[Place de la République in Rennes January 8th, 2015]
When you’ve lived in a suburban New Jersey town for all of your life, transitioning to a “concrete-jungle”, equipped with a metro and an extensive bus line can seem daunting. By January of my School Year Abroad in France, I felt that I had adapted well to the hustle-and-bustle of Rennes, but it wasn’t until the attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo occurred on January 7th of this year that I realized what it really meant to a be an American living in a country that was under attack. Although I wasn’t in Paris the day of the attacks, I was living in Rennes, which is just two-hours outside of Paris, and I felt closer to current events more than ever before. Watching the news from your home in the United States is starkly different than watching the news knowing you are just two hours away from where innocent people are being killed. With a school trip to Paris approaching, students began receiving frantic messages from their parents, which resulted in a necessary school meeting. We were assured that we were going to be ok and that our trip was still on, and that there would be heightened security due to what had happened. Our trip went smoothly, but knowing we were staying just ten minutes away from the old Charlie Hebdo offices was chilling. Walking along the Seine with military personnel almost patrolling past us, I saw Paris in a different, sort-of guarded light.
It is difficult to compare two different acts of blatant inhumanity, however, I can sense a slight difference between the reactions regarding Charlie Hebdo and those of the Bataclan and the Stade de France. In January, Charlie Hebdo sparked a greater discussion regarding the liberty of expression, and the boundaries of the journalism medium- where do we draw the line for mockery of other races, religions, and ideals? Some of my French teachers advocated for complete and total free speech, while others felt there was a line between plaisanterie and outright cruelty. Either way, almost all of my classes debated this topic for weeks, and we contemplated the driving motive behind the deaths of these 12 writers. When I received a notification on my CNN app of the most recent attacks, I felt a pang of uneasiness for France and the world. That moment transported me back to my experience living in France, and I felt all the more downtrodden. Although I am not a French citizen by any means, I established many ties during my time there that make me feel connected. Knowing that my host mom’s granddaughter lives in Paris and several of my sleep-away camp friends definitely rendered the “#prayforparis” more meaningful for my SYA friends and me. In less than a year, France has experienced two instances of oppression which have only made this country a stronger, united front.