My New France

Mary is a sophomore studying abroad this semester in Angers, France. Check in each week for posts from Mary and other bloggers as they share their experiences abroad.


Like many Americans, the Paris I imagine in my head is the one depicted in countless novels and films — where love goes to blossom and beauty is perpetual. One of my favorite depictions of Paris is in the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris.” The opening credits pay homage to the beauty of every nook and cranny in the city and the main character croons that in Paris, “every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form, and even in this cold, violent, meaningless universe, Paris exists.”

But after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, my rose-colored view of the City of Lights has been forced to shift.

Earlier this month, Muslim extremists attacked French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo at its Paris office. The next day a police officer was shot, and on the last day of the attacks hostages were taken at a Jewish grocery store. The three days of fear and uncertainty ended with three of the terrorists being killed, but not before they took seventeen total lives from the various attacks.

These are the worst terrorist acts in France in at least two decades, and my heart is with the people of Paris after these senseless attacks. Though I will not be residing in Paris during my study abroad experience, I will be a resident of France for the next four months, and I am about anxious about moving to Angers, France so soon after the attacks.

These events have given me a nuanced perspective of Paris, and of my trip to France in general. France isn’t always a setting where lovers meander hidden boulevards — France is in the real world, just as real as New York City, Ferguson and the Middle East. Studying abroad doesn’t mean I’m escaping real world issues like racism and terrorism. In my case, I’m getting a little closer to them.

Woody Allen’s beautiful vision of France can still exist in my head, but now it must exist alongside images of policemen being shot point blank in Paris and thousands gathering under the motto “Je Suis Charlie,” which has become a statement of unity with the staff of Charlie Hebdo, to honor the fallen from the attacks.

These events have been a sobering reminder that this universe at times can be cold, violent and meaningless, even in Paris. This doesn’t mean that I should be afraid to venture out into it. I just need to be aware.

I never envisioned my experience in France including watching a nation heal from a deliberate attack on the freedom it prides itself on. This unexpected nuance to my experience will force me to think deeply about the way humanity heals — whether in a foreign country or my homeland.