Jan Term travel experience: making the French connection in Paris and Blois

Kadia King
Photo by Dulce Rivas-Rangel

Fourteen students participated in the Jan Term course “From Paris to Loire Valley: A Sampling of French Culture”, led by professor and chair of the Department of History and Political Science Dr. Nora Doyle and adjunct professor of French Fernando Pardo. The purpose of the course was to familiarize students with several aspects of French history and culture through the immersive experience of travel.

In the days preceding departure, students participated in several class activities related to French history and culture including lectures on the Modernist movement, the Renaissance, and Surrealism. Students were also assigned Ernest Hemingway’s memoir “A Moveable Feast” and engaged in a discussion surrounding Paris’ significance to artists and writers in the early 20th century.

We chose Hemingway’s memoir of Paris for a number of reasons,” said Doyle. “First, it provides a great entry point into Paris in the 1920s, a time and place of extraordinary importance for the modernist movement in arts and literature. This was an important time period to highlight for this class, because it connects the literary and artistic history of both France and the United States. Many Americans made their homes in Paris during this time to profit from the atmosphere of innovation and from the relative absence of racial segregation that was so predominant in America at this time.”

The trip began on Jan. 10 with a four-day stay in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Students visited several notable French landmarks including the Louvre, and Notre-Dame cathedral, and the Palace of Versailles. The 284-step trek to the top of the Arc de Triomphe was the most memorable experience of the trip for senior Mallory Long. “It was amazing to see how the city sprawled out from there and many of the iconic sights like the Notre-Dame, the Champs-Élysées, and Eiffel Tower,” Long said.  

The second portion of the trip took place in Blois, a city on the Loire River two hours south of Paris. Surrounded by the châteaux of the Loire Valley, students had the opportunity to tour what were once the residences of French royalty. Other activities in Blois included a tour through a modern-day troglodyte cave home and wine sampling at a family owned vineyard.

The group returned to Paris for the final three days of the trip, staying in the neighborhood of Montparnasse, a former gathering place for starving artists.  This portion of the trip included a visit to the artistic neighborhood of Montmartre and the Sacré-Coeur basilica. The group returned to the U.S. on Jan. 20.

Throughout the trip, students were given free time to explore the cities on their own, making for the unique experience of navigating a foreign country with a language barrier. “I had a lot of memorable individual experiences,” senior Alanna Natanson said, “but the one image that I think is going to stay with me of Paris is studying a map while standing at a street corner, using the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral as a reference to figure out where we were in the city.”

After recovering from jetlag, students returned to class to discuss their experiences abroad highlighting the quality and affordability of food, debunked misconceptions about the French people, and the empowering experience of navigating the metro without a guide.

“The friendships that you form traveling with students will remain with you during your time at Salem,” senior Mara Dygert said. When asked if she would return to Paris, Dygert said there was “no doubt about it… This was my second time visiting France and I would still love to see many of the dozens of monuments and museums I haven’t been to.”

Jan Term travel courses are a highly anticipated staple in Salem’s course catalog. The 10-day French excursion was Salem’s first Jan Term travel course to Europe since 2015. The January 2016 trips to Spain and Italy were cancelled after a travel advisory was issued by the State Department in response to the November 2015 attacks in Paris, while the January 2017 trip to Austria was cancelled due to lack of interest.  Following the cancellation of a planned trip to Cuba, France was the only Jan Term travel option for the 2018 trimester. Options for 2019 have not yet been announced.

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