What happened in France?

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Lizzie Allen, Staff Writer

It’s astonishing how fast you can go from eating a delicious Parisian dinner to sitting on the floor of your chaperones’ hotel room at 3:30 a.m., worried that you won’t be able to get out of the foreign city you’re visiting and home to Bloomington for the next month.

In my case, it happened in the span of about five hours.

A few months ago, I joined the French exchange program from South, which would be traveling to Paris and Le Mans, France. A few weeks ago, fears of the coronavirus began to escalate, but plans are plans, and I was still just as excited to go to France. And a few days ago, if things had gone according to plan, I would have been packing up to travel home after spending two uneventful weeks in France. 

Things, obviously, didn’t go according to plan.

The afternoon of Wednesday, March 11, President Trump announced that the U.S. would be implementing a travel ban on the majority of Europe in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Paris, five hours ahead of Bloomington, received that news at 2 a.m. Thursday morning, meaning that quite a few of us on the French exchange program had a stressful morning, to say the least. 

Up until that announcement, we had had a fantastic time. We left from Indianapolis Tuesday evening local time, landed in Paris Wednesday morning local, and spent that day exploring the town. We saw Sacre-Coeur Basilica and the shopping area surrounding it, ate crepes and macarons and baguettes, and walked around all day. 

That night, we had a delicious dinner…at least I think it was delicious. I was so jet lagged and sleep deprived that I honestly don’t remember. After dinner, we went back to our hotel and crashed. And then I woke up a few hours later to my roommates calling their parents in a panic, I saw news alerts and texts from my family and friends back home, and I felt the bottom drop out from my stomach. 

All things considered, Paris would not be the worst city to be stuck in for a month. 

But when you get the news that flights out will be stopped in two days, and there is a genuine chance that you will be quarantined away from your family and home for a month, you don’t consider all things. 

What do you do?

I won’t lie, at first, I panicked. I texted my mom, I texted my sister, I texted my friends. But after a solid few hours, which included the aforementioned sitting on our chaperones’ hotel room floor, more texting, and a slight amount of sleep, I realized that things were going to be okay.

Our chaperones, French teacher Beth Smith and school counselor Lacey Grant, were superstars. They soothed us all while dealing with stressed parents and school officials and uncooperative tour guides. Our travel agent here in the U.S., Linda McClary, was a literal hero. She booked us so many different plane tickets trying to get us home that Delta needs to give her a star customer award. Our group was in good hands, and while I couldn’t be totally relaxed, we were in Paris, and that’s a special experience. 

So we saw the Eiffel Tower, daytime and nighttime. We visited the Louvre, which showed one upside to a global pandemic: there were no crowds and we actually got to see the Mona Lisa. Some of us visited Versailles, while others visited the Opera Garnier. We went shopping quite a few times, probably ate way too much food, and generally enjoyed experiencing another country with our friends.  

After the initial scare had worn off, we saw that as U.S. citizens, the ban did not yet apply to us, and we could still return home whenever we wanted, so we decided to stay the full two weeks. A couple days went by, and after so many changes with the state of the ban, the decision was made to fly home on Tuesday March 17th, a week early. Sad, but probably for the best. Then, Saturday night, right as we were preparing to drive to Le Mans to meet our friends who would be hosting us for the remainder of the trip, our flight was canceled. We had to fly out the next morning. 

In total, we spent about four days in Paris. They were an eventful four days, with a rollercoaster of emotions involved. We saw a lot of cool things, made good friends, ate delicious food, and have a story to tell that we will definitely never forget.

And hey, now we can all say we’ve been out of the country during a global pandemic!