Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cirque Du Soleil

       As the grand finale of the semester, we saw the Cirque Du Soleil show Totem. I don't think that I have ever witnessed a more imaginative performance. The show began with a person dressed in a sparkling suit (a human disco ball) descending from the ceiling into the midst of other performers on a giant turtle shell frame. Later, this same performer twirled while dangling from the ceiling once again. A giant blue laser was shot at him, causing dazzling light to play around the inside of the tent.


        At one point in the show, a group of performers marched out onto the stage dressed in science fiction helms and suits that glowed under black light. They launched each other into the air using giant bamboo springboards. This was by far one of the most tense acts of the show as it seemed that the performers were just barely able to stop themselves once they had built up momentum.


        My favorite performance was the interaction between two trapeze artists. They dangled together from the ceiling, sharing a single hanging rod for support. Their choreography utilized each other's bodies as props. They spun and caught each other just before falls and were constantly in motion and fluidly shifting. In my mind the most incredible aspect of this was that they were telling a love story through their physical motion.


        From what I heard after the show, a lot of other students found that their favorite performance was also the most emotionally charged. It was certainly one of the most unusual as well. It involved a man and a woman roller skating on a small circular platform. This act almost seems physically impossible, but the two performers told an intimate love story by twirling and circling each other atop this tiny platform. The man often lifted the woman from the ground to carry her during the high speed spins. The performance carried with it an air of intensity as the woman appeared to be in constant danger of having her head dashed against the ground, but the man always saved her at the last second.
        Performances that truly tied Totem together for me were the ones that focused on first nations themes. There were several in which a first nations performer danced on the stage to first nations folk music. He used painted wooden rings to create instantly transforming sculptures that were both abstract and symbolic of different animals.


        Shortly after the show began, I realized how technically impressive the performance was. The stage was capable of many movement necessary to reveal different props. Props would often descend from the ceiling for performers to use. Specific parts of the stage were also fully articulated, allowing for transformations that allowed this part of the stage to curl back on itself, slide forward and backward, and raise and lower. The music for Totem was truly unbelievable. It was all live music. It became quickly apparent why the show would have been impossible without live music. Much of the music reacted to the performance, with beats being in-sync with actions on stage. In addition, the first nations folk music was also fantastic. Having seen Totem, I can certainly say that I have never seen anything like it before and could not have asked for a better grand finale to an incredible semester abroad!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Historical Walk Through the Old City

In the two semesters that I have spent in Montreal, I have been able to experience many of the different liberal arts classes that Champlain has to offer. All of my liberal arts classes in Montreal have been great experiences, but there is one that stands out among the rest; Human Rights and Responsibilities, taught by Jim Manson. This was a class with a global scope. We were tasked with researching and exploring the topic of human rights throughout the history of the whole world. And yet, in spite of this lofty scope, professor Manson always found a way to relate the content of the course back to the historical development of Montreal, information that was most relevant to the culture in which we were living and our current study abroad experiences. The course culminated in a historic tour of the old city.

To begin, we all walked down to Le Champ-De-Mars, an old military parade ground. At  Le Champ-De-Mars, the remnants of the defensive wall that served as the city's fortifications is still visible.  Le Champ-De-Mars was also the location at which capital punishment was given to criminal citizens in the form of hangings. It was a wide-open park, clearly able to accommodate thousands people at once. 

 The remnants of the old wall can be seen in the background

Next, we walked closer to the port, passing three flags flying side-by-side along the way and Nelson's Column, and entered Place Jaques-Cartier. At the top of the square is the City Hall, and at the bottom, the old port.

Next we stopped at the Place d'Youville to view the Pioneer's Obelisk. It is a tall structure, bearing the names of Montreal's founders.

The short walk to our final destination brought us up several of the winding and cobble-stoned streets of the old city. We arrived in the Place d'Armes beside the great Notre Dame Basilica. 


The Place d'Armes is bordered on all sides by incredible architecture of many different styles. One building, a post modern structure stands on the left side of the Place d'Armes. On the other side, the Aldred Building stands in the art deco style. 

The Place d'Armes represents a blending of many different historical periods in Montreal's development.

Our Final Get-Together

This semester has been an incredible experience for many of us. It is Montreal campus tradition to have one last get together with all of the students. It was decided that we would all meet up at Chez Cora for brunch. Genevieve, Stefi, Wesnide, and Jim Manson joined us; all people who have made our semester abroad a positive and memorable experience. 

Many of us ordered elaborate crepes. They were adorned with delicious fruit and chocolate sauces. 

I enjoyed a refreshing banana-strawberry smoothy. The meal was very enjoyable and was accompanied by laughter and excited conversation. Although the outing was really fun and relaxing in lite of our busy end-of year studies, it held a feeling akin to a last family reunion. 

I don't doubt that all of us will miss the other members of this “Montreal family” until we meet again.

Photos provided by Stefi Brazzeal

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Technology and Development: A Collaborative Experience

As our courses are beginning to wind down for the semester, I’ve had the opportunity to look back on one of my courses this semester; Global Studies I: Technology and Development. This course was unique for me because, unlike the class back on the Burlington campus, it was a collaborative experience between the Montreal and Dublin campuses. The mix of different experiences and perspectives among the students at both campuses is what made the class compelling. For one of my projects in this class, we were encouraged to interview a business owner in our abroad city and compare their experience with the effects of globalism.
Recently in this class, we completed our global module. The global module unit of our courses involves us opening a constructive discussion between Champlain students and students in another country. In my technology and development class, however, we opened a discussion between the two abroad campuses. I was able to share my perspective on the intrusion of international business into historic townships based on my trip to Quebec City. Interacting with the people of Montreal while sharing my thoughts with other students on the other side of the Atlantic has been a truly interesting experience.
The Dublin students had the opportunity to travel to many different countries in Europe while us Montreal students primarily remained within Canada for our travels. It is interesting however, that in our global module studies, we arrive at similar conclusions. I noticed that Montreal was a highly modernized city with many global connections. When I visited Quebec city, I was startled to find a McDonalds, most likely because Quebec city feels like a much older city. Dublin students had a similar experience. While living in Dublin and visiting London, many of them found that these cities had been highly globalized, with fast food chains all over. When they visited countries like Greece, however, they found less corporate influence, but just as much connectedness. One Champlain Abroad student even found that the son of a local shop owner was applying to a college in her home town.

Studying in Montreal has certainly made me more appreciative of multicultural and globally connected communities. Every part of Montreal feels unique and yet not isolated. I can truly say that the global modules have shown me that there are tons of communities as diverse and connected as Montreal all over the world.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chillin' With Traditional Games

Throughout my time in Montreal, I have had the opportunity to find unique ways of spending time with my friends. This has been especially important during the winter months. Many of us have similar interests and love to play board games and card games. Because Montreal is such a diverse city, there are many small hobby shops where our favorite games are played. We have paid several visits to stores all over the city. Some of our favorites are Le Valet D'Coeur and Carta Magica. It's very rewarding to go and play games at these locations because it allows us to interact with the French speaking population in a unique way. 

 On our first trip to Carta Magica, Dustin played in a World of Warcraft Trading Card Game tournament

 Bryan plays Magic: The Gathering against a Québécois acquaintance

Bryan actually went on to win the tournament, taking home some incredible prizes

These games allow us to bridge any language barriers because the mechanics of the games are universally understood. In addition, the communities surrounding these games are generally very tight-knit yet open and it is very easy to get involved once you demonstrate an interest in the same subject matter.

Within our apartments, we love playing large board games that span several days. It gives us an excuse to meet and share time regularly. We relax and play and share time with one another. Our favorite games seem to be space empire building games that require a ton of strategic planning and politics. 

 You can almost feel the mind-numbing complexity

We enjoy these games so much that back-room dealings often become a part of the strategy as agreements and truces are called with our allies without the knowledge of the rest of the players. 

An uneasy intragalactic truce exists between these two leaders

 Warm smiles belie cunning political strategy

As the end-of-year workload begins to increase, I'm sure that we will switch to smaller games that offer brief, yet relaxing breaks from our course work.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Our International Potluck

On Friday, Champlain students organized and participated in an international potluck dinner. The event was organized by Kim Dall'Ava, a hospitality major. We all chose two dishes to prepare per apartment with the knowledge that it would be enjoyed by a culturally diverse group of people. Everyone's friends were invited and it was a very open event. Several Champlain students have international roommates and were encouraged to bring them along. The dinner had an impressive level of participation. We were joined by many international students and even some visitors from Burlington. There were students from France, Nepal, Tunisia, and other interesting places.

Having a good time with our international friends

The variety of food was incredible. There were many interesting dishes, some of them culturally specific, like vegetables in curry sauce. My apartment brought homemade chili and spaghetti in red sauce. 

A diverse variety of dishes

I was happy to learn that the chili was a new food experience for several of the international students. Overall, everyone enjoyed trying the different dishes and meeting new and interesting people.

Photos Courtesy of Kim Dall'Ava

Friday, February 19, 2010

Quebec City!

This past weekend I went on the trip up to Quebec city. It was an incredible and diverse experience. I don't think that I've ever had the opportunity to participate in so many new experiences at once before. We had a comfortable bus ride up to Quebec on Friday morning and checked into our hotel.

 We arrive!

The hotel was inside the walls of the old city. The old city was built on a hill with defensible walls. It reminded me very much of Montreal's old city, with stone buildings and tight winding streets.

 The old city

Immediately, it was very clear that we were further north; Quebec city was noticeably colder than Montreal.

 You know it's cold when the signs are made out of ice

The hotel was quite nice and our experience was complemented by a beautiful view from our window of the old city. 

Château Frontenac from our window

Our first exciting experience took place at a local bistro. The restaurant's diverse selection of pizza's set it apart from others that I have been to. With an adventurous spirit I ordered their Cajun alligator pizza. It had a unique flavor and was very interesting; I'm glad I tried it.

  Alligator Pizza. . . .Yum!

Saturday began with a trip to the ice hotel. The Hôtel de Glace is literally constructed completely out of ice. 

 Inside the ice hotel

The furniture is also ice. Each room in the hotel has standard accommodations; beds, chairs, and nightstands (in ice of course). The hotel had an ice bar where patrons could order drinks served in ice cups. 

  Enjoying the comfort of an ice chair

High fiving an ice bear!

Later we visited the Quebec Winter Carnival. There were tons of activities for all of the visitors excited to be out celebrating in the cold weather. We all grouped up at one point to ride a giant raft down a snowy hill. In the cold air it was exhilarating. 

Ice castle at the carnaval

On Sunday, we visited the Château Frontenac. It is a historic hotel and cultural center in the Quebec old  city. We were given a private tour by a guide dressed in early 20th century attire. By the end of the day, we were all exhausted from our weekend of adventure. I will always remember my exciting visit to Quebec City and I hope to return in the future. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dim Sum!

        I have come to realize, after spending more than a semester studying in Montreal, that the Champlain Abroad community resembles a family. The number of students studying abroad and distance we are from home allows us to learn more about each other than we would have had the opportunity to otherwise. Because we are such a tight-knit community, we love spending time together as a group. A  gathering that allows us to partake in new cultural experiences as a group is a truly special event; naturally we were all excited when the Montreal faculty announced that they would be taking us out to have dim sum at Kam Fung, a small restaurant tucked in the corner of a local commercial complex.

Dim sum is a variety of southern Chinese food. The term really describes more of an experience than a type of food. All of the food is different and served in small portions periodically throughout the meal. Chinese tea is also an important component of the meal.
        We all sat down at a huge table and were almost immediately served. Dim sum is served from carts on individual plates or in steamer baskets that servers push through the restaurant. Each cart has a different variety of food on it and they push it up to a table and state in several different languages what is on it. If the people at the table are interested in a specific item, they are served the plate, generally containing between three and five small servings of that particular food. The speed and volume at which this occurs makes dim sum outings interesting experiences.

        Dim sum certainly requires an adventurous spirit. It can be difficult to discern what each food item is made of until tasting it. Many of the various items were completely new to us. It was clear that everyone in our group was excited to try these new and diverse foods as we eagerly passed the plates of food to our friends after discovering how delicious they were. Dim sum is always a positive bonding experience and I'm sure that we all look forward to going again at some point during the semester.

Photos provided by Josh Terry and Chris Ferguson

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Visiting the Bodies Exhibition

This first week of classes has been a whirlwind of incredible experiences. Meeting all of my new teachers has been very exciting and I'm looking forward to working with them. I was pleasantly surprised by one of the activities that I had the opportunity to participate in. For my Communication and Ethics class, we visited the Bodies exhibit. If this experience was any indication, the rest of the semester is going to be an incredible journey.

The purpose of the Bodies exhibition is to “inform, empower, fascinate and inspire the visitor” (Bodies pamphlet). The medical professionals and scientists behind this exhibition have created an impressive experience. The complexity of the human body is showcased through the use of real specimens. These are preserved through a “plastination” process. In other words, the specimens are essentially rubberized. As strange or alien as this may sound, seeing the specimens in person is powerful. The many biological systems of the human body are displayed both collectively in everyday poses that we can relate to and also in more isolated presentations. Several specimens were in sports activity poses to illustrate the complexity of the muscular system. In my favorite part of the exhibition, the circulatory and respiratory systems were individually shown. The manner in which they were presented, however, was truly striking. Branching and colorful blood vessels appeared as otherworldly flowers on the black background of the surrounding room.

While the beauty of the human body's systems was certainly apparent in the exhibit, it was by no means the only main theme. A major theme that I picked up on was the vast importance of the individual parts of a body to the body as a whole. The exhibition educates, achieves change, and improves its visitors by demonstrating the effects of smoking. Seeing actual smoke damaged lungs is powerful encounter when presented alongside the organs and bodily systems that rely on them. Through this aspect of the exhibit, we learn the ways in which our bodies are robustly engineered and strong systems, but also the ways in which they are fragile when not cared for properly.

It was not hard for me to draw connections between this exhibit and my actual field of study in electronic games. Much like the human body, a production team is a complex system composed of several smaller systems. When one of them is not properly cared for, the health of the team as a whole is at risk of being compromised. This can be as literal as the actual physical condition of a team member, or as metaphorical as the social interactions between one team member and the rest of the team. Every part of a team must be in equilibrium with its other parts for it to succeed.

Of course, we visited the Bodies exhibit in my Communication and Ethics class for a reason. We were beginning an exploration of ethical issues and how they relate to commercial entities. Bodies is a great place to start on this discussion because there has been some controversy surrounding it since its creation and it can therefore serve a microcosm for other industries. I look forward to more incredible activities and learning experiences this semester and can't wait to further explore the lessons learned from this one.


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