Following the attacks in Paris this past Friday night, it’s understandable that there are renewed concerns about travel safety. It’s certainly disturbing that such hatred and violence has again been manifested. Our hearts are heavy and our thoughts and prayers are with the people of France, as well as with the victims of violence in so many places in our world.
As our president and others have said, this was an attack not just against France but against humanity. It was inspiring to hear so many examples of the human spirit in the face of tragedy: Many people offered help and shelter in their apartments via social media. A report from the chief of emergency services at one of the hospitals said that in addition to all of his own staff that quickly arrived to help, so many other doctors and nurses came in offering help, and hundreds of ordinary people came in volunteering to give blood.
We want to assure parents and students that Language & Friendship considers safety a first priority. We have been communicating regularly with our many colleagues and friends in Paris and in other parts of France. Following are some of the many messages we’ve received from our friends and colleagues:
“Those events surely affected us deeply, but together we are determined: la barbarie ne passera pas. Nous continuerons à vivre en liberté et en fraternité.” Isabelle P, Montélimar, France
“It was really tragic. I know my students will have many questions, as they did following the Charlie Hebdo and Jewish supermarket attack last January. We had very good discussions. As you know, my school is Catholic, but we have many Muslim and Jewish students as well. The real and open exchanges are very heartening.” Régine M, Paris, France
“We who stand for liberty are in the same boat, facing this threat. Freedom must win. Life must not change, for we can’t let the terrorists make us afraid.” Pascal L, Tours, France
And a message that expresses the response of many teachers:
“It is a heartbreaking moment…..and we have witnessed many of these over the last decade(s)….but, we will continue to teach, travel, and encourage students to explore places that will open their hearts and minds to people and cultures the world over. If we stop embracing this, our purpose becomes so much less than it could/should be….” Michael G., Seattle, WA
Terrorist attacks typically leave a sense of vulnerability and fear. While acknowledging the considerable tragedy, it’s always important to put things in perspective. Sadly, we have had many terrorist attacks in the U.S. In addition to the World Trade Towers there was the Oklahoma federal building, Texas Fort Hood, the D.C. sniper, and the Boston marathon, to say nothing of the random school, office, movie theater, and church shootings.
We believe it is essential to seek complete and accurate information. (There have been some misconceptions about what is now happening.)
Flights in and out of Paris CDG have continued to operate.
France’s borders are not closed. They have increased border patrols and passport checks on roads and trains.
The “state of emergency” allows officials to make searches, house arrests, impose curfews, and take other measures to reinforce security. It does not mean there is a restriction on travel.
French schools are in session, people are at work, and the Paris museums that were closed on the weekend have re-opened.
Our policy as an organization has always been to seek out the facts and to proceed thoughtfully and realistically as we plan our programs. Our Travel Safety policy can be found in the Program Enrollment Booklet and in the FAQ on our website. Unless the U.S. State Department issues an official warning against travel to the destination country, our programs will proceed as planned. After 9/11, the war in Iraq, the train bombings in London and in Madrid, and more recent attacks, our groups traveled safely and were warmly welcomed.
A Worldwide Caution has been in effect for years, and is updated from time to time. The most recent update was on July 29, 2015. It asks travelers to be cautious and to behave as we have always prepared our program participants to behave while traveling. Language & Friendship provides teacher/leaders with the following handouts to use during preparation meetings.
One can never guarantee safety in any circumstance. Statistics show that one is infinitely more likely to be involved in a car accident on the way to school or work than in a terrorist incident. Airline travel is safer than it ever used to be, and security in Paris and other major cities is tighter than ever.
It is our hope that the opportunity to experience another culture and to become friends with people who speak another language is one of the most important ways to ensure a more peaceful world for future generations. Travel abroad results in greater understanding, tolerance, self-confidence and skills that will make a valuable difference in students’ lives.
We are glad to speak to you should you have any further questions. Thank you for your consideration of the importance of reason in the midst of a culture of fear.
Liane Mattson, L&F Director