For many students attending UVM, Montreal and Canada hold a bit of mystery. Besides the fact that Canada is cold, and Canadians play hockey, most Americans know precious little about our northern neighbor located just 40 minutes north of Burlington by car. In fact, Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner and a close political ally, which also holds a richly interesting landscape and national experience.
Each fall semester, History professor David Massell (pictured lecturing at left) teaches a TAP (Teacher-Advisor Program) course for first-year students about Canada. During the course, Canada's unique geography, history, literature, and political system are explored. Then in mid-October a three-day field trip is made to Ottawa, the nation's capital, to experience Canada firsthand. The preliminary program includes meeting with Members of Parliament, listening to live debate on the floor of the House of Commons, touring the National Gallery of Art and the Museum of Civilization, attending a Minor League hockey game (Ottawa 67s), and exploring the city of Ottawa.
The group numbered about 90 students this fall. Twenty came from the TAP class, another 32 from Massell’s course in Canadian history. The remaining 38 came from UVM Professor Paul Martin's class in Canadian literature and St. Michael's College Political Science Professor Jeffrey Ayres’ course in Canadian politics.
Once the TAP students returned, they had to write a 4-6 page, “Dear Mom and Dad” letter that captured their experience: what they did, what they learned, and putting that into context to demonstrate a deeper knowledge of Canada than the average American tourist.
First-year student Rebecca Moore remembers the opportunity presented to the students to immerse themselves in Canadian culture and politics.
"We were able to actually experience Canadian politics by going to Parliament, viewing a question period in the House of Commons, and talking with Parliament Members (pictured left), instead of just learning about it through reading or in class. We were able to apply the knowledge that we acquired in class to our experiences in Ottawa, and then enhance our classes after the trip by relating back to what we learned on the trip. Our whole class really bonded during the trip as we were able to go out and spend even more time together exploring the city when we were not doing planned activities. This was great because it allowed one to meet and know more people early on during your Freshman year when you're trying to meet as many people as you can. I am still really great friends with several people who were in my class and others who went on the trip! I loved the Ottawa trip because of all of the hands-on learning and the opportunity that it provided us to better understand Canada."
Sophomore C. J. Steven Frisina II sums it up best when he wrote: "There is no experience so tangible and comprehensive as traveling to an area that you study. I truly enjoyed being immersed in the culture and politics of the capital; it allowed me not only to build and reflect on what I had studied in class, but gave me a new physical experience. Professor Massell is more than dedicated to giving his students the most well-rounded experience possible and that was reflected in his enthusiasm for hands-on experiences such as this. I think I speak for everyone when I say the visit to a cultural, political, and social epicenter of the nation helped to build an understanding of Canada that could not be acquired by simply listening to a classroom lecture. This trip heavily influenced my later decision to minor in Canadian Studies."