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Recent Events in France: My Thoughts

Education Abroad reminds readers that risk is everywhere, even in Philadelphia, and we encourage all of our students to be thoughtful and well-educated travelers. This is one of the important ways to lower the negative impact of incidents that could occur as described in this insightful blog post.

Though it may not have been an explicit stipulation when you board your plane and book your hostel, traveling to a new country requires great caution and responsibility. You will be depositing yourself into a new, dynamic environment with a current of its own. Sometimes, this can entail activism, terrorism, and politics.

There have been two recent developments in France which are making national headlines. One is the “Gilets Jaunes” movement, which are a series of protests occuring in major French cities. I’ve actually had a few people reach out to me with concern, so I wanted to offer my perspective as someone currently living here.

First: “gilets jaunes” translates to “yellow vests” in English, which is a reference to the high-visibility neon vests worn by transportation and road workers. Though the reasons behind the protests are complex, one cause is President Macron’s rescinded subsidization of diesel and fossil fuels, which will raise prices. Workers have expressed discontent with their wages and these tax reforms, believing that they most adversely impact the working and middle classes. As a result, protestors have been forming barricades to disrupt traffic in many cities, including Lyon.

A picture taken in Strasbourg, a small city in northeastern France. Note the gilet jaunes in the bottom left. They were protesting near the city center that day.

Although these protests are disruptive, they took a violent turn in Paris. As shown in the linked video, chaos ensued as cars burned and people marched. I’m worried, as I will be making a trip down to Paris myself at the end of this month. It’s also certainly a difficult situation: one that I can’t fully process as a foreigner. I reached out to my friend Charlotte, who works for a company involved in public transport. She expressed her sentiments as follows:

“There are people infiltrating the protests and breaking everything. These people are in favor of anarchism, and they have nothing to do with the gilets jaunes. I don’t agree with the methods of the gilets jaunes: it’s bad to block traffic. But they’re not being irrational; it’s not normal for them to work and still not have enough income to live. It’s also not normal for everything to be taxed in France, and there are many countries that don’t do this.”

All in all, it’s a very complicated situation.

A second event occurred lately, which is more tragic. Recently, a shooting in Strasbourg resulted in the deaths of at least three people. Current reports state that the gunman, 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt, was an radical Islamic extremist. He was living in this northeastern French city and committed a mass shooting. After a two-day manhunt, he was killed in crossfire with the police.

I was in Strasbourg the week before the shooting occurred.

To me, these events are a scary reminder of the risks of being abroad. Strasbourg is a popular destination during winter– people from all over Europe come to see its Christmas markets and try Alsace specialties, like chouchroute (pickled cabbage with sausage) and tartiflettes (cheese and meat on thin crust). The city is beautiful, festive, and vibrant. You come here to do your Christmas shopping and to bring your children. The last thing you’d expect here is a radical attack.

What do these recents events tell me? Studying abroad is a true learning experience beyond the courses you’re taking. Whether or not you care about politics, you will experience it firsthand everywhere you go. Sometimes, they might even create danger situations. It’s more important than ever to be aware and educated.

Ever since these events transpired, I’ve been following the news closely and being more conscious when I’m in densely populated areas. Although these are controversial topics, I am grateful for the ways in which they have opened my eyes. Becoming more informed is not necessarily easy, but I am taking it a day at a time.

(Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this post are my personal views only, and by no means do I consider myself an expert on current events. Please consult news outlets for more official reports!)

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