sit back and think about it more, being in Europe right now isn’t any different than being in the states. Let me explain: the cells of ISIS exist in the United States as well and they clearly have support — we saw it with the shootings in San Bernardino and in the American who left to fight with ISIS. Both European and American citizens live in a constant danger of being attacked. The feeling of urgency also exists in the states, except it has nothing to do with leaving the European Union and more to do with upcoming presidential elections — in essence, the future of America.

In Europe, some people express the opinion that the likelihood of being victims of a terrorist attack is equivalent to the likelihood of an American being victim of gun violence. Perhaps one is more likely than the other. Many believe that it just has to do with being at the right place at the right time, and despite the recent attacks many citizens in Europe maintain their plans to travel for the upcoming Easter weekend. Life moves on, with certain precautions, and I’ve become fond of this way of living — not living in fear but being more aware, not panicking but understanding the severity of the situations.

That Europe is in turmoil cannot be argued — but in many ways, so is the United States. Both nations rely on the adequate use of security intelligence to protect its citizens. Both nations have the same likelihood of being attacked at any given moment. So when you ask me what’s it like being an American in Europe this is my response: I live the same fears as an American in Europe and as an American in the United States, except that my warnings are delivered in funny accents.

Photo Credit: www.extremetech.com