MAGNOLIA – Nine Southern Arkansas University students – Gabrielle Davis, Lily Hesen, Clayton Hawthorne, Timothy Hawthorne, Lindsey Wood, Hannah Springer, Caleigh Moyer, Anna Dillard, and Jacob Steed, along with community members Sandra Wood and Julie Kardas – recently returned from a trip to Paris, France. The trip was led by Honors Director Ed Kardas.
The group left Little Rock early on May 9 and returned late on Monday, May 15. They managed to see much of Paris including the Roman Bathhouse at the Cluny Museum, the University of Paris (aka the Sorbonne), Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Shoah Holocaust Museum. All of these sights were taken in on the first day.
On the second day, the group took a sightseeing bus to visit Thomas Jefferson’s statue, the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre Museum. “They learned to ride the Metro and how to get around on buses,” Kardas said.
“We got on the Seine on the third day and got to see Paris from the river that divides it in two,” Kardas said. The group split up from time to time to enjoy individual pursuits, with some visiting the Musee d’Orsay, home of impressionist paintings, and others satisfying their culinary desires at bistros. Two rented bicycles and later took the train to EuroDisney. “ They were all good Muleriders,” Kardas said.
“We took a bus to Versailles on the fourth day,” he said. “No picture or video can prepare visitors in advance. It’s far larger and far more opulent than the 21st century imagination. Louis XIV, who built it, must have had an immense ego. Of course, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette paid the price for such a lifestyle with their heads. We also strolled through the gardens. Our guide told us that French gardens, like those at Versailles, seek to dominate nature. English gardens try to recreate nature.”
The group also toured a perfume factory, “which turned out to be an unexpected highlight of the day,” Kardas said. “That tour began with a stroll through their museum in the basement. Upstairs, we got to guess at a variety of odor samples. After, of course, we got to buy some of their products. The day ended with most of us attending an English-language one man show: ‘How to Become Parisian in 10 Easy Lessons.’ It was hilarious.”
On the last day, the group visited the famous flea market. There we saw a little bit of everything for sale. Two members of the group actually stayed behind to haggle more while the rest of us went back to central Paris to see the famous Moulin Rouge and to climb Montmartre, the hill of martyrs,” Kardas said. “We felt like martyrs by the time we reached the top, but the climb was worth it, if nothing else for the view Montmartre commands. Also, on the peak of the hill is the famous church, Sacre Couer (Sacred Heart), where someone is praying 24 hours a day the year through.”
Montmartre is also the home of the Place du Tertre, a famous square where artists display and sell their works. “We ate at the square and then took the bus downtown to the tallest building in Paris. There we rode the elevator to the 55th floor and then climbed three flights of stairs to the roof at dusk. As the sun set, we watched the lights on the Eiffel Tower come on followed by its night light show,” Kardas said.
“Alas,” Kardas said, “it was time to board the plane for the nearly nine-hour flight home. We did not get much sleep, that’s for sure, but everyone had the time of their lives.”
Davis called Paris “awesome,” citing Versailles – and standing in the famous Hall of Mirrors – as her favorite excursion.
“It was a real learning experience as the culture is dramatically different there,” she said. “Getting used to the time change was fun, and I often found myself not having enough hours in the day to get things done.”
She said she had fun “standing underneath the Eiffel Tower, which really is as tall as the pictures depict. What isn’t as big as most people think is the Mona Lisa in the largest museum in the world, the Louvre. Wow, did I get lost approximately four times while we were there.”
Her favorite French lunch was the Croque-Monsieur (ham and cheese toasted with cheese layered on top). “I really like French crepes with Nutella and banana when I am touring they city.”
Davis said she “experienced a lot” during her short stay. “Every corner has history.”
Moyer said, “I could not have asked for a better experience visiting Paris with SAU. We had the opportunity to submerge ourselves in the culture as well as visit many different historical sites. The communication barrier was a difficult one to overcome; in the U.S., I have had people of other languages speak to me but I had not been on the other side of the language barrier until our visit to France. This made me appreciate diversity and sparked my interest in learning another language.”
Hesen said the trip to Paris was “my first time to travel out of the country without my family as well as my first international flight. When we finally arrived in France, we were all worn out from jet-lag, but that did not stop us from enjoying our first day in a new country! We got to see the Roman Bath Houses and the Notre Dame Cathedral. I was in awe of the Cathedral. Over the next few days, we were out from about 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day, learning and seeing.”
“One of the people in our group said, ‘All of these buildings look important.’ That comment could not be more true,” Hesen said. “The design of every building there made it look important, including small cafes and shops. Everything is swanky in France. The fashion is just as portrayed on television and movies; everyone was wearing a scarf, leather jacket, or fur coat.”
“I would have to say that my absolute favorite part of the journey would be when we were able to venture off on our own – it is on these days that I learned how a person from France lived,” Hesen said. “I would dine at a local (non-tourist) bistro/cafe, attempt to speak my best French, and study French marketing tactics. I am going to school for marketing, so it was neat getting to compare their marketing techniques to our own. The French are much more intimate and sensual in their advertising.”
“Overall, I would not trade this study abroad for anything. My learning and the experiences I gained were once-in-a-lifetime. I am forever grateful to SAU and the people who helped me gain the opportunity to travel to France. I had a wonderful group, a fantastic group leader, and our tour guide was absolutely lovely,” Hesen said.
Dillard reported a similarly enjoyable experience. “I’ve always dreamed of going to Paris. My fiancé, Jacob Steed, was able to go with me, all thanks to SAU and especially Brooke Williams in Foundation.”
“Going to another country was an amazing experience and very eye-opening,” she said. “Things that I read about and learned in school, I got the chance to see firsthand. Fun fact: the Mona Lisa is actually spelled Monna and was named after the Madonna! I was able to see the good and bad sides of Paris, but I also experienced the generosity of Paris. I was told people from France were rude and selfish, but that was not the case at all. For the most part they were all kind and helpful. If you got lost and couldn’t read the map, people would notice and offer their help. If you couldn’t figure out what something was on a menu, they would tell you or offer you an English menu. You just have to be willing to open your heart to their culture.”
Kardas said SAU Foundation paid half the cost of students’ travel. This was the second time this school year that he has accompanied students on an overseas trip. In 2016, Kardas led a group to Cuba.