The town hall of Brussels lit up with the colors of the French national flag in November following the Paris attacks.

By Ashley Ross / and
March 22, 2016

I grew up in a frugal household with parents who both worked demanding blue-collar jobs, so we didn't have a lot of time or resources for grand family vacations.

It wasn't until I turned 20 that I took my first flight, coincidentally for my study abroad program, to complete my French minor degree. Most of my family had only been on an airplane once before—when they immigrated to America, so they were very excited for me to take this trip, and gave me well wishes and motion sickness remedies (ginger candy was stuffed into my carry-on).

One of my aunts told me that she had technically been to Paris before—when she was making a connecting flight between Guangzhou, China, and Colombia and had to stop at Charles de Gaulle. She had a few hours before boarding the second leg of her trip but was too nervous to step outside the confines of the airport. She didn't know any French, and was traveling with a toddler and a newborn and all their worldly possessions in two suitcases. She was going to Colombia to join her husband and to escape repercussions from having a second child under China's one-child policy.

To pass the time at CDG, she pored over every poster, flyer, and billboard advertisement. She remembered how striking the image of the Eiffel Tower was—even just on a sign inside the airport. I promised my aunt that I would go to the actual thing when I was in France.

And I did go. And to the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Élysée, the Jardin du Luxembourg, Montmartre, the Louvre. I was in Paris for a good four months and I think I may have only seen 10 percent of the Louvre, even after spending multiple rainy days there.

The magnitude of my trip didn't hit me until my cousin came to visit me for Thanksgiving. She was my aunt's daughter, the newborn that was stuck in Charles de Gaulle airport for half a day, not knowing she was about to start her life in a country halfway across the globe from her extended family.

My cousin and I went to visit the Eiffel Tower late at night, hoping to catch the last light show of the evening. The lights came on just as we stood under its mammoth base. We ascended the tower shortly after the show was over and spent some minutes in silence looking over the city. We were so far from our family but I had never felt closer to them than at that moment, thinking about the sacrifices and steps they took so I could have this experience. —Pearly Huang, associate research editor

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The mayor of Paris tweeted that the Eiffel Tower will be lit up in black, yellow and red in solidarity with Brussels following a series of deadly attacks Tuesday that left at least 31 dead and dozens injured.

Anne Hidalgo wrote on Twitter, “In solidarity with the people of Brussels, Paris will light up the Eiffel Tower in the colors of the Belgian flag tonight.” She added the hashtag #NousSommesUnis, which means “We Are United.”

The town hall of Brussels lit up with the colors of the French national flag at the Brussels Grand Palace in November following terrorist attacks in Paris.

The Belgian capital has been on high alert since the Paris attacks, when Salah Abdeslam, a suspect, fled to Brussels. He was arrested on Friday.