Turning 18 is a milestone, and for most people, it’s the first step to slowly becoming a mature adult. For me, it was an absolute nightmare.
I moved to the beautiful city of Leiden four months ago and living here has been a wonderful experience. Attending Webster University and meeting some great friends has been amazing, and I considered Leiden to be a safe city compared to where I had applied in the U.S. I applied to schools in Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Virginia, ultimately choosing Webster based on their programs, location, and scholarship. Hearing about shootings, rapes, and assaults on American college campuses worried my family, and they were glad when I chose to stay in Europe. Not once have I heard about serious crimes in Leiden. Rotterdam or Amsterdam, of course, being larger cities, have more crime, but I perceived Leiden as a safe, small city.
On Sunday I turned 18, and I spent the previous day celebrating with my friends. We went to Den Haag for lunch, and I always grip my purse a little bit tighter there, simply because I don’t live there, therefore I keep my guard up a bit more. When my friends and I came back to Leiden that evening, we hit a few bars. Not once at any of those bars did I feel unsafe.
That changed when I was walking home with a friend around 1 or 2 in the morning. A group of 5 or 6 young men on bike began to follow us and sexually harass us. I ignored them, as I usually do when I am catcalled, but they kept trying to get a reaction from me. Finally, when my friend told them to go away, they did, but not before they stole my purse right off of my shoulder. It took me a minute to process that they had actually just stolen my purse.
We went to a nearby snack shop, and some people there called the police for us (as I had left my phone in my dorm and my friend was out of credit on hers), the police took down our names, and told us to go to the station the next day.
I called my parents the next morning, which was probably the worst part of it all. Crying on the phone, I explained to them what had happened. I said that my IDs, residence card, tablet, debit card, and Rabobank card had been stolen. That was not how I wanted to spend the morning of my 18th birthday. I wanted to feel like a responsible adult, like I could handle anything that happened, but the truth is, I couldn’t.
The next day I went to the police station and got the police report, but I know I’m not going to be getting my things back. I did learn some important lessons though:
- Do not assume any place is 100% safe, whether you’re in a small town or a city. People can be terrible no matter where you live.
- Do not let your guard down, especially late at night. Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Girls especially, be sure you always have a friend or a group of friends with you when you’re walking home. If I hadn’t had my friend with me when I was robbed, I’m sure things would have been a lot worse.
- Just bring cash and an ID when you go out to clubs/bars, and keep them zipped in your pockets. There’s no need to bring an entire purse.
- Even if you do get robbed, remember that your belongings are replaceable. It’s a pain and it’s expensive to have to get new IDs and debit cards, and replace what was stolen, but it can be done. I am very glad that the men who took my purse didn’t physically hurt me or my friend.
It wasn’t a great start to adulthood, but life is a learning experience. I’ll definitely be more careful from now on, and I’m so thankful for my friends and family helping me out after the incident. Their love and support is much more valuable than anything that the thieves could have stolen from me.