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January 14, 2010

ULM students experience British history up close and personal

Several University of Louisiana at Monroe students immersed themselves in English culture and history while earning academic credit over the 2009 Wintersession in December.

Dr. Monica Bontty, professor of history at ULM, escorted a group of 14 to London, including five ULM undergraduates and one graduate student. ULM alum and history instructor, Laurie Walker, organized the eight-day expedition, which ran from Dec. 14 through Dec. 22.

The London excursion makes the fourth educational student group Bontty and Walker have directed through the university and the Ancient World Association. Prior educational trips have included Egypt, Paris, and Athens, Greece.

Bontty said the trip would not have been complete without a stop at the Tower of London, famous jail of kings, queens, traitors, saints and sinners for over 900 years.

"This iconic symbol of London is a series of towers in reality and includes the Bloody Tower, where Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, killed the young King Edward V along with his younger brother," said Bontty.

After viewing the execution site, students experienced interactive displays of the prisoner's exhibition, and saw a large collection of armor belonging Henry VIII, as well as the crown jewels. Afterward, the students took a boat ride along the Thames.

Other highlights included a viewing of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the "Changing of the Guard" at Buckingham Palace, as well as a tour of St. Paul's Cathedral and the Household Cavalry Museum where students could try on royal armor.

The group also took in the beautiful city of Bath where Europeans trekked for centuries to bathe in healing waters. The mysterious Stonehenge monument and Salisbury Cathedral, which contains a copy of the Magna Carta, was also visited.

"Others toured Warwick Castle, the best maintained motte-and-bailey castle in England, and Stratford Upon Avon, the site of five historical buildings, including Shakespeare's birthplace and gardens," noted Bontty. A "motte-and-bailey" castle is one that sits on a raised earthen mound surrounded by a fence.

Several also saw Leeds Castle, covered in snow and resembling a "Winter Wonderland," according to Bontty. Canterbury Cathedral, the site of the execution of Thomas Becket, was another stop.

For certain young travelers, several who had never been out of the country before, it was the trip of a lifetime.

"There were a lot of firsts on this trip – first time on a plane, first time out of the country. I had never been out of the south until this trip," said Matt Benge of Jena, who is pursuing his master of arts in history at ULM.

"It was one of those, well, call it a soul searching odyssey … It really rounded out my studies and was the time of my life," he said.

Undergraduate history major Ashlea Sandoval of Monroe agreed.

"It was such a different cultural experience," she said. "It was interesting how diverse it was. It was eye opening to see how different people work and live and get around."

The students were taught how to use the London Underground, also known as "the Tube," an extensive network of subterranean trains that transport people throughout the city.

Seven other adults, including four people from Georgia, also went on the trip.

"I've always wanted to go," said Sandoval. "And my dad was able to go. He's a huge history buff, so that was really great to have him there."

Sandoval said the experience taught things her in a way that transcends classroom learning and takes textbook learning to a new level.

"You can learn a lot in classroom but when you are out speaking with people from that country you can grasp it a lot easier, I think, than from someone telling you about it," she said. "I think you learn a lot."

Other students traveling to London included Courtney Brown and alumni Paige and James Spillers, all of West Monroe, Ashley Sanders, Francesca Keene and Daniel Walters, all of Monroe, faculty member Roger Carpenter of Monroe, Laura Walker and Velma Kelly of Atlanta and Christine Dawson of Columbus, Ga.

Plans for the 2010 winter-session excursion to Berlin are currently in the works. Visit for more information.

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