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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Opinion: Readjusting to US gun violence is jarring reverse culture shock

After a long semester abroad, returning to the U.S. where gun violence is more prominent acts as a jarring form of reverse culture shock.
Mass Shootings in the U.S. versus Europe in the past 10 years.
Image by Isabella Caswell
Mass Shootings in the U.S. versus Europe in the past 10 years.

On my flight home from Florence, Italy, where I spent four months studying abroad, I woke up from my nap with a sudden thought: I have to continue searching for hiding spots in classrooms.

According to Gallup, one in three in-person students worry about gun violence on campus.

Generation Z is considered the ‘lockdown generation’ because they grew up practicing active shooter drills, according to The Washington Post. Now it has become ingrained in my mind, alongside many others, to look for places in a classroom where I’d be out of sight from the windows.

This was quite a shift when I studied in Italy as there was no mention or worry of gun
violence at all.

I returned from my study abroad trip at the end of April, and readjusting to an environment where gun violence is more prominent was uncomfortable.

One of the first things I did when I returned to the United States was go to the movie theater. About halfway through the movie, I located the exit. I missed the better part of the plot in favor of wondering what I would do if someone came in with a gun and how fast I could get out of the theater.

In 2023, there were 655 mass shootings in the U.S., according to the Gun Violence Archive. In Europe, there were only 18 mass shootings since 1987 and three in the past 10 years, according to Reuters.

The biggest concern I had in Europe was pickpocketing, which is a predominantly survivable crime. Besides that, I felt I could walk around safely, day or night. I could walk into school, the store or a museum trusting I would be safe from gun violence.

Paige Miller, a fourth-year student at the University of Minnesota, studied abroad in London during the 2023 fall semester. Miller said she didn’t think about gun violence as much in the U.K. as she does while in the U.S.

“It was definitely way less of a concern when I was abroad,” Miller said. “When it even came down to public transportation, I always felt much safer.”

After I landed in Florence, I received a SAFE-U alert from the UMN Department of Public Safety on Jan. 11 about a man threatening to shoot people on campus and felt relieved to be in a country where gun violence isn’t as common.

Miller said she remembers the campus lockdown on Jan. 11 after her return to campus in spring 2024 and reminded herself she needs to be more alert to gun violence.

“It was a snap back to reality that that was a concern again,” Miller said.

Grace Dinzeo, a fourth-year student at the University, studied abroad in Florence in the 2024 spring semester. Grace has family in Italy, and her cousins asked her if gun violence is as bad as it’s perceived to be in the U.S.

“I told them about how we grew up doing drills in schools,” Dinzeo said. “It was just mind-blowing to them.”

Dinzeo left Italy thinking more about gun violence than she ever had because many Italians pointed out the frequency of the issue in the U.S. After an Italian national found out she was American, he kept gesturing at her with finger guns.

“The first thing he asked me was, ‘Do you own a gun?’,” Dinzeo said.

Joey Klein, a 2024 graduate from the University, studied a semester abroad in New Zealand in the spring of 2023. Klein said gun violence is something always in the back of his mind. When asked if he felt safer in New Zealand, he said, “For sure.”

“Their crime rate is just very, very low,” Klein said. “Most people in town left their doors unlocked.”

According to Klein, it was different to return to the U.S. He could walk around at night in New Zealand and not think much of it, whereas walking around Minneapolis at night is a different story. Klein added there is more crime and sometimes it can be worrying to walk at night.

When Klein got back from New Zealand, he thought of gun violence like any American would.

“It didn’t affect my day-to-day life, but it is something still in the back of my mind,” Klein said.

Until the Christchurch mosque shootings in 2019, New Zealand hadn’t had a mass shooting in over two decades. New Zealand responded quickly, tightening up its gun laws and banning military-style assault weapons.

While I don’t have class again until the fall, I still feel uneasy in crowded spaces. I avoid going to the mall, I buy movie tickets seated close to the exit, and I am hypervigilant at concerts and The Minnesota State Fair.

Mass shootings are down 29% from last year in the U.S., according to Forbes. There were 134 mass shootings in the first four months of 2024 compared to 190 during the same period in 2023. While this is an improvement, it is not enough.

Gun policies on campus are important to most current and future students, according to Gallup. Stricter gun laws should be at the forefront of our country’s priorities. The motivation to travel abroad is clear when comparing the U.S. to study-abroad locations, such as Europe or New Zealand.

We must create an environment where students feel safe to return, not fearful.

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  • Gerry Anderson
    Jun 9, 2024 at 11:36 am

    I have traveled all over the US, North America and about a dozen other countries. For 40 years.

    I ALWAYS pay attention to my surroundings, no matter where I am.

    There were plenty of areas in London that I was extra vigilant. On the edge of no go areas for cops.

    I’ve seen police in Mexico armed with AR and other fully automatic weapons.

    No matter where you are, you need to just pay attention. Pretty much common sense.

    BTW, someone pulling a gun is definitely a statistic anomaly. Do the math.

  • Michaela
    Jun 6, 2024 at 3:22 pm

    This is incredibly insight! It must be so frustrating having these thoughts on your mind on a day to day basis. We, as a country, must do better!