In June 2022, 10 students and two professors spent more than a month absorbing the sights, sounds, smells and tastes — le vin! le fromage! — of Paris. Rescheduled after a two-year pandemic delay, The Art of Travel combined an art class taught by Professor of Art Hollis Hammonds and a travel journalism course taught by Professor of Journalism and Digital Media Jena Heath.

Professor Jena Heath discusses art with students in Paris
Professor Hollis Hammonds discusses art with a student

The young artists and writers, most of whom did not speak French, visited the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, Versailles and Giverny. But they did more than play tourist. Their assignments challenged them to chronicle their experiences through different media including daily Instagram posts, reported essays, sketches, watercolor and collage. These creative projects helped them capture memories while adding to their professional toolkits. The following excerpts offer readers a chance to travel vicariously to the City of Light.

The Concert

Calista Robledo drawing in notebook outdoors in commons in Paris
Calista Robledo pointing to map of Paris with another student
Calista Robledo speaking with instructor Jena Heath over a computer and scrapbook

Calista Robledo ’22 made a habit of ducking into churches. Every time she passed one — which was often, in Paris — she took a few minutes to light a candle, say a prayer and marvel at her surroundings. 

The Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis church would become her favorite. Small chapels lined the sides of the nave, filled with statues of saints and paintings of biblical scenes. Robledo walked slowly toward the altar, craning her neck to gaze at the soaring ceiling. On her way out, she spotted a flyer promoting a Saturday-night concert at the church: Vivaldi, Mozart, Bach, Pachelbel. 

Robledo grew up studying ballet in her hometown of Weslaco. She loved classical music, particularly strings. She decided to go.

On Saturday evening, Robledo took a seat in the third row. The acoustics were magnificent. The musicians’ bows moved in unison, catching the light. When the vocalist sang “Ave Maria,” she directed her gaze toward the gold-crowned statue of the Virgin Mary set into an ornate reredos. Tears tugged at Robledo’s eyes. As a Catholic with a strong devotion to Mary, Robledo’s heart was overflowing. 

The assignment to post about her experience daily on Instagram made her feel a bit exposed at first, but she knew that social media was an important tool for a writer’s personal brand. She knew that travel journalists often documented their trips in blogs and videos as well as in their articles. Robledo had decided that she would join their ranks for her five weeks in Paris. She took out her phone and began to record.

From the Panhandle to Paris

Kessly Salinas and three students taking a selfie in front of Notre Dame
Kessly Salinas and two students browsing a store and touching a bag
Kessly Salinas and another student sitting and chatting with Hollis Hammonds

Over the summer, Kessly Salinas ’23 had packaged riblets at the Cargill meat processing plant in her Panhandle hometown. Her fingertips froze, even though she wore cotton gloves underneath her latex ones, but the icy air conditioning was a welcome contrast from the heat outside. The heat was what she remembered most about her childhood summers, when her family worked in the fields and she waited, sweating, in the truck. 

Friona, population 4,100, was a friendly and supportive place. Salinas had watched older kids leave for a community college or a state school within an hour’s drive and then return after graduation. Some became teachers, and others worked at the Cargill plant, the largest company in town.

As the conveyor belt flowed past, bringing endless containers of riblets that Salinas labeled and boxed, she knew her future would look different. Going to college eight hours away at St. Edward’s initially struck her family and friends as far-fetched, but she’d gotten there with the help of the College Assistance Migrant Program. 

She majored in Global Studies and imagined becoming a travel writer. 

Now that she was in Paris, she wondered: What was I thinking? She was from a small town, out of her element navigating the Métro and ordering unfamiliar foods in a language she didn’t speak. You don’t belong here, she thought, as her class explored the Saint Ouen flea market, a sprawling complex that was more upscale vintage shop than rummage sale. You should be back at Cargill, working like everyone else.

Overwhelmed by the heat and the endless array of goods, Salinas ducked into a smaller shop devoted mostly to men’s clothing. She stood alone among the wares, listening to Frank Sinatra playing in the background. As she scanned the rows of nearly identical denim shirts and camouflage jackets, a sign on a nearby table caught her eye: Place des bon garçons. Suddenly, strangely, she felt less like an impostor. I’m here with two great professors, and I’m making friends, she thought. You can find a sense of belonging anywhere. It’s up to me.

Albert Kahn to the Eiffel Tower

Andrea Cardenas writing in a notebook with another student outdoors in Paris
Andrea Cardenas and three other students looking over map of Paris with Eiffel Tower in the background
Andrea Cardenas and other students laughing over a notebook with instructor Hollis Hammonds

Albert Kahn’s photographers documented everyday moments to guard against the forgetting of entire cultures. Like Kahn, Andrea Cardenas ’23 gravitated toward the everyday sights and places of Paris.

Her classmates ribbed her for not wanting to visit the Eiffel Tower or linger on the Champs-Élysées. But in a way, she felt like she already had been there: The internet was bursting with images of Paris’ iconic sites. Cardenas wanted to explore places that were more out of the way, less commercial and closer to the everyday life of Parisians. 

She trained her attention — and her camera — on details: the dog waiting for his person to emerge from the cigarette shop. The hands of a waiter gathering a precarious tower of dishes. Two middle-aged men slumped on a couch at the Galeries Lafayette shopping center, their eyes closed — a scene re-created by countless American fathers wearily waiting for their progeny to finish at the Gap. “Dads sitting in the mall transcends culture,” Cardenas captioned the image. 

Later, when she was back home in Laredo, she would scroll through her Instagram photos and remember the moment when she took each one. The study abroad program’s emphasis on observation and documentation forced her to pay attention and form clear impressions and memories. Every night, she took time to reflect on each day’s events — including, shortly before her departure from Paris, her single visit to the Eiffel Tower. As the late-evening sun sank toward the horizon, she sat on the grass with classmates and soaked in the golden hour.

BY THE EIFFEL TOWER, she captioned the photo. The Art of Travel is the best travel experience of my life.

Article by Robyn Ross

Photography by Tim Fox

Student Sketchbook Gallery

View images from the travel journals students created on assignment and to personally document their trip.

Digital Storytelling

In Spring 2023, the School of Arts and Humanities launched a Digital Storytelling and Content Creation degree program designed to help students hone their storytelling skills in the digital space. The 30-hour major combines design, data, video, audio and writing in a cross-disciplinary approach to help students master highly marketable digital skills.