Posted : 2013-11-05 18:08
Updated : 2013-11-05 18:08

President has special reunion in Paris

President Park Geun-hye talks with Elisabeth Vaudeville, the wife of the late former bureaucrat Jean Vaudeville, who was an acquaintance of Park when she was studying in Grenoble about 39 years ago, at the InterContinental Paris le Grand Hotel, Monday. They had a chat for around 20 minutes to share the memories of four decades ago. / Yonhap

By Kim Tae-gyu

PARIS ― In February 1974, a Korean woman in her late 20s arrived in the southeastern city of Grenoble to study at the foot of the French Alps where the river Drac joins the Isere.

Her name was Park Geun-hye, the eldest daughter of the late President Park Chung-hee, who was spending her first semester with foreign friends with whom she enjoyed having picnics and discussions.

However, Park's happy days didn't last long as she was forced to return home after just six months ― her mother was assassinated on Aug. 15 by a North Korean sympathizer from Japan.

After giving up her post-graduate studies, she didn't return to France for nearly four decades although she expressed affection for the European country.

Thirty-nine years later, Park finally set her foot in Paris last week as the first female chief executive of Korea and had a special encounter reminiscent of her days in Grenoble.

She met Elisabeth Vaudeville, the wife of the late former bureaucrat Jean Vaudeville, Monday, who ate and took walks with Park when she was studying.

They had a chat for around 20 minutes to share memories.

"In 1979, the Vaudevilles invited Park to dinner. After learning of Park's visit to France, their son requested the meeting and Park accepted the suggestion," Park's senior press secretary Lee Jung-hyun said.

Park expressed hopes to go back to Grenoble once again to see Elisabeth Vaudeville, now 92, but had to meet her in Paris due to her tight schedule in visiting France, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

In her autobiography, Park said that "(At Grenoble) I could watch the simple life of French families. While looking at them, I thought of my future with the hope of meeting a good man to make a happy family."

Even though she had to leave France in 1974 to become de facto first lady through late 1979 when her father was assassinated by his spy agency chief, Park kept her connection with France and with the French language.

She kept studying French and was able to make a 20-minute speech in French in front of Korean and French entrepreneurs, Monday, drawing a long standing ovation from the audience.

"French businesspeople were surprised that Park delivered the speech in French. At first they expected that Park would do so in some initial sentences before going back to Korean," Park's spokeswoman Kim Haing said.

"They said that they were touched as Park spoke French throughout the speech. They said that it amply showcases the Korean President's interest and affection toward their country."

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