PARIS — I chose the right restaurant Friday night. My boyfriend had flown up for the week to visit me in Strasbourg, France, where I am studying abroad for the semester, and we had just arrived in Paris that day to spend our last weekend together. The day began with an overnight bus, followed by a much-needed café au crème at a Parisian cafe and a full day of tourism. Exhausted from a night of travel, we decided to eat at a restaurant near our hotel in Montmartre rather than explore the city at night. We stepped back into the hotel’s Wi-Fi zone after dinner around 10 p.m., and our phones started to blow up with notifications.
First came the CNN update: a shooting at a restaurant near the Stade de France, just a few kilometers from where we had just eaten and only one arrondissement north. And then the panicked email popped up from my Strasbourg coordinator, Susan Witkowski, to my study abroad group with the subject line “Suzanne Monyak,” searching for my contact information. I reassured Georgetown and my family that we were safe, and then spent the night with my eyes glued to my Twitter feed. With every refresh, the death toll rose.
As of Monday evening, the six attacks across Paris, attributed to the Islamic State group — notably the shooting at the Petit Cambodge restaurant near the Stade de France and the attack on Bataclan theater during a concert — left more than 350 injured and 129 dead, including an American college senior at California State University-Long Beach, Nohemi Gonzalez. President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency in the country, and with that, Paris shut down for the weekend. Transportation was blocked; all museums, schools and government buildings closed. The Eiffel Tower was dark Saturday night.
After spending Saturday hiding in the hotel at my mom’s insistence, my boyfriend and I finally ventured out on Sunday. Soldiers wearing red berets and carrying huge military rifles marched through the streets, and police cars lined all tourist sites. With every siren that wailed past, we could feel the pedestrians around us tense and exchange worried looks.
Much to the relief of my mother, I left Paris on Monday morning and returned home to Strasbourg, leaving behind the tangible air of fear and sadness that marked the city this weekend. For the eight Georgetown students at Sciences Po Paris, five of whom were in the city during the attack, Friday night’s events will now mark the beginning of a new mood for the place they have called home for three months.
“Honestly, it’s been really scary being here. Having something like this happen in your city — and Paris has really become our city this semester — is terrifying,” Cassidy Sachs (COL ’17), a student at Sciences Po Paris who was at a restaurant in Notre-Dame at the time of the attacks, said.
Since the attacks, the city has been on the edge. On Sunday night, mass panic ensued at Place de la République when a firecracker was mistaken for a gun shot, media sources reported. According to Sachs, a few buildings at the university were evacuated Monday after a scare with a suspicious package.
Muriel Van De Bilt (SFS ’17), another Sciences Po Paris student, was also at a restaurant at the time of the attacks when she got a call from the Sciences Po Paris coordinator, Emilie Wynne, advising the students to leave soon and return to their host families.
“I ended up going home and sitting down in the couch with my host mom until 2 a.m. following the news, and trying to respond to everyone, thanking them for their concern and mostly trying to understand what was happening,” Van De Bilt said.
Her host mom would later find out that one of her work colleagues had died at the Bataclan. Her host dad sat trapped in his office, located just two blocks from the Bataclan, until 3 a.m. that night.
“And because it was so close to his everyday life — one of the cafes where some of the shootings happen is where he used to go have coffee every morning — just adds a more ‘real life side’ to the situation,” Van De Bilt said.
After finally reaching his host brother, who had gone out for the night, Leo Zucker (SFS ’17) similarly spent the night watching the news with his host family and frantically calling friends and family.
“No words could do our horror justice as we waited for the next body count to pop up,” Zucker said.
Sachs praised Georgetown’s response to the crisis, especially compared to the minimal communication from Sciences Po Paris.
“Our counselor here, Emilie Wynne, has been amazing, hunting us all down to make sure we’re safe, offering anything we could possibly need,” Sachs said.
Van De Bilt also extolled the strength of program support.
“[Wynne] was super fast in calling us and has been in constant contact ever since,” Van De Bilt said.
On Friday night, I received several emails from my coordinator in Strasbourg, as well as an email from Wynne on Saturday. Witkowski had also called my host family Friday night in an attempt to locate me. Office of Global Education Assistant Director Jason Sanderson sent out an email Sunday confirming that all Georgetown students studying in France were safe.
Paola Peraza (SFS ’17), who is studying abroad in Lyon, France, said she also heard from her coordinator that night, and Georgetown contacted her host family Saturday morning. She said no one from Georgetown’s Lyon program was in Paris at the time.
According to a statement from Craig Rinker, director of global education at Georgetown’s Office of Global Education, the OGE does not make emergency response protocols publicly available. He did say, however, that the study-abroad coordinators’ first response was to locate and confirm the safety all of students in the event of an emergency.
“Upon learning of the evolving situation in Paris on Friday night, the OGE solicited updates on the welfare of the students from our program partners and local program coordinators throughout France,” Rinker said in a statement to The Hoya through Georgetown communications. “The first priority is always to account for all participants who might be in immediate harm’s way.”
He added that Georgetown is not recalling student travellers at this time.
The world has offered its solidarity with Paris this weekend. Obama delivered a statement Friday, offering his condolences to Paris.
“This is an attack not just on Paris; it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share,” Obama said.
Leaders from across the world concurred.
“The road of violence and hatred does not resolve humanity’s problems. And using the name of God to justify this road is blasphemy,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also condemned the attacks as a “crime against humanity” Saturday after canceling a prescheduled European visit.
Secretary of State John Kerry also traveled to Paris on Monday to show his support.
“In #Paris to offer condolences for the horrific loss of life & to convey solidarity of American people with our oldest ally. #USavecvous,” Kerry tweeted Monday.
Buildings in Paris and across the world are lit up in the French tricolore at night, and schools throughout France held a moment of silence Monday to commemorate the victims of the attack. From what I saw from my walk through Paris on Sunday, the city is, for lack of a better word, rallying. Memorials are scattered across the city, and people had begun to resume their daily lives.
“Life is cautiously transitioning back to normal here. What the new normal will entail remains to be seen. Now is an interesting time to be alive in France,” Zucker said.
On our last night, Sunday, we walked past the Eiffel Tower, dark the night before, and saw it had been lit up blue, white and red. Paris is in mourning, but she still shows her strength.
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