Targeting Our People’s Priorities with Service Inc. recently took 20 of their top students from their Dreams Require Educating and Motivating Students program to London, England, and Paris, France.
Students and chaperones traveled May 27 to June 3. Annette Dove, executive director of TOPPS, had long envisioned taking students to the City of Lights.
“With the support of many individuals of Pine Bluff, the trip was a huge success,” according to a news release from the organization.
Many students were first-time flyers, and some had only previously traveled out of the country when they went to Canada and Mexico with TOPPS, a spokesman said. The purpose of TOPPS’ international trips is to expose students to other cultures and allow them to gain the perspective of being in a new situation, a spokesman said.
Devontae Brown, who’s been a part of TOPPS for 10 years, is an incoming freshman at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
“It was definitely different,” Brown said. “The experience of actually being the foreigner and having to adjust to other cultures’ norms was an experience of itself. This was definitely a highlight of my time in TOPPS.”
The students departed TOPPS, headquartered at the Big Rec, May 27, traveling to the airport in Dallas, Texas.
Chandler Wilson, class 2017 salutatorian from Watson Chapel High School, was among the students.
“I didn’t tell Mr. Mike (Dove), the director of programs at TOPPS Inc., it was my first time flying. I was just going to go with it, but I was nervous about the upcoming flight,” said Wilson, who will also attend UAPB.
After everyone successfully got through the Transportation Security Administration at the airport, it was time to exchange currency and prepare for the flight.
“It’s not a good feeling when you give dollars away and receive much less in pounds and Euros,” Rodney Tinzie, an incoming STEM student at UAPB, said about the currency exchange.
The students boarded the plane and soon realized they’d be sitting by strangers, but many struck up conversations with their neighbors while watching movies.
At London, the students loaded the bus to travel to their hotel.
“The first thing I noticed was the charter bus was on the other side (of the street.) Immediately, I realized we weren’t in America anymore,” said Riana Robinson, who’s headed to UAPB on a cheerleading scholarship. “It’s an adjustment even riding as a passenger. It’s just not what we’re used to. Although you see it on TV, it’s still different experiencing it.”
Brianna Allen is an honor graduate from Dollarway High School.
“When we arrived at the Waterloo Park Plaza Hotel, it was extremely modern, but mostly everything appeared to be the same as in America, except the TV channels,” Allen said. “The first day out in London, we went sightseeing. We traveled to the London Eye, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and much more. A lot of things we saw in the movies and in books were actually there.”
Crystal Barnes, an upcoming senior in DREAMS, said her favorite place in London was Buckingham Palace.
“Queen Elizabeth wasn’t there that day, but it was still amazing seeing the palace in person,” she said. “The next day was spent venturing around town, and we participated on the Jack the Ripper Tour, where we had the chance to travel the same streets that his notorious crimes took place.”
The students spent three-and-a-half days in London before traveling to Paris for three-and-a-half days.
In Paris, the students traveled to The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, and ended the week at Disneyland Paris. The students also experienced culturally influenced restaurants and stores.
Kayla Kirklin was the salutatorian at Dollarway High School.
“I liked Paris a lot, but the hardest adjustment was the language barrier,” Kirklin said. “It was definitely a major adjustment from London to Paris for all of us.”
A spokesman said that TOPPS thanks all supporters for their efforts.
“Without the numerous of donations, prayers and volunteers, this trip would not have been possible. TOPPS Board of Directors, Annette Dove, TOPPS staff and volunteers would like to send a special thanks to our parents for trusting us with their child’s safety, out of the country, for a week. To the many donors who support us through the many fundraising efforts and The Pine Bluff Commercial for announcing our fundraising activities, Mr. and Mrs. Roland Watley, who served as sponsors and chaperones, and to Nick Kristoff with The New York Times articles on December 3, 2016, highlighting TOPPS, Thank you.”