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Ole Miss Study Abroad Student Narrowly Avoids Nice Terror Attack

Ole Miss study abroad student Kate Cunningham at Park Güell, Gràcia, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Ole Miss study abroad student Kate Cunningham at Park Güell, Gràcia, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Ole Miss senior Communication Sciences and Disorders major Kate Cunningham of Atlanta is currently studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain through a program with Ogelthorpe University.

This past Thursday, the day of the Nice, France terrorist attack, her group of students from around the country was on a scheduled bus trip to Nice for Bastille Day when the tragic events unfolded. The trip had been delayed for various reasons, and they were about three hours from Nice when the attack occurred.

“Our bus departure had been delayed two hours, and our driver had to drive especially slow due to a headwind that night,” Cunningham said. “So, had all of those delays not occurred, we most likely would have been at the Bastille Day celebration that night.”

When HottyToddy.com found out about Kate’s experience, we emailed her a list of questions. Below are those questions and answers.

Can you give us the details of how you found out about the attack…reactions of the bus driver, the students, etc.?How far were you from Nice when you found out about the attack?

When we found out about the attack, we had been on the bus for around 4 1/2 hours and were 3 hours away from Nice. The leaders of our trip had received a message from their team in the United States and asked the bus driver to pull over until they could figure out what exactly was happening. We were stopped for around 45 minutes while the leaders researched the attack and discussed whether or not it would be safe to continue with the trip. During that time, all of the students called their parents to let them know that they were safe. Most students were calm, but others were worried about our safety and the safety of other students who had plans to fly to Nice earlier that day. I think most people struggled with the idea that it very easily could have been us.

What emotions ran through your mind? Were you able to contact  your family right away? Was there cell service? Any other stories of other students and reaching their families?

I was never concerned for my safety because we were in a rural part of France. However, I was very upset due to a big combination of emotions. I was thankful that our bus had been delayed 2 hours, scared for my the classmates who were flying to Nice, disappointed that the trip was canceled, frustrated that we had to turn around and drive 4 1/2 hours back to Barcelona that night, and sad for the victims and for France as a whole. As soon as I heard about the attack, I called my mom to tell her that we had not arrived in Nice yet. She had just found out about the attack on the radio but sounded calm on the phone. Other parents were frantic, insisting that the bus get back to the border immediately. We did not have any trouble contacting our parents and were able to use our phones to keep up with the news online.

Are there any other details you could share with our readers?

After 30 minutes, the leaders decided to turn the bus around to return to Barcelona. At the France/Spain border, there was a long line of cars lined up to leave France. There were police cars lining the border and policemen armed with guns checking each car. We had two armed policemen enter the bus. They did not say anything, they just walked down the aisle and then left. We were then able to continue our trip back to Barcelona and arrived back at our dorms at around 4:30 a.m.

Only one student from our group had arrived in Nice before the attack. She was asleep at the hostel and did not know the attack had occurred until she woke up to a phone call from our program director. Our program directors organized a driver to take that student to the airport and flew her back to Barcelona the following morning. By Friday afternoon, almost everyone had already planned spontaneous trips to other locations. So, even though our weekend trip to the French Riviera had been canceled, we made the most of it and did not let the attack scare us out of traveling. 

 

What are the details of the study abroad program you are in (name of it, where, how long, what you are studying, what university, how many students, are they from U.S. universities?

I am doing a 5-week program through Lead Abroad, a company based in Atlanta with Oglethorpe University. This is my second summer studying abroad with this program. I will be in Barcelona for 5 weeks (July 1-August 6). I am studying with around 120 other students from all over the country, but mainly SEC schools. I am taking a Spanish class and a media studies class.

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What are some of the extra activities the group is doing (i.e. the trip to Nice last week, etc). Have there been other excursions?

We have class MondayThursday, so we have the weekend to travel on our own or to travel with a group to various locations. Before the trip to Nice, I had taken a weekend trip to Valencia with the entire study abroad group. Other than the weekend trips, we have free time after class every day to explore Barcelona on our own.


Allison Buchanan is CEO of New Media Lab LLC, parent company of HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at allison.buchanan@hottytoddy.com.

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