Sarah Ardolino, Arts & Entertainment Editor
One of the most beautiful things about study abroad in Europe is the ease of travel to other neighboring countries. Airfare is cheap and there is an abundance of hostels everywhere. So naturally, my fellow Rome program peers and I took advantage of that opportunity as soon as possible. We booked a trip to Barcelona within the second week of being in Rome for that following weekend. All 24 of us bought our tickets with prospect of adventure, which in a way symbolized the start of our new lives as eager-eyed abroad students in Europe.
I remember being so excited on the flight there. I had never been to Spain before, nor did I ever think I would go. As the wheels of the plane touched the ground, I felt liberated, ready to experience the unknown.
However, soon after we landed, things did not go as smoothly as initially planned. We bought the plane tickets, booked a hostel, figured out what to do and food to try, but we did not know a way to get to our hostel. The person of authority/ “adult figure” we were traveling with put a ton of pressure on us to figure it out right there and then. It was in the middle of the night. We were in a foreign country. I was very stressed.
Half of our group took a different flight in, so while we waited for them to land, we were also researching ways we could get to our hostel. Ubers, trains, taxis, etc. were all viable options, but it all depended on the whole group. Fourteen of us were sitting in the middle of the airport like lost and confused tourists with iPhones in one hand and
carry-on luggage in the other. Looking back, it makes sense those two men approached us.
I did not notice them at first. I was probably joking around with my friends or putting the hostel address in the Uber app. I looked up and saw these random men talking to a few of the people in my group. Somehow, I figured out that they were offering us taxi rides from the airport to the hostel. Immediately, I brushed the idea to the side. There was no way was I going to get into an unofficial taxi service in a foreign country in the middle of the night. My parents taught me better. I was not stupid, and neither were my peers.
A few minutes later, my group members were still entertaining these men. I was perplexed on why. They told me that the taxi ride that the men were offering was less expensive than the official Barcelona taxi service. It was an easy and accessible way to get where we were going. Again, I did not consider that to be an option: there was no way I was leaving the airport with two strangers.
Peer pressure makes people do things they normally would never do. Yes, I ended up getting into one of the unofficial taxi vans with five other girls. No, I did not want to. Everything just happened so fast.
The “adult figure” we were with, a friend I trusted and a pushy girl I was studying abroad with started to tell us that this was our only option to get to the hostel. We had to do it; it was the best for the group. The plan was that the “adult figure” would wait for the other set of people flying in to land, while the rest of us would go with these men. My instinct said no, but my 13 peers started walking to the exit with them. Some seemed fine with the situation, some were hesitant, but indifferent and one other girl and I were
terrified. I was told it was going to be okay. We had to do this. Everyone else is doing it. Everyone else is fine with it.
I told the pushy girl that this was not a good idea. I will never forget her response, “We are in a foreign country. That means you have to do things you are not comfortable with doing.”
As we were walking out, the men’s business card ended up in my hand and, I googled the business’s name. NOTHING CAME UP. That was a clear indication to me that this business was not legitimate. Yet again, I tried to say something, but everyone kept going with it. We were then divided up into two groups for the two vans. I was put in the group of all girls. The six of us walked out of the airport and into parking garage with one of the men. My heart was pounding.
To be continued next column…