Every time I leave the United States to return to Dubrovnik, I get bombarded by the alarmed “please be safe over there” comments. But the truth is, there’s nowhere else in the world I feel safer than in Dubrovnik.
Of course with the present-day context of terrorist attacks throughout Europe stirring the pot of international turmoil, I understand why family and friends would want me to be safe while living across the world.
It’s just that many Americans, especially those who have never left, fail to see that the United States is actually the dangerous place.
I must admit that I am coming from a place of immense privilege in that I have been mainly untouched by the violence in America. I grew up in a relatively quiet suburb in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where the only crime was teenagers causing trouble around town.
However, because of my family background, I’ve been surrounded by crime since the day I was born. I come from a family of criminal defense lawyers, where I’ve heard everything from stories of the wrongly accused to housewives with a secret drug addiction. Though these were mostly petty white-collar offenses, I always lived with the very real threat of crime, which has at times put my family’s security at risk.
Moving to Chicago for college was a whole new world for me, one filled with both opportunity and violence. Like most metropolitan cities in America, inner-city crime is rooted in a sharp opportunity gap. Sadly enough, crime flourishes in the areas of Chicago that are completely neglected, occasionally trickling into the areas deemed “safe”.
The perimeter of my former liberal bubble of a college campus was a ripe opportunity for theft. I was desensitized to getting e-mails once a week about students being held at gunpoint, and some cases of sexual assault. There was even a time I was volunteering in a rougher neighborhood, and a shooting between gangs broke out while I was inside tutoring kids.
Thus with this background, coming to study abroad in Dubrovnik was quite a contrast for me. Because it is such a small town, crime and violence seemed practically impossible when everyone knows each other. There were no stories of murder, gun violence, or gangs, instead stories of the passed Homeland War. I remember us American study abroad students saying we’ve never felt safer. It’s no surprise why Dubrovnik has been said to be one of the safest places in the world.
Yes, there were some situations with “cat calling” and strange men, being a young woman in Dubrovnik. But I never felt very threatened. It was such a relief to be able to walk home in the dark without the extreme paranoia and to be able to go for a run without the fear of being abducted.
It was when I returned back to the United States that I realized how unsafe my country is. While I was gone, there were numerous mass shootings and cases of police brutality. Even one of my classmates had been shot and killed after being robbed. A few months later, another classmate was shot outside her apartment. I couldn’t help but feel the violence was out of control on all ends, and it kept hitting closer to home.
Later that year, I saw headlines for a shooting in the Twin Cities, where a disgruntled client went into a criminal defense law office and shot and killed the receptionist. My heart sank when I saw it was the law firm of our family friends. My heart broke when I saw the murder victim was my friend from high school.
In a matter of months I become furious with my country’s apathy towards violence, and especially lack of gun control. I was worried for my family, friends, and my own safety. There were many days when my anxiety peaked and I had to take myself back to a safe place in my mind. That place was Dubrovnik.
Before I came back to Dubrovnik after graduating college, I lost count of the number of times people warned me about being safe, as if I was going to somewhere more dangerous. It is somewhat ironic that I would feel significantly safer somewhere that was bombed to the ground less than 30 years ago.
Over the past 6 months living in Dubrovnik again, I truly was filled was gratitude to live in a bubble of paradise, untouched from the world’s chaos and violence.
But I’ll never forget one night I was at the beach with my Croatian friends, when someone started throwing the “Petarde“ fireworks at the ground. I immediately jumped to my feet with terror in my eyes, as they sounded exactly like gunshots to me. I put my hand on my fluttering heart, and looked at my friends who barely flinched, still laughing and singing under the moonlight.
I reminded myself that I was in Dubrovnik now, and I was safe.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Alexandra Schmidt, also known as The Mindful Mermaid, is a globetrotting writer and travel blogger, who finds her self always coming back to Dubrovnik. She was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota and later moved to Chicago to study at Loyola University. She first came to Dubrovnik when she studied at Dubrovnik International University, and has returned to Dubrovnik several times since. She’s a mermaid-obsessed yogi, who passes her time playing guitar, exploring the great outdoors, and planning her next adventure. To find out more about Alex, you can visit her website or Facebook page. www.mindfulmermaid.com www.facebook.com/themindfulmermaidblog