THREE Matthew Flinders Anglican College students have returned from France with mixed memories after the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo office.
Year 12 students Will Rienecker and Caitlin Watt, both 16, were less than a kilometre away from the magazine's office when armed religious extremists burst in and shot 14 people dead.
Will, Caitlin and Caitlin's sister Sophie, 14, were in France to immerse themselves in the culture as an extension of their French studies at school.
Caitlin was staying with a French exchange student and her family and attending a school about 500 metres away from the office.
"We were walking home when it happened and we turned on the news and my host, her mum rang asking her to run to school to pick up her brother," Caitlin said.
"I stayed at home and she sprinted to the school. All of the Metros (underground stations) were closed. Her mum had to walk home - two hours."
Sophie, who was staying with another family across town, was uneasy until she was able to make contact with her sister on Facebook and confirm that she was okay.
Will, who had taken the day off school to prepare to fly home the next day, knew something was wrong.
"I was at the Notre Dame and heard all the sirens, and air raid sirens, and didn't know what was going on, and then I heard on the news what had happened," he said.
"It's scary, just knowing. If we had been a bit closer, anything could have happened.''
Caitlin attended a protest on the night of the attacks with her French hosts and friends but stayed close to home the following day.
Will said he admired the way the French had united after the attack to show they would not be intimidated by terrorism.
"A friend posted on Facebook, 'The terrorists tried to knock France to her knees but she stood up'," he said.
"It was an inspirational quote which exemplified the situation and showed how France unified in the face of the attack."
Caitlin and Sophie said France changed after the attack, and they had to get used to seeing soldiers with machine-guns in the streets and shops.
Will said his hosts took bomb threats in their stride.
"It's sad that they are used to it," he said.
Returning home to family a week ago was a "relief" for Caitlin and Sophie.
The experience has not deterred Will from travelling there again one day.