“It still hasn’t really registered”: UBC students respond to the Paris attacks

The attacks on Paris last week hit UBC students hard.

“It still hasn’t really registered,” said Lauren Dixon. A fourth-year political science student from UBC on a year-long exchange, she is one of many UBC students studying in Paris — one of the most popular locations for Go Global among UBC students. Dixon’s apartment was in an area that saw several attacks during last week’s spate of terrorism strikes across the city.

At the time of the attacks, she and her friends were at a theatre watching the new James Bond film. It was only when they turned on their phones after the film ended that they received a barrage of messages and missed calls from frantic friends and family and realized what happened. At that point, the attacks were ongoing.

“There wasn’t really anything in place for people to get home safely,” said Dixon. “There was obviously no métro, there were no taxis, no Uber, so we were just kind of left out in the elements.”

Unable to return to her apartment, she ended up spending the weekend at the house of her friend’s au pair family, monitoring social media and trying to make sense of what was happening outside.

UBC and Sciences Po, a Parisian university for political science, have a dual degree program, which makes UBC home to many French students. Those studying in Point Grey described a sense of trying to come to terms with reality.

Everyone can identify with the victims because everyone has been there. And anyone in Paris could have been there.

— Lauren Dixon, fourth-year political science student

“It was very weird to be away – the feeling that your home is in jeopardy,” said Marine Poylo, a fourth-year political science student from Paris. “I was talking about it with my parents – all the information that I had was through media and I think it dramatizes the situation, increases the fear.

“I couldn’t really feel how the situation was in Paris,” she said.

But Maximilien Azorin, a third-year arts student from Marseilles in the south of France, did not find the distance to be an issue.

“Because we have social media, people are very close and you don’t have less information than people who are actually in France,” said Azorin, whose family happened to be visiting Paris that weekend. “Communication helps a lot.”

Poylo also found social media to be helpful. She commended Facebook’s safety check feature, saying that it was “amazing, to know all at once that all my friends were safe,” and hopes that the feature will be enabled for future disasters.

Although Azorin didn’t find the physical distance to be a strain, that is not to say he didn’t notice it. “You just feel detached from everything that is going on in France,” he told The Ubyssey. “It’s very hard to realize that your country’s at war and to accept the idea that your country is at war. And yet it’s true.”

Poylo noted that for her generation this is the first terrorist attack aimed at them. Canal Saint-Martin is an area of Paris that was hit with several strikes and is particularly popular among the twenty-somethings crowd in the city.

“This happiness was targeted, young people going out on Friday night. It was us, me and my friends,” said Poylo, who said she used to frequently go out on Canal Saint-Martin. “It was really hard on us that our lifestyle was targeted.”

Dixon felt a similar sentiment of empathizing with the victims. “Paris is such a small place, so even being on the metro you can see the sadness in people’s faces,” she said of the days following the attack. “Every Parisian has been on a terrace, or the bar is too full and so they spill onto the street and drink beer with their friends there.… Everyone can identify with the victims because everyone has been there. And anyone in Paris could have been there.”

Although Poylo found the distance hard to begin with, she quickly realized it was something she had to get over. “The next day, I decided to take a step back and say, ‘Okay, this could happen at any moment. I’m not going to stay in fear for the next few years because of this,’” she said.

Dixon agreed. “As soon as I walked outside and saw other people walking around, I just felt so much better,” she said. “I guess it’s just the feeling of other people around you.”

Are you a UBC student with a story about any of the terrorist attacks this past weekend? Send us an email at news@ubyssey.ca.