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(March 21, 2002, Gazette)

Between a rock and a great place
A learning vacation


Newfoundland and Labrador has garnered international attention through the media of literature and film. Most recently, representations of the province have been flashed before the eyes of wondering audiences through adaptations of books such as The Shipping News, Rare Birds and Random Passage. A group within the Faculty of Education hopes to offer more to these wondering minds — a learning vacation. The week-long excursion will consist of morning presentations and discussions, afternoon tours and activities and evening entertainment. The purpose is to offer a learning experience that is fun, while at the same time challenging, and discusses how Newfoundland is represented through popular media.

The idea has been in the minds of Dr. Roberta Hammett and Dr. Alice Collins for more than a year. With the success of The Shipping News, Dr. Hammett decided it was time to put the idea to work and approached others in the Faculty of Education to see who else was willing to work on such a project. She and Dr. Collins were joined by Mike Coady, Dr. Clar Doyle and Dr. Andrea Rose, and the group decided to focus on The Shipping News for the first of what they hope will be annual endeavours.

The concept is formed around the notion of culture - what does it mean to people? Dr. Clar Doyle offers that this learning vacation is “built around the concept of culture and what it means outside the institution, extending and examining the concept.” Multiple representations of Newfoundland exist in the public sphere, whether created by Newfoundlanders or by others. Dr. Alice Collins notes that “The Shipping News offers one representation of Newfoundland. We are interested in multiple texts, whether they are novels, paintings, stories, all the different ways that Newfoundland is described and experienced.”

Through the presentation and discussion of different aspects of Newfoundland culture, the group hopes to challenge uni-dimensional and simplistic images of our province.

The partnering of formal education with tourism might first seem unlikely, but this group proposes to join popular tour-travel and lecture-style presentations to promote discussion and critical thinking about representations of Newfoundland and Labrador. They envision the adventure being interactive. Part of the program involves having participants present to the group their own thoughts, images and representations of the province, near the end of the week.

Although the learning vacation seems to target people outside the province, the agenda is tempting to Newfoundlanders as well. During the mornings, there will be lectures and presentations while afternoons involve trips around St. John’s and the bay, visits to museums, art galleries, wharves and piers. In the evenings, participants will be entertained with poetry readings, recitations, plays, songs and dancing.

The program boasts traditional Newfoundland favourites such as a “kitchen party,” an official “jig’s dinner” and a pub crawl along George Street. The week is organised around theme days. For example Day 6 is titled, Weathering It All and focuses on how the climate of Newfoundland has impacted the culture, including how the locals have met the challenges of living with the weather and how it has infiltrated everyday language.

The committee is interested in hearing from faculty from other departments and disciplines who are interested in getting involved. They are talking with other groups and people in the community, as well as Tourism Newfoundland and Labrador and local businesses, and have received great enthusiasm for the idea. The Learning Vacation will run for the week of Aug. 11-17, 2002. The committee has already had people express interest, including people who have read, and some who are teaching, The Shipping News in their classrooms. For more information, see www.mun.ca/educ/shipping_nfld/index.html.