Written by Rachel McCallion

My year abroad spent in Paris was an unbelievable experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything, but what if in a moment of silliness my time there had been cut short? That’s exactly what happened to Thomas, who was held without charge for a month in Japan after a drunken stunt. By taking his liberty for granted, Thomas’s time in Japan was ruined, when he should have been making memories to last him a lifetime. Unfortunately, the memories he does have are not the kind he was expecting to make there. After reading Thomas’s account of his time in prison, I started to reflect on my own time abroad and tried to put myself in Thomas’s shoes.

Waking up at my normal time of 8 o’clock on the dot is facilitated everyday by the primary school next to my Paris flat. One bad thing about living in the city is that everything is built on top of each other. Oh, and that the school bell rings on weekends too. Not ideal.

I share the flat with a mother and daughter who constantly check on me and make sure I’m enjoying Paris to the full extent and help to guide me through all of the many forms necessary for a life in France. Radia and Ines were a blessing, as without them I might not have come to grips with Parisian culture so quickly.

Getting ready and leaving the flat for work I walk everyday down the street towards my metro stop and travel the distance to the school I work in. After work, I’m free to get back on the metro, meet my friends, wander around Paris, take in the sights or go to dinner with friends.

But if, like Thomas, I had been detained for a drunken misdemeanour, none of these things would have been possible. Thomas’s stint in prison in Japan ended without any charges, but by that time he had already spent a month in solitary confinement, and when he was released he quickly returned to the UK, missing out on a lot of the experiences he could have had in Japan.

I imagine if I had been forced to leave Paris prematurely and think of all the things I would have missed out on, the sights, the people and the allure of Paris itself.

But by putting myself in Thomas’s shoes I see just how easy it would be to make a mistake that could ruin your time abroad. What really are the differences between Thomas and I? Apart from being in different countries, both of us were living away from home in an unfamiliar city. The issue is that he was caught in a moment of silliness which ultimately ruined his time in Japan. Some might consider being detained in Japan a good story to dine out on, but Thomas was unable to talk about his time behind bars without a sour taste in his mouth.

I, on the other hand, continue to bore people to death whilst regaling the tales of my time in the French capital. A pleasure that would have been wholly unavailable to me had I had an experience like Thomas.

I went through my time in Paris without any major dramas or incidents with law enforcement. However, had I been in the wrong place at the wrong time or taken my liberty for granted, perhaps Thomas and my situations would not have been very different.

If Thomas’s experience teaches me anything, it’s that no matter how comfortable you feel abroad, it’s so important to remember where you are. Laws and customs outside of the UK differ greatly from what we’re used to, so it’s imperative that you research local rules and regulations wherever you are travelling to. Thomas’s situation is sure to have happened to other Brits abroad, however, the fact that he was caught made for a terrible situation which even the British Embassy couldn’t get him out of. Learn from Thomas’s mistakes, don’t take your liberty for granted.

Before you travel abroad make sure to check the FCO Travel Checklist and prepare yourself for wherever you’re headed.