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Westminster Students Tour France

"Franch" Fries, "Franch" Dressing . . . "Franch" Tour?

By Angelica C. Smith ('04)

I've eaten a Belgian waffle, seen plenty of windmills, and even own French-cut underwear (ooh la la), but according to Jennifer Gruz, international business major ('03), I have yet to have the true "European experience."

"My roommate and I were sitting outside a cute little cafe in Caen, France, when about eight French soccer players pulled their table next to ours and started talking to us. They were very interested that we were Americans and wanted to know more about where we were from." According to Gruz, knowing a second language is not necessarily needed, dissipating the time-old theory of rude Parisians. "They do get a little frustrated because of the language barrier, but if you at least try to speak the language, they are friendly and helpful." There is, of course, in this instance, the international language (you know).

Every other year in May, a group of 30 to 45 students takes an "Art History Tour of Europe" for a total of three fun-filled, action-packed weeks. According to Steve Haslam, assistant professor of French and coordinator of the tour, "Most students have not traveled outside the United States, and it's an excellent opportunity to see some countries in Western Europe--to see them up close and personal, even though it's from a tourist's perspective."

The purpose of the trip was to see art in its original form in various museums, and a number of students were working on perfecting their French. The countries on the itinerary included England, France, Belgium, and Holland. One does wonder how to improve French in Holland, and England, but perhaps students had a chance to study French behavior in these countries (hint, hint). Students were required to get up every morning and show up at one or two planned activities, but the rest of the day was left up to them to explore the territory and intimately connect with the culture.

"I loved being able to take off with my friends," Gruz said. "We had some 'geek' tourist books, so we knew where to go and what to see, but other people got lost or had a hard time figuring out the transportation systems. It's not like the U.S. where everyone drives. Subways and buses are very common."

Transportation, hotels, and breakfast, as well as four or five dinners, were included in the initial price of $2,400 per student. Haslam and his associate, Craig Glidden, professor of art, thought it was important for students to get out and find their own food. "A lot of meals in common simply keep us together too much, and whether students go to grocery stores and buy their own food, or whether they go out to eat, they still have to deal with the people, and we think those are good experiences. Besides, it's hard to satisfy so many different tastes. This way, they could choose what they wanted to eat." You mean not everyone likes escargot? How about some frog legs?

Currently, there is no preferential treatment in determining who may participate. Students from other colleges and universities, as well as faculty and staff members, joined the tour. Paula Garfield, a Westminster staff member, was one who braved the three weeks with college-aged students. "I went because I had never been to Europe, and this was an excellent opportunity." She had studied French and art history in earlier days and was excited to see the origins of her work.

"I learned more history than I could ever learn in a classroom. It's just something that has to be experienced on its own. It was helpful to have a good tour guide in France. She explained to us the background of everything we saw." I assume the foreground required no explanations.

So, what's so different about Europe from America? What isn't different?

"It is hard to encompass Europe as a whole because each individual country and city has different customs--a different way of life," commented Garfield. "Not much was the same as America. The food was excellent--very different from American. The hotels were also different. Each was unique with either very tiny elevators or spiral staircases that you had to drag your luggage up and down. Even the bathrooms were different. Many of the bathtubs did not have showers or just had hand-held showers with no shower curtains. Every toilet flushed differently. It was always a challenge to figure out how to flush it. You either had to pull a chain, push a button, or turn a lever. Some toilets didn't have seats at all, and some were just a hole in the floor (a slight downfall). It wasn't just private bathrooms that were unique. A fee was required to use most public toilets."

But these "differences," in no way, detracted from the overall experience. Gruz claimed, "I am interested in economics, so seeing where Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in Brussels was amazing. Also, nothing could compare with being able to go up the Eiffel Tower. I took pictures of it from every angle I could to capture it in my memory."

Garfield loved it all. "It was great to visit these countries and see the wonderful artwork of some of the best artists who ever lived. I enjoyed the castles and the history of the kings and people who had lived in them. I loved the French countryside, especially the village of Mortain where we stayed."

So now that you know what you're missing out on, how can you get involved in this project?

"Come and talk to me," Haslam said. "Students can receive four hours of art, history, or French credit for participating. However, there is an academic component to the tour. Art students need to draw sketches on assigned projects, whether it be a cathedral or works by other artists. They need to keep up their portfolios. Students taking it for French credit need to keep a journal of the things they see and their reactions to those things, as well as read a French novel or two and write a reaction paper." Sounds like a perfect pitch to parents, in the assistance of payment for the tour.

Despite the required work, is it worth it to take the "Art History Tour of Europe?"

"YES! I know I'm going all over Europe when I graduate," exclaimed Jennifer Gruz. Garfield followed up with, "Yes. It was a great experience for anyone interested in history, art, politics, French, etc." And Haslam summed it up with, "It really is a life-changing experience for students to actually go to another country and see how people really are." It also sounds like a good vacation.

I'm ready, so when's the next one? February you say? See you there.