While eating crepes and drinking wine in front of the Eiffel Tower, I never imagined that I would receive CNN updates about shootings in my study abroad city of Paris. I was indulging my visitors in some much needed touristy pictures when we realized the severity of the situation. Immediately, we rushed to the nearest metro station and each navigated our way home. Thankfully, everyone arrived safely to their respective hostels, and my overnight guests and I got back to my dorm without a problem. Although Paris will persevere and remain a city of love and happiness, there is no doubt that the country and continent has been shaken by the terror attacks.
Here are a few things that I have learned from living in a city under attack:
1. Try to always carry a back-up battery or charging case
Okay, this sounds a little trivial. But in all honesty, my phone being dead during the attacks was extremely scary. I had no idea what was going on or where, and none of my visitors had international data plans. We were virtually in the dark, just hoping that we would not pass through any of the attacks on our way back home. I also had no way of contacting the people who were asking if I was okay (I assume my phone died because of the sudden influx of texts, most of which I did not get the chance to answer). The commute back to my dorm is about 45 minutes, and I worried a lot of people by not answering their texts until an hour later. So yes, having phone battery is important.
2. Carry a copy of your passport/visa
Though I cannot speak for the rest of Europe, French security is extremely strict right now. I have been asked upon entry into both my dorm and my school for identification. If you tend to lose things, carrying your real passport might be a bit dangerous, so instead make a few photocopies to keep in an inside pocket of your bag and backpack, just in case.
3. Stay vigilant, but not paranoid
Pay attention to your surroundings. If something doesn’t feel right to you or if you feel uncomfortable, trust yourself and find somewhere you feel safe. That being said, try not to over-analyze every sound and every movement. It will drive you insane, I know from experience. It is definitely not healthy to live in fear everywhere you go, especially since terrorist attacks are characterized by their seeming spontaneity.
4. Sign up for ISOS emails, or any other type of update system
What I like about the ISOS (International SOS) system is that it gives you travel updates that CNN or BBC News would not. In the context of the Paris Terror Attacks, it has kept me updated about metro lines, border control, and other general news announcements at a much more consistent pace then I expected. Sure, it can be annoying sometimes to have an inbox full of emails. But I personally believe it’s worth having to delete them.
5. Be brave
Sometimes, we cannot control our fears; some are stronger than others. But the most important thing I have learned in the aftermath of the Attacks is not to let your fears dictate your life. I never thought of myself as brave before the weekend of the Paris Attacks. Rather, I considered myself to be anxious; most of my friends refer to me as the mother of the group. But if there is one thing that I have taken away from the tragedy, it is to be strong. I went to a vigil/rally Sunday night. The crowd was chanting “on n’a pas peur,” which means, “we are not afraid.” Somewhere in the middle of the vigil, blasts were heard (now known to be firecrackers) and a stampede erupted in Place de la Republique. My friend and I started running for safety through the streets of Paris. Following the incident, the director of our program advised us to stay away from crowds, similar to the one at Place de la Republique. All the while, I could not get the chants of Parisians out of my mind. “On n’a pas peur,” “we are not afraid.” Although caution and vigilance are important, I will stand up against terror and violence by not being afraid to live my life. That is the truest way to live.
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