Monday, July 25, 2016

Exchange students avoid terror in Nice, France

Looking back over the horrid terrorist attack that rocked Nice, France, Ava Lehner said she’s lucky that she and her friend Louise Grevoul weren’t among the revelers celebrating Bastille Day on July 14 – the day a Tunisian man, identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, rammed the huge truck he was driving into the crowd and killing more than 80 people. More than 300 others were hospitalized.
Lehner and Grevoul were amusing themselves in the city of Eze, France, when terror gripped Nice and once again sent shock waves across the world. Eze is a tourist mecca not far from Nice, a liberal retreat that attracts artists and scores of Europe’s elite to the capital of the French Riviera.
Louise Grevoul (left) and Ava Lehner.
We went to Nice almost every day,” said Lehner, a 17-year-old Corona del Sol High School senior from Tempe, Ariz., participating in the city’s Tempe Sister Cities Student Exchange Program, “a global, culture and humanitarian works program 
aligned with the city of Tempe and Sister Cities International.”
Lehner stayed with the family of 17-year-old Grevoul, a student at Lycée Massena in Nice, for five weeks in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France, one of a number of sister cities around the world. She was matched with Grevoul’s family based on their enthusiasm for cultural exchange and friendship building.
“We were having a farewell dinner in Eze, because we were going to fly out the next day,” said Lehner, reflecting on the day fate steered the student ambassadors in a different direction. “If we hadn’t had our farewell dinner, there’s a very good chance that we would’ve been there celebrating like everybody else.”
Lehner did not know what was going on at first until someone told her. Then she and Grevoul turned on the TV and were alarmed when they noticed countless bodies strewn along the path of destruction left by the speeding hunk that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel used as a deadly weapon.
“It was scary and a little creepy because of how close it was,” said Lehner, who wasn’t the only student selected to go to France. “There were three other Americans there with their French sisters. We all realized that if we’d gone to the celebration, it could’ve been us.”
The three other ambassadors establishing a cultural connection and friendship with their “sisters” in Beaulieu-sur-Mer were Tempe residents Amanda Johnson and Laney R. T. Gordon, both seniors from Corona del Sol High School; and Hanna Olsen, a senior from McClintock High School.
Lehner said there wasn’t a reason why she and Grevoul wouldn’t have been in the area of the attack. She is certain they would’ve been caught up in the chaos and ensuing madness.
“The area where the attack happened, we frequented there a lot,” she said. “All my life, whenever there was a terrorist attack, even if it’s been in the United States, it’s been several states away. So the attack in Nice was heartbreaking.”
When Lehner first got the news that pandemonium had broken out, “all I could do was think about my mom and what she would have done if somebody had gotten hurt by the attack the day we were supposed to come home. It would have been very tragic.”
Tragedy was averted. But memories and the horrific images of human wreckage in Nice may subside with time – until the next terrorist attack brings it all back to mind.
Lehner and Grevoul left Beaulieu-sur-Mer on July 15 and returned to Tempe, where Grevoul is staying five weeks with Lehner and her family. She is now making it possible for her exchange sister to get an up-close and personal look and feel for American culture.

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