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Benjamin Van Maren - London, UK and Paris, France

As a Tucsonan, summer is the perfect time to go abroad and escape the incapacitating heat. This summer, I was fortunate enough to study abroad in two stupendous cities: London and Paris. I was accepted into the 6-credit University of Arizona 2014 Honors Trip, where I spent two weeks in London and two weeks and Paris immersing myself in the bountiful culture, people, and traditions "over the pond". Before I continue, I must give my utmost appreciation and thanks to the Honors College for funding much of the trip and making it a lifelong memory. I also cannot thank the UA professor on the trip, Dr. Brown, enough; her engaging, lively, and enthusiastic teaching style and personality revolutionized the experience of my classmates and myself.

The Honors Trip was brilliantly designed: each day (sans weekends) would begin with a whole-class assignment in which the entire class would travel somewhere, have an activity for a few hours, and then be given a reflective assignment. Then, small groups of three would be created, and each group would be released into the marvelous city to complete a second group assignment (and explore the city as they wish on the way).

In London, class excursions ranged from a walking tour of London proper (by a quite enthusiastic historian, mind you), a trip to the serene Stratford-upon-Avon, to an animated tour of the Tower of London. Paris was equally as magnificent, with a trip to the sublime Versailles and a tour through the historic Marais District. There was a common theme with all of these excursions: we, the class, were exposed to the city's culture and treasures from a resident's perspective. Each day was as breathtaking as the previous - I found that as I gradually created a mental map of the city, the activities still managed to surprise me thanks the city's diverse culture.

The small group assignments were spectacular because they forced us to engage ourselves in the city's culture. Each group was given the independence to roam and experience the city (and complete the group assignment along the way). One assignment, for example, was to go to Regent's Park in London, interview someone (on your own), and write a reflection of the interview. Talk about cultural immersion! There were a few assignments akin to this over the month abroad, and with each one, I learned a new perspective on life. One person said he lives in Paris and took the Eurostar to London for the weekend (the dream). Another interviewee was a barrister's assistant at the Inns of Court in London (who, surprisingly, had fabulous bright red hair, and told me about her occupational journey as a barrister's assistant). Often times, once a group assignment was finished, I would go explore an art museum, have lunch on the Seine, or simply get lost in the city and stumble upon random treasures.

What truly made the Honors Trip magical was the fact that the most enriching, cultural, and intriguing experiences happened when I was simply exploring the city (not for an assignment). For example, I purchased a Paris Museum Pass, and over the following four days, I went to roughly six museums - for free - each one legendary in its own way. I saw Rodin's famous sculptures, Rousseau's grave, a museum devoted to Marie Antoinette's imprisonment, Monet's Water Lilies, historical army garments - the list is endless. I climbed (yes, climbed!) the O2 area and went to the world's biggest flea market. I even met a Tucsonan who was living in Paris, and she showed me Paris from a Parisian's perspective.

I could not ask for anything more from studying abroad. Having spent two weeks in each location and with structured activities, I was able to get a genuine glimpse of what it's like to be a Londoner (or a Parisian). I explored my interests, tastes, and limits. Often times, I started a day with no explicit plans, and over the course of the day, I seized opportunities as they came - be it going to a market, a restaurant, or taking a double decker bus instead of the underground. In my opinion, that is the ultimate goal of the Honors Trip (or any trip abroad), to engage oneself in another culture with enough confidence and curiosity to become culturally immersed.