Rebecca Leal, a professor of French at Elmhurst College, has spent a lot of time in France.
So when she set off for Paris in January with 16 Elmhurst students to teach them about the history of Paris, she expected a routine visit.
Instead, Leal and her students arrived in Paris in the midst of a crisis. Gunmen had attacked the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people and precipitating an ongoing hostage situation—and the Elmhurst group was staying in apartments close by.
Upon the group’s safe return to the United States, Leal wrote an essay about her experiences and submitted it to the Consulate General of France in Chicago. The essay won a prize and was published on the Consulate’s website. In recognition of her essay, Leal was invited to visit the Consul General in April.
“From the courage and nobleness exhibited by everyday Parisians, I discovered a newfound pride in my adopted country,” Leal wrote in the essay. “This makes my experience my best French memory.”