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Study abroad: a triggering experience

November 2, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the author.
Lily Anna Fullam

Something that not many people know about me is that I’m a sexual assault survivor, but not in your typical college campus rape story. From the age of five to about 14, I was repeatedly raped and molested along with three of my other cousins and to make matters worse, I’ve suffered another assault and attempted assault from two other people. To say the least, I have a lot of trauma that I’m still dealing with and not many people know about that.

What everyone does know is that I’m studying abroad. My time throughout has been absolutely amazing; I have met plenty of friends, toured a lot of the country and I even saw another Bowdoin friend while she’s studying abroad, too (we booked flights to a country near both of us and had such a beautiful time).

When preparing to study abroad, I knew that I was coming to a country that was more sexist and less politically correct than the United States, but what I didn’t expect was sexual aggression, sensitive masculinity and overwhelming discomfort. While the country is completely safe, I still try not to walk around alone because of the constant sexual harassment.

Even walking through my dorm or walking to class requires internal strategizing of what I’m going to wear, whether I’m wearing headphones and what route to take in order to best avoid people. I’ve even had to take a cab home after class because I couldn’t handle being catcalled and harassed on the streets anymore. I even had a stalker that I reported. When I filed the report, my dorm managers defended him and let him berate me. It wasn’t until my program director got on the phone with me that I felt reassured that I was in the right.

After a long history of sexual violence, it can be hard to understand sexual and physical boundaries in the United States, let alone another culture. When I say all of these things it isn’t to freak anyone out or to stop people from studying abroad, it is just a caution for all people suffering from trauma and so many other things.

I decided to study abroad to escape from my problems and live my best life, but I have to remember that leaving your problems behind is not a possibility for everyone. So, do your research and go to a place that you can mentally handle. I’m not saying go to England or another known and supposedly safe country because no one is going to harass you. I’m saying that harassment happens everywhere to varying degrees, and if you’re not prepared for that, then the transition period will be difficult for you as it has been for myself. Stay safe and happy.

Jhadha King is a member of the class of 2020. 

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