Share Your Story contest: Rebecca Winner of Week 12!
Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing your experience of a trip with your students to Paris after the terrorist attacks that occurred in France in January 2015.
My relationship with France now spans a quarter of a century. In France, I have found fine cuisine, friendship, family, and yes, even love. France has led me to a rewarding career and a passion for la francophonie. As a frequent traveler whose life is now divided between two continents, I thought that I knew France. I thought that I had seen it all. In January 2015, everything changed.
That cold, dark winter month, I traveled with 16 students and a colleague from Elmhurst College to Paris on a “routine” study abroad course I had volunteered to teach on the history of Paris. We arrived to a France in great distress from the recent attacks at Charlie Hebdo and from the ongoing hostage situations that very day. Even though our apartments were in very close proximity to the Charlie Hebdo site, my students never felt fearful, because the French people were not fearful.
So what makes this my greatest memory? The safety felt from the solitary police officer holding a midnight watch at the Charlie Hebdo site, the concern shown on the friendly faces in the metro as I was assisting a sick student, the warm welcome made from the staff at the Arab Institute, who went out of their way to help my students feel at home, and the kindhearted woman at the Bastille market who gave me her last remaining “Je suis Charlie” banners for my students.
My experience is, thus, not “great” in the traditional sense, but rather, in the little things, the details that taught my students what it means to be French and reminded me of my adopted country’s core values. As one of my students recently wrote, “When we all signed up for this class last spring, not a single one of us would have imagined flying into Paris during [such] a time. There was honestly no better way for us to study the history of Paris. We were a part of living and breathing history. We were all able to witness the events taking place and how native Parisians reacted, which was an honor. We created an irrevocable bond with our instructors, knowing that there would never be another trip like this one. Nothing could ever take away from our experience.”
From the Place de la République to the Place de la Bastille and beyond, 16 young Americans learned the true sense of Républicanisme and that the concepts of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité are not abstract, but real practices that exist in everyday life. From the courage and nobleness exhibited by everyday Parisians, I discovered a newfound pride in my adopted country. This makes my experience my best French memory.
Rebecca (Elmhurst, IL)
Rebecca receives her prize, a bottle of Château Beauchêne wine along with a book on wine and cuisine, from Consul general of France Vincent Floreani.
• Tourism in France: go to rendezvousenfrance.com