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A Tense Night, a Sad Morning in Paris

BU students in the city reflect on the deadly terrorist attacks


All of the BU students studying in or visiting Paris were reported safe following the terrorist attacks that killed at least 129 people and injured more than 300, many critically, there Friday night—and while they are thankful that none of their fellow BU students were hurt, they say they’ve been deeply affected by the violence.

“I am certainly rattled, and still trying to process everything that has happened, but above all I am so grateful that everyone in our group is safe,” says Paisley Piasecki (COM’17), who is studying advertising and French in the BU Study Abroad Paris Internship Program. “The amount of support that has come to me from family and friends all over the world has been incredibly touching.”

“It’s been really scary, and everyone has a lot of questions right now,” says advertising major Maia Sklarov (COM’17). She and Piasecki are among several internship students housed in the 14th arrondissement. Sklarov says BU officials have advised them that the program will continue, but “a lot of students are unsure about what to do next and how we feel about going back to our lives on Monday at our internship, let alone leaving our dorm.”

Architecture internship student Zachary Torres (CAS’17) was at home with his French host family Friday night when he got a text from a friend in Boston asking if he was OK. Confused, he went downstairs and learned what was happening across the city. The family is also hosting a German student who had gone to the France-Germany soccer game at the Stade de France, where suicide attackers detonated bombs, and the family’s first attempts to phone him failed. “But thank God he was on the opposite side of the stadium and so got out okay,” Torres says.

Piasecki was “having a classic Parisian experience,” she says, listening to music and doing some work at the legendary Shakespeare & Company bookstore, when she heard lots of sirens. She shrugged it off as part of life in the city. When she learned that there had been multiple shootings, she took a cab back to the dorm. She says most people on the streets appeared unaware of the attacks, but by the time she had hailed a cab and called her mother, social media had begun to spread the news.

“The rest of the night was frightening even while we were safe and on lockdown in our residence,” Piasecki says. “We were keeping track of the news and just waiting for more information as the night went on, but it was clear that no one really understood what was happening or why.”

Students in the Boston University Study Abroad Paris program stand in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Members of BU Study Abroad’s Paris Internship Program near the Eiffel Tower earlier this semester. Photo by Isabelle Briere

Most of the BU students stayed up late, taking calls and texts from family and friends in the United States and elsewhere in France. “Sleep wasn’t really on the top of my list with everything going on,” says Brendon Bowdridge (CAS’15), the Paris program administrative graduate assistant and the RA for BU students living in the dorm. “All you could hear were sirens and helicopters.”

Bowdridge, who is studying for dual master’s degrees, in international security at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, and international political economy at the London School of Economics, says the attacks gave greater relevance to his areas of study.

“When I think about the areas that were targeted, it’s hard not to realize part of the motive,” he says. “These areas were targeted because they represent cultural, social, and religious tolerance. In other words, these areas represent integration, which is something extremist ideology and terrorism seem to fear above all else.”

While all the students were advised to stay home Saturday morning, Bowdridge ventured out for a run on streets he found largely deserted. “Businesses that would normally operate on a Saturday were closed,” he says. “The parks were not filled with families. And to add to this, the sky was gray. I definitely could feel and see that something was off.”

By and large, the students say, they followed the advice of authorities and BU staff, staying close to home, resting, cooking and watching movies over the weekend. Piasecki said a planned trip to Disneyland Paris to see Christmas displays on Sunday with a friend was called off: “It is hard to see that even Disneyland is shut down.”

They have been told to expect increased military presence and security on the streets. Sklarov, whose internship is in the 10th arrondissement, a few blocks from the attacks, was waiting to hear from her boss about whether to come to work on Monday, the final day of a three-day national period of mourning that began Saturday.

Piasecki commends the response of those in charge and of the Study Abroad staff. “Even though we are experiencing something so horrible, there is some comfort in knowing that the government is doing everything they can to keep us safe,” she says. “BU has also been great with keeping us updated and letting us know how to proceed.”

She says that when she took a brief walk Saturday for some fresh air, she had the sense that the city had changed. “I could feel that something was different,” she says. “I haven’t gone out into the center of the city yet, but I hear that it is very somber and quiet. Everyone in the residence and in the BU program has been really supportive, but you can just feel the emotions all around us. It’s really difficult and heartbreaking to see this firsthand.”

Although they weren’t in the immediate area of the attacks, most of the visiting students found the night had given them much to think about.

“The general feeling right now is one of severe sadness,” says Torres. “Even though the attacks were nowhere near the Eiffel Tower, the fact that she is turned off in mourning speaks volumes about the sadness of the French people and of Paris.”

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Joel Brown, Staff Writer for BU Today, Bostonia and BU Today Marketing & Communications
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

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