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Separated from home, French students describe a state of isolation

Away from staggering scenes of military patrols and violent raids, and distanced from friends and family, French students at The University of Edinburgh described feelings of helplessness and isolation in the wake of the November 13 attacks.

“It’s really hard,”  Marie Voge told The Student.  “I felt very lonely.”

“It’s difficult being far from home now,” her friend Madeleine Pauchon added.  “We’re from Paris.  So we’re just trying to stay together.”

With close ties to the events in their home city,  the two did everything they could to stay in touch with friends and family as the news unfolded.

Between the phone calls home, they stuck together and provided support. They held candles at the Peace Vigil outside the library. Voge travelled to the French Consulate in New Town to leave  flowers.

“We talked about it, mostly between us,” Pauchon told The Student.  “Talked to our families. Tried to feel close to home.”

But the distance was often overpowering. And despite the candles, songs, and tricolore profile pictures, the two described a startling absence of community.

“In my lecture, we never had a teacher’s speech. We never had a silent minute,” Voge said.

“It was really striking that no teachers mentioned it.”

“Even in a tutorial of 10 with three French people, nothing was said”, Pauchon added. “It was really hard.”

Amaury de Lamartinie, who lives outside of Paris but has family in the area, recounted similar feelings.

“You feel powerless,” he told The Student.

“Even if you were in Paris in this time, you wouldn’t have been able to do much either. But the fact of being abroad makes it even harder.”

University officials have launched a variety of services offered to students affected by the attacks. They sent out emails to every student studying in Paris, offering advice and counselling services. They set up a dedicated hotline for further support. On Wedneday, they hosted a vigil, drawing in representatives from the Scottish Parliament and French Consulate.

“The safety and wellbeing of  our students and staff is paramount and we will continue to support anyone affected by recent events,” a spokesperson told The Student.

But the separation remains, students say, and the burden persists.

“There is this kind of angoisse,” de Lemartinie told The Student.  “It really feels kind of oppressive to be far from home.”

Yet counter to his emotions, de Lemartinie sees some positives.

“There’s something good about it”, he added, citing a certain immunity to rising political tensions back home.

“Maybe we’re not in the same panic mood, you know.  The distance enables us to think more about what happens.”

For their part, Voge and Pauchon intend to maintain a sense of normalcy in the weeks ahead.

“We’ll try to live. Get drunk and go to restaurants and concerts and bars,” Pauchon told The Student.

“We’ll all still go out,” Voge added. “Maybe even more.”

Image:Markus Grossalber

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The Student Newspaper 2016