By Colleen Murphy Managing Editor
Friday, Nov. 13, was a normal day for most students at the College. At around 3 p.m., some students might have still been sitting in class, packing to go home for the weekend or even getting ready to see Dave Coulier talk that night in Mayo Concert Hall. Friday, Nov. 13, was a completely different type of day for the four students from the College who were studying abroad in Paris, France. While at 3 p.m., the College community was starting to wind down for the weekend, it was 9 p.m. in Paris, and the students studying there were about to experience a world-changing event first-hand.
Between 9:20 p.m. and 9:53 p.m. that day, eight coordinated terrorist attacks were orchestrated throughout Paris. The news shocked the world, including students on the College’s campus, but for the students from the College who were spending the semester in Paris, the attacks hit on an extremely personal level.
Junior psychology major Ashley Demoleas and junior communication studies major Laura DeLucia shared an apartment in the same district where most of the attacks took place.
“The Bataclan theater, where the hostage situation occurred, was down the street next to my own (street). The shootings at Republique were a 15 minute metro ride from my apartment. The Stade de France was a bit further, but only about 20 minutes away by car,” DeLucia said. “I started to get really scared when I realized the attacks were happening right where I lived in areas myself and other young people often frequented.”
According to Demoleas, before all the information had been verified, it was believed that there was a shooting at the metro stop on the two students’ block. However, this was later found to be false.
The program in which Demoleas and DeLucia studied abroad through had actually organized a trip for all its students to the France-Germany game in the Stade de France, where three suicide bombs were detonated. The two friends had forgotten about the scheduled game and booked a trip to Germany for the weekend instead, and so were not in Paris for the attacks.
“We didn’t know what was happening at first, and didn’t understand the extent to which the attacks would happen… What terrified me was when I realized the soccer game that was attacked was the one that all my friends were at,” DeLucia said. “I immediately texted them in a panic while I started receiving texts and phone calls from friends, family and our program leaders. It was a chaotic few hours and it felt like every hour there was news of more attacks, deaths and threats. Thankfully, everyone in my program made it out of the stadium and back to their homes safely.”
A third student from the College who was studying in Paris was one of those to make it out of the stadium safely. Junior psychology major Margaret Cyr-Ohngemach said that she heard the bombs go off while in the stadium, but everyone remained calm, unsure of what exactly had happened or what was going on in other areas of the city.
After leaving the stadium, it took Cyr-Ohngemach and her friends two hours to get home because of the blockades of ambulances and police in the areas where people had been killed.
“We were all walking with our friends in a large group, but quickly,” Cyr-Ohngemach said. “We suddenly heard shouting and I look into the direction we are walking and masses of people are running and screaming back in the direction we were walking… So we had a split second to turn around, as there were people being trampled. There was a definite air of uneasiness and fear, you could almost smell it. Everyone was on edge.”
Cara Silvestri, a junior international business and marketing double major, was the fourth student studying abroad in Paris this semester. She, too, was not in Paris at the time of the attacks. However, she says that even while she was spending that weekend in London, she was living in a heightened sense of caution. When she returned to Paris on Monday, Silvestri said that the city had a different atmosphere than when she had left it.
“When I got to Paris, everything was very tense. It was quieter, and there were policemen with their guns out everywhere… It was kind of really hard, and I had to go to class and I didn’t really want to so I just felt very uncomfortable that whole day,” said Silvestri, who had spent a night at the Bataclan just two weeks prior to the attacks. “The rest of that week, it slowly started to get better. All the Parisians are taking it well so we are taking comfort from them.”
Demoleas also said that time and the Parisians’ unity helped comfort her upon her return home from Germany.
“The Parisian people have reacted to the attacks defiantly,” Demoleas said. “For me, personally, the attacks definitely frightened me right after they occurred. The first time I took the metro after the attacks, I was so paranoid that I started tearing because a man was walking too close behind me. At first you’re so skeptical of every single person you see and every bag that’s placed on the floor, but as a few days passed, it all faded very quickly… I feel like people assume that it’s chaotic over here, but honestly it seems as though nothing’s changed.”
DeLucia also recognized the resilience that Parisians have and thinks that it will help in strengthening the people’s spirits for the future.
“Although I felt Paris was different after the attacks, the unity and strength that the people of Paris displayed after the attacks amazed me,” DeLucia said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Paris will recover from this terrible tragedy and come out stronger than before.”
According to the College’s Center for Global Engagement’s Director Jon Stauff, the College let the students decide whether to stay in Paris or come home early and finish their exams on campus. While Silvestri and Cyr-Ohngemach decided to finish their exams in Paris, DeLucia and Demoleas returned to America to finish their classes.
“Deciding to leave Paris was extremely hard. I fell in love with the city and loved everything about living life there. There’s truly no other place like it in the world. What made me come home was my own fear, but mostly the fear of my family and friends,” DeLucia said. “Although I wanted to stay for the last three weeks of my program, the risk of being in Europe was too great… I felt it wouldn’t be the same experience, and I decided it would just be better to be home.”
Leaving Paris was also a hard decision for Demoleas to make.
“I wanted nothing more than to stay in Paris for the rest of the semester. After the attacks, Paris seemed like the safest city to be in, in Europe,” Demoleas said. “No one knows if, when or where the next attack will be, so with the heightened security in Paris, it doesn’t feel unsafe or unstable by any means. But my parents have been freaking out and dying to get me home and the easiest solution to keep them sane was to comply.”
While Silvestri says that she no longer feels safe in Paris, she decided to stay because she is travelling enough where she won’t be staying in the city too often.
“My ticket to come home is the 23rd of December, but judging by how my parents feel, I might come home a couple days after my exams are over, which is the 10th,” Silvestri said. “My dad actually really, really wanted me to come home. I felt bad saying no, but I think he overall understood.”
Cyr-Ohngemach also decided to stay in the country.
“It comes down to that I really like living here,” she said.
According to Stauff, because students who were studying abroad in other countries happened to be visiting Paris for the weekend, the College had to work with the international institutions to ensure that all students in Europe were safe and accounted for.
The Center for Global Engagement will use the attacks in Paris to evaluate the safety of the country, like the center does for every destination each year.
“We are certainly concerned with world issues. We have a wide variety of sources of information to provide us with information about safety and security, including from the U.S. Department of State,” Stauff said. “I think it’s fair to say that we have terrorist incidents over the past 15 years in Spain, France, England, Germany, Italy, and I’ve just given you the top five destinations for TCNJ’s study abroad students. We weigh each relationship we have with our international partners.
“Individually, we ask our partners about concerns they may have. We ask for annual security updates to find out what crime may have been reported in the midst of our study abroad partner institutions in a given year. We are not going to send our students to a war zone… But it’s a very fluid situation from one year to the next and we’re going to continue to monitor each and every location where we send students. We will shut down certain locations if we don’t feel it’s safe, as we have done in Mexico over the past several years. And we will give the student as much information so that she or he can make an informed decision about where they will choose to go.”
Stauff pointed out that last year, the College had 29 of its students in the same part of Madrid that witnessed one of the biggest terrorist attacks in recent history in 2004.
“(The attack) was on March 11 in the train station Alcalá, yet this is a place that is relatively suburban, very safe and our students are very happy there. So situations change over time, and we monitor them and make the best decisions we can,” Stauff said.
Stauff also said that limiting where students can study based on attacks like the ones in Paris can be seen as hypocritical.
“I’ll be really honest with you, we had 9/11 in our backyard, and for us to say that we don’t want to send students to certain parts of the world, at the same time encouraging students to come to New Jersey to study with us, it would cast us in a hypocritical light,” Stauff said.
Both Demoleas and Silvestri compared the Paris attacks to the attacks that occurred on 9/11, with Silvestri saying that she can imagine that the sense of unity that Parisians had to muster after their city’s attacks, even with the constant thought of another potential attack, was similar to how America reacted after 9/11. All four agreed that experiencing terrorism so close to home definitely had a huge impact on their lives.
“Time has helped. I don’t know how to put this into words, just, it was a very scary experience then, but it got better,” Silvestri said. “I’m trying to see the good in it. Walking down the street, you still find people coming out and about and really enjoying life and after all that’s happened, you really have to appreciate that and not take anything for granted.”