Study abroad students in Paris during terrorist attacks discuss their initial reactions, thoughts, fears
All UC Davis study abroad students were pronounced “accounted for and unharmed” after terrorist attacks killed 130 people and injured 368 in Paris on Nov. 13.
The first attack was carried out by three suicide bombers near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, a town north of Paris, with another suicide bombing occurring later alongside five shootings scattered across Paris locations.
“I was scared for most of the night, I never slept for more than 45 minutes at a time,” said Gabriella Aviet, a fourth-year economics and international relations double major, in an email. “I spent most of the night texting my sister convincing both her and myself that I was safe in [the] obscurity [of] the tiny apartment. I was also heartbroken, it seemed impossible that these things were happening in such a wonderful city.”
Although she is currently studying at the University of Bordeaux, Aviet spent the weekend in Paris for a fellow UC Davis abroad student’s birthday.
“We were getting ready to leave to get dinner at L’as du Fallafel, which is a restaurant […] near where many of the attacks took place,” Aviet said. “I had just sat down to put on my shoes when I checked my phone and saw my friend from back home messaged me — she knew I was in Paris that weekend and asked if I knew about the shootings going on.”
Aviet and her four UC Davis abroad friends also had plans of exploring the Christmas markets and the Musee d’Orsay, which is located only 1.5 miles away from one of the attacks in which an armed man fired shots outside a local café, killing five people and injuring eight.
“Throughout the night I was texting and calling everyone I knew to assure them I was okay,” Aviet said, in the email. “I called my parents, my friends [and] my relatives. Facebook had this check-in that notified your friends that you were safe, which was nice for me because I knew three other people in Paris at the time.”
Fourth-year economics major Sharanya Balasubramanian, another UC Davis abroad student studying at the University of Bordeaux, had traveled to Paris five hours before the attacks occurred to meet with a friend.
“I have never experienced such sheer terror in my life,” Balasubramanian said via email. “If you had asked me [a couple weeks ago], I would have said I didn’t want to come back to California. However, now I am ready to be back home. Even though I am now in Bordeaux [again], there is still some element of fear that hasn’t left me, and I don’t think it will for the time that I am in France.”
Balasubramanian said that her and the other Bordeaux students who had visited Paris during the attacks were able to offer each other support through the emotionally taxing period of time directly following that Friday.
“I am quite amazed at how the Parisians have dealt with this terrible incident. They refused to sit in their houses in fear and let the terrorists win,” Balasubramanian said. “Less than 24 hours after the attacks, people were back on the streets going about their routine. It is obvious that the city is engulfed in fear, but the citizens refuse to show it.”
Fourth-year economics and international relations double major Connie Kwong has been studying in Paris at the Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris since August.
While the attacks at the concert at Le Bataclan occurred, Kwong was at another concert about one mile away.
“I was only one arrondissement away from the concert attacks, and I actually like the band that was playing there,” Kwong said. “I can’t truthfully say ‘I almost went to the concert,’ but I could have — and it’s kind of chilling to think of that. I’m so lucky to be able to study abroad, but I value that even more now because I’m just so lucky to be safe.”
Kwong received an email alert from the University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) abroad center notifying students of shootings in Paris. Kwong said she “wasn’t that shaken at first,” as shootings are an unfortunately common occurrence in the U.S.
However, upon receiving a text from her roommate, Kwong knew the matter was much more serious than she initially expected.
“I think the other UC students who are studying in Paris right now will no doubt agree that we’ve had incredible support from the UCEAP’s Paris Center,” Kwong said. “They’ve been great at communicating with us, organizing group post-trauma sessions, and letting us know what resources are available to us in the aftermath of the attacks.”
According to the UCEAP website, abroad students are encouraged to attend counseling sessions and support groups organized for those who were in Paris during the tragedy.
“There’s a great sense of solidarity within this city, and the people greatly appreciate all the love and kindness the rest of the world has been sending,” Kwong said. “Paris is a very resilient city, and it’s especially proud of its culture. I’ve seen a lot of Parisians carrying on — every day people are [still] smiling and laughing, sitting at the cafes and buying baguettes from their go-to bakery.”
Although none of the three students knew anyone personally affected by the attacks, they all agree that Paris has not let these tragedies diminish their morale, nor impede the city’s process of healing.
“It feels like it didn’t happen, like it couldn’t have happened, but you see the effects of it everywhere,” Aviet said in the email. “I feel like I’m not doing the events justice in my retelling of them. It’s hard to summarize something so big and honestly, I still get a little sick thinking about all of it — [but] France is still here.”
Written by: Ellie Dierking – firstname.lastname@example.org