Each semester, SU Strasbourg Center director Dr. Raymond Bach gives a farewell speech to his students. The speeches are always heartfelt and memorable. But this semester’s speech, shared just weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris, is a tribute to the ties that bind nations and people, and to the true value of study abroad. We are sharing it in full, with his permission:
“Last week, at our Thanksgiving Celebration with the host families, I said a few words about the events that have recently shaken France. But as I spoke in French, there are no doubt a number of you who couldn’t quite follow. So let me summarize: I started by recalling 9/11 (when some of you were only four years old!) and how very moved I was by the sight of the hundreds of flowers that suddenly appeared in front of the American Consulate in the days following the attacks. I and other Americans were deeply appreciative of the many other expressions of support and solidarity that we received at that time, most notably during a special memorial concert given at the Strasbourg Cathedral, which was filled way beyond capacity. I then went on to say to our host families that, after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, it has been America’s turn to express its profound solidarity with the French people, and that this solidarity has taken many forms: the illuminating of buildings in bleu, blanc, rouge (including on The Hall of Languages on the SU campus); the singing of the Marseillaise at everything from sports events to symphony concerts; the pronouncing by our president of the three most important words in the French language: liberté, égalité, et fraternité.
Solidarity between our two nations goes far back, of course, to Lafayette and the American War of Independence; and although there have been disputes and disagreements between us – and what friendships do not have their share of disagreements?—the ties that bind the two countries together remain strong and profound.
But if these ties have indeed endured over the decades and centuries this is not only due to our common history – one that you can read about in books, or see commemorated in stone monuments, or watch in films such as The Longest Day (which tells the story of the D-Day Landings of 1944). Books and monuments and films are important, of course; but the ties between our two nations have survived above all because they are built upon thousands and thousands of personal links that have been made between individuals just like you on both sides of the Atlantic.
So in the last analysis, solidarity and feelings of deep affection between nations depend above all on us, the people; they depend on the willingness of individuals like you to form friendships across boundaries and borders; they depend on your desire to learn about other people’s cultures, to discover their cities, landscapes, art, and cuisine; and, of course, they depend on your commitment to learning to speak their language! (N’est-ce pas?)
If this sounds suspiciously like a description of the goals of study abroad, well, that’s because it is. For study abroad is ultimately about making connections that create bonds of understanding, affection, and mutual support. Now that you have spent a semester in Strasbourg you are part of this giant chain that connects France and the United States. Some of you may never travel to France again; others may come here on a regular basis; and still others may spend extended periods of time here – perhaps even the majority of your lives – on ne sait jamais. But whatever the future holds for you, and whether you realize it or not, you have already become part of something that is larger than you, part of a transnational bond of solidarity.
And believe me, if there’s something that the world needs now more than ever, it’s solidarity that crosses borders and boundaries. We need it in order to deal successfully with nearly every major problems that we face today: climate change, migration, poverty, disease, terrorism…you name it! As “study abroaders” – a title that I now officially bestow on all of you— you are better equipped than most of your peers to understand these problems and to work toward their solution.
During our Thanksgiving celebration of the other day, several host families came up to me to tell me that after the Paris attacks they had received emails and phone calls from many of their former students, and that they had been profoundly touched by these expressions of support. I was, of course, very pleased to hear this. I hope, however, that it won’t only be in moments of national crisis that you will let others know how much you care about them, but that joyous events, both personal and communal, will also be occasions for sharing and for expressing solidarity across the ocean. I can’t imagine a more positive result of study abroad than that! Bon courage et bonne continuation”