Kelsey Desmond is a gap year student and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is starting her second semester abroad with ISA Gap Year in Paris, France.
I was young when 9/11 happened. Too young.
I remember coming home from school and my parents telling me that something bad had happened. On TV, two towers of which I had never heard before where surrounded by very peculiar clouds of smoke. My dad sat my sister and me down and told us that this day was a historical day and that it would greatly influence the future. Still, I didn’t fully believe him until years later, when people were still talking about it. It wasn’t until I became old enough to truly understand what had actually happened that I was capable of recognizing the continuing effects that the attacks had on society.
I was not, however, young on November 13, 2015. I was 18, taking a gap year in Paris. It was Friday the 13th, and my friends wanted to go down to the Republic, determined to have a lucky night on what is superstitiously known as a very unlucky day. Ordinary, I would not have turned down the offer to explore the Paris night life. I loved having the opportunity to explore this strange, foreign city. It meant that I was able to meet new French people, practice speaking their language, better familiarize myself with the city, and make the most out of my time abroad. Still, for some reason, I decided not to go. I decided to go to bed early.
I didn’t know that the city in which I would be falling asleep was not the city in which I would be waking up.
I woke up to countless phone calls and text messages from friends and family asking if I was alright. One of my French friends had a friend who died at the concert. The ISA study abroad staff as well as the US embassy urged us to stay indoors until further notice, and several of my expat friends even decided to go home early.
The city in which I went to sleep was Paris, the city of light and romance and cheese and baguettes. The city in which I woke up was Paris, ground zero for a complex network of terrorist attacks which left France in a state of emergency.
For the first time, I was not simply a spectator of tragic events, and I was not just some four-year-old kid who didn’t understand what was happening.
“We are all French today,” they were saying around the world. People all around the world were temporarily stripping themselves of their nationality and declaring themselves French. I couldn’t help but feel like that applied to me, especially. While before I was just another Gershwin-esque American in Paris, now I was Parisian. I had been able to experience Paris is all of its entirety—the beautiful, historic, breathtaking wonder that is seen by the city’s overwhelming number of tourists, and the beaten-down, prideful, resilient Paris that only true Parisians can see.
It’s truly sad that sometimes the best ways to grow are through horrid events. Being in Paris during these attacks changed me for the better. It allowed me to reevaluate the things that I have taken for granted—family, safety, and love. It allowed me to recognize the world in its entirety, good and bad. It allowed me to appreciate the people who come out of these terrifying situations in a light I wasn’t able to see before.
Studying abroad is supposed to change you, but I’ve changed in a way I never expected. I’ve done more than just assimilate into a city’s culture for an ephemeral period of time; I’ve absorbed the city as my own. Paris still has not yet returned to as it was before the attacks, but I am honored to be called as Parisian as it attempts to heal.
An event like this is sad, but it’s inspiring how tragedy can sometimes bring people together.