January 12, 2015

Students recount impact of Hebdo attacks in Paris

For UChicago students studying in Paris, the January 7 terrorist attack at the office of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo introduced a new level of cultural understanding.

According to third-year Idalia Gonzalez, a student at the University’s Center in Paris, classes were not dramatically affected by the weekend of protests, which officials are calling some of the largest in French history. “For Parisians, even despite grief like this, life goes on as it usually does,” she said.

More than 200 undergraduates study at the University’s Center in Paris each year, taking advantage of course offerings in subjects ranging from the social sciences and humanities to math and the natural and physical sciences.

Gonzalez is enrolled in the academic year study abroad program, in which she takes one class at the UChicago center and the rest at Université Paris Diderot (Paris VII). “Not much has changed besides the increased presence of security. The day the Charlie Hebdo shootings occurred, I was surprised at the presence of policemen at the university entrance, but proceeded to take a four-hour long exam for my Enlightenment literature class,” she said.

Third-year Andy Dutu, studying in the European Civilization program this quarter, also noted the limited impact of the incident on classes. However, she added, professors at the Center in Paris made themselves available to address any concerns.

According to Sarah Walter, Director of Study Abroad at UChicago, the program in Paris is continuing normally, though faculty and staff are maintaining close contact with students, parents, and fellow American universities in Paris.

“We have outstanding and experienced staff at our Center in Paris, many of whom have worked with our programs and students for more than 10 years, and together we continue to closely monitor the local situation and advise students and parents accordingly,” Walter said. “We are similarly in touch with peer institution colleagues through the Association of American University Programs in France.”

Gonzalez showed her solidarity with the Parisians rallying around Charlie Hebdo by participating in the Marche Républicaine this Sunday. She noted the sense of unity and resilience among the diverse crowd at the march.

“As we walked down Rue du Temple, people laughed as they saw a cartoon Charlie, stripes and all, affixed to an apartment’s balcony, an answer to ‘Où est Charlie?’ [Where is Charlie?] Further above, as we passed another apartment whose dwellers had hung a banner proclaiming ‘Liberté, Liberté Chérie,’ an allusion to the French national anthem, a deafening roar went up…and nothing can compare to the feeling when the Bastille came into view.”

Third-years Daniel Glass and Evaline Bai—enrolled in the Social Sciences and European Civilizations programs, respectively—also attended the demonstration. Glass described the sight of people marching together peacefully as “inspiring.”

Bai felt similarly. “I was shocked to see people from all walks of life chanting and singing together…. It could have been a lot more hateful and politically charged, but it felt like all of Paris had come out to support one another in a time of shock and confusion,” she said.

Hannah Flynn, a third-year in the Civilizations program, also commentedo n the potential to learn from the recent events. “I think it’s an incredibly interesting time to be in Paris and a unique opportunity to gain insight into the national character very, very quickly,” she said.

All students expressed support for and solidarity with Parisians as they continue their studies abroad.

“I think that an event like this can unfortunately happen anywhere at any time,” Dutu said. “We remain lucky to have such a fantastic opportunity to study in what I believe continues to be one of the most alluring and exciting cities.”