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BU Padua Study Abroad Students Mourn

Italian city hosts vigil, dedicates marathon to Boston

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Caitlin Flynn heard about the Boston Marathon bombings through Facebook. Flynn, who is studying abroad this semester in Padua, Italy, had just finished dinner with her host mother when her news feed flashed a message from a friend: “’I’m OK, safe and at BU. Everyone make sure you call your parents and tell them you’re OK!’”

“I immediately knew something was wrong,” says Flynn (CAS’14), who is among 16 BU students in the Padua Language & Liberal Arts Program. She learned the dreadful details of the blasts by streaming Boston news, and later watched President Barack Obama’s press conference, translated into Italian. The next day, she says, she went to class at the University of Padua, and no one was talking about Monday’s tragedy.

“That was very surreal, because it was all I had been thinking about for the past 12 hours,” Flynn says. “I felt like I was living in two worlds—one in Boston, the other here.”

But in fact, many in Padua were paying attention. Mayor Flavio Zanonato had just returned from a trip to Boston, a sister city since 1982, and was deeply distressed by the news. Lu Lingzi (GRS’14) was one of three people killed in the blasts; another BU graduate student was among the more than 170 injured. The mayor organized a vigil for Tuesday night that was attended by more than 200 people, including city dignitaries, BU staff and students, and local residents.

Elisabetta Convento, director of BU’s Padua and Venice programs, says students felt disoriented, helpless, and speechless following Monday’s attack. They repeatedly checked the news, Twitter, and Facebook for updates. Some texted family and friends when their calls failed to get through to Boston.

“Dealing with the news is extremely hard because of the distance,” says Ashley Chia (CAS’14). “Being far away doesn’t mean my heart is not always in Boston. It’s frustrating to not be able to comfort your friends, except with text messages. But I’d have to say, the study abroad students are just as hurt from this. Boston’s our home.”

Boston University BU, Padua Venice abroad programs, Elisabetta Convento, Mayor Flavio Zanonato, Boston Marathon Vigil

Elisabetta Convento, director of the BU Padua and Venice programs, spoke at the vigil for Boston. Photo by Amanda Wolkin

Most BU Padua students attended the Tuesday vigil. Flynn, who was among them, says she appreciated the mayor’s effort. “When we hear about things like this happening in other countries,” she says, “we don’t realize how big a deal it is because it’s so far away. But then something like this happens, and you realize how much it matters when it affects you personally.”

“My Boston pride ran deep that night hearing how much of a strong city it is and the impact it’s made on people halfway across the world,” says Chia, who also attended the vigil. “It made me realize that although we’re in a foreign country, we’re not alone in mourning.”

Bonnie Ponthier, a student affairs coordinator for the BU Padua program, was also at the vigil, although she’d never been to Boston. “I was there for the people of Boston,” she says. “I was there to grieve their losses of life as well as their sense of security. I was there for myself as a fellow American.”

Coincidentally, Padua’s annual marathon is slated for Sunday, April 21. Zanonato decided to dedicate the race to Boston, and says he and other public officials will run at least part of the route to demonstrate their support. Several BU students, including Chia, will also lace up in solidarity with their adopted hometown.

“It may be a small gesture,” Chia says, “but we’re limited by being abroad.”

Not much of a runner, Flynn says she plans to document the event with photographs.

Now in its 25th year, the BU Padua program is a traditional language and cultural immersion experience that runs throughout the year and attracts anywhere from 10 to 25 students each semester, says Willis Wang, a University vice president and associate provost for global programs.

“This world is quite small and closely connected,” Wang says. “We’re all touched by many different events that are profoundly life-changing. Many are wonderful and positive, and some are very tragic.”

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Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
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