DENTON (UNT), Texas — University of North Texas professor Peter Johnstone went on his first trip to another country at age 8, when he traveled from his native London to Lourdes, France, with other students from his Catholic school. He loved experiencing another culture so much that he went on the same trip the following year and, at age 13, went on a school trip to the Soviet Union. Many other trips later, Johnstone met his Parisian wife, Christine Pincemin, when both were on a study abroad trip.
“Travel is the very best way for people to understand each other, even if they already speak the same language. Each nation’s culture is so different,” he said.
When Johnstone became a faculty member in UNT’s Department of Criminal Justice in 2008, he was committed to developing study abroad opportunities for students at the lowest possible cost for them.
This November 14-21, he will take seven students to Rennes — the third largest city in France and seat of government for the Brittany province — to experience firsthand the history of crime and punishment in the city and surrounding areas from the 13th century to the present. The trip is part of Johnstone’s Criminal Justice 4860, Special Topics course.
The students will tour sites of pillories, executions and crime scenes; visit Tournelle criminal court, created in 1575 and currently located with the Parliament of Brittany buildings; and visit former courts located in the center of Rennes, medieval churches and former monasteries, which housed accused criminals and served as places for ad hoc buildings until Tournelle was created.
The students also will attend lectures at the University of Rennes 2, one of four campuses in the Academy of Rennes, and will have time to socialize with Rennes 2 students.
Before the end of the week, each UNT student will complete a research paper proposal from one of the topics they will study in Rennes. Students will finish the paper by the end of the fall semester.
Johnstone, who travels overseas with and without students six or more times a year, said travel is the best education students can receive.
“Our travel experiences and the sights, the smells and the sounds are printed on our memories,” he said.
Senior criminal justice major Judah Mangrum, from the small town of Tom Bean in Grayson County, has never gone overseas before. He said he signed up for the Rennes trip to compare the U.S. law enforcement system with the system in France.
“While the U.S. system is influenced by the French system, French juries function with either one or multiple judges,” he said. “France also has some of the worst prisons in the world in terms of being poorly kept, and the suicide rate in French prisons is very high.”
Mangrum said he’s also curious to learn about “what it is to be a French citizen” while in Rennes.
“Our world view tends to be so tiny. I want to see a broader view,” he said.
Criminal justice major Lenette Rubio, who plans to attend law school after receiving her degree in December, said she wants to study different criminal procedure in Rennes.
“I want to experience what it’s like to approach a murder in a different country and to learn how much forensic science has advanced and how much criminal procedure has changed over centuries,” said Rubio, who plans to become a criminal defense attorney.
Johnstone will take another group of students to Rennes and also to London March 11-20. In addition to touring sites of crimes and punishments in Rennes, the students will “explore the dark and bizarre side of the old city of London,” according to Johnstone. The sites will include the location of Sweeney Todd’s infamous barber shop, the Newgate Gaol from which criminals departed for execution at Tyburn and the site of the first attack of the London Monster, who targeted wealthy women a century before Jack the Ripper.