There’s a Paris before the terror attacks that took place on Friday, November 13, and there’s a Paris after the attacks.
When we heard the news we weren’t even in Paris. The American University of Paris, was holding Fall Break from November 11-15, which was a great opportunity for students to travel. Seven of us from SAI had met in Prague earlier that day.
I was on a trip that started in Santorini and Athens, while another trip began in Israel. We decided it would be a good idea to meet up for the final two days of our trip, and Prague was decided as the perfect location for that. After showing up earlier in the day, exploring the Old Town Square and going out to eat, we returned home to get ready for the night ahead of us.
Suddenly, my journalism professor from my home school texted me asking if I was okay in Paris since there was an attack. Right as I said “Guys–“ another friend repeated the same fact. Playing down what was going on, we split into our respective rooms and continued to get ready. As I scrolled through Twitter feeds, I realized this was more than one isolated minor attack. A few of us eventually gathered around to watch France 24, a bilingual 24 hour news station based outside of Paris. We spent most of the night sitting there silent while responding to friends and family about our safety. Our program coordinator called me and I reported that the seven of us was safe, and she was thankfully able to say that the other 6 members from SAI Paris were also accounted for.
It would be a lie to say that everything felt fine after that, but we certainly did bond together. After checking in on the girls in our program still in Paris, we spent most of the weekend talking about how everyone was feeling. Emotions ranged from anger to fear. Some people wanted to get home, for me, I just wanted to get back to Paris. I’ve always romanticized the city of lights, and seeing it essentially under siege made me want nothing more to come back.
For months, Parisians were kind to us, dealt with our poor French, gave us directions late at night, and advice for living in the city. This wasn’t the tourist city we showed up to in August, this was our home. On our last night in Prague we accidentally stumbled upon the French Embassy with a large candlelight vigil, which was the first time we were all able to process what had happened together. We spent the better part of a half hour holding one another in tears. At dinner we talked more about our feelings before making the trek back to Paris.
In the morning we met with our program coordinator who hugged us immediately before explaining security precautions and discussing how we all felt. That day was the most numbing, but it wasn’t long before we saw how Paris was impacted. As our coordinator said, “It was now a political statement to have a drink on a terrace.” This is the point when we began to see how strong the French solidarity would become. There was a sense of renewed Parisian pride everywhere we went ranging from signs that said “Pray for Paris” or “#JeSuisParis” to noticeably friendlier waitstaff. That night we visited the Eiffel Tower which was lit bleu, blanc, et rouge donning the city’s motto Fluctuat nec mergitur, which translates to “Tossed but not sunk.” The following day, a friend and I decided to pay tribute by visiting each of the vigil sites in the city. There’s no easy way to describe what the emotions were like outside of these cafes and the concert hall where this tragedy took place, but the vigils, flowers, candles and compassion certainly did something to warm us. At around this time the trend #JeSuisEnTerrace began to trend. Just three blocks from the Bataclan concert hall, my friend and I sat on a terrace, yes, as a political statement.
Paris has been changed since the attacks, but it has only been made stronger. Security has been improved tenfold, but the city has had to redefine what it means to be a Parisian. As the national French elections this month prove, the country’s stance on immigration was also unchanged as the anti-Immigration party, Front Nationale failed to win a single region of France.
At the end of the day the attacks in Paris impacted us, of course, but it didn’t change how we lived our lives at the end of this semester. I’ve never felt prouder to call a place my (temporary) home, and I continue to be inspired by the bravery and solidarity of the Parisians.