Joie de vivre: Students decide to stay or leave Paris after attacks

Joie de vivre: Students decide to stay or leave Paris after attacks

Of the UVA students studying abroad in Paris this past semester, one says a significant number elected to finish their school work electronically from domestic soil after the November 13 terrorist attacks in which 130 people were killed.

Former C-VILLE intern Kathleen Smith, receiving credit in Paris through the Institute for International Education of Students, was among the UVA students who eventually got a plane ticket home. During the attacks, she says she was on fall break and vacationing in Prague. Smith was having dinner with a group of friends in her IES program when she received a CNN update on her phone that said a shooting had just taken place at Le Petit Cambodge.

“I was particularly concerned since it was a restaurant where I had eaten before and actually recommended to friends visiting Paris that weekend,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Smith says it didn’t take long to realize the gravity of the situation—within the hour news outlets began reporting the bombings at Stade de France and the shootings at Le Bataclan and other restaurants.

“Luckily, most of my friends were out of Paris,” she says, “but it was an extremely surreal and scary experience trying to locate those who weren’t.”

It was impossible to sleep on the night of the attacks, Smith says, adding that her “thumb was sore from refreshing news websites so frequently.”

The week following the events, she says that while Parisians were grief-stricken, they were adamant about maintaining their “joie de vivre”—or exuberant enjoyment of life—by eating out on terraces, making themselves present in the city and paying their respects at the sites of the attacks. On Wednesday following the incidents, Smith says French police staged a raid near Saint-Denis, right outside Paris, and found plans for a future attack. Two suspected terrorists were killed and eight were taken into custody.

“Following the raids, the tide definitely changed in terms of my experience in Paris,” she says. Wednesday classes were canceled, and a significant number of students in the IES program started making plans to go back to America. She estimates that six people in the program were from UVA.

Initially, going home seemed drastic, Smith says. But after receiving several e-mails from the U.S. Embassy advising students to avoid restaurants, shopping malls, theaters, airports, public transportation and other venues, leaving started to make sense. Immediately following the initial attacks, she says UVA contacted IES administration to determine if it was possible for students to complete the program from home.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared when I left the comfort of my apartment in the residential 14th arrondissement,” she says. “The thing that was most jarring is that the attack sites were all places people my age would go.” Soccer stadiums, trendy restaurants and concert halls were among the mix. Everywhere she went, Smith says she was plagued with thoughts such as, “Is this a dangerous spot?” or “Could this be a target?”

Smith left Paris at the end of November and is finishing her semester at home in Louisville, Kentucky.