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So successful was the inaugural course in Quebec Studies last year that a newer, expanded version will be offered this summer, extended from five weeks to eight.
Students get a chance to immerse themselves in Quebec culture and history: they'll read works by Quebec academics; visit cultural sites; hear from leading scholars in anthropology, archeology, history, political science and literary studies; and hear from cultural figures, opinion makers and public intellectuals.
The idea, said Stéphan Gervais, co-ordinator of the Quebec Studies Program, is to draw on this cultural and historical content to tackle language studies. This, Gervais said, is "our unique way of contributing to this Quebec experience."
The program has its roots in the 2005 Principal's Task Force on Student Life and Learning at McGill, which was given a mandate to investigate a number of issues affecting student life. Among them was how the university could "enrich the Quebec experience for students coming to McGill from outside the province."
The Task Force's Final Report was completed in December 2006, and offered the following recommendation: McGill should be "providing program options to students allowing them to enhance their second- language skills and learn about Quebec culture."
The people at QSP saw that as a call to action. They quickly developed an innovative summer course in 2007 that would mix second-language French instruction with a curriculum steeped in Quebec historical and cultural content. Gervais explains: "We felt that language is deeply rooted in historical and cultural knowledge, and we wanted to really make sure to link these two, and work with different themes that are key to understanding contemporary Quebec."
The program is aimed at any student who already possesses an intermediate level of French. Gervais feels the course may be particularly relevant for international students, Canadians from outside Quebec, as well as "professional students," such as law students who might be considering a practice in Quebec.
"This might play a role in the sense that it can give you a sense of what a career in Quebec might look like," says Hugh Meighen, a second-year law student who was part of last summer's inaugural class. "Something which might influence that decision is the degree to which I felt like I had roots in the province. The fact that I stayed in Quebec over the summer and learned more about the province certainly contributed to the development of those roots."
Drawn by the idea of improving his French while learning more about the province, Meighen notes how organizers "did a noble job of finding different ways to talk about Quebec," and points to "looking at some the underlying social movements, and underlying trends and changes" as a real advantage of this course over a more traditional language one.
"I think it has a lot to offer people who hear the familiar debates and the familiar questions coming from newspapers and media reports, and maybe are looking for an opportunity to delve a little deeper."
Those who want to take advantage of this opportunity should act quickly: the deadline for applications is April 25.
For more information, please visit www.mcgill.ca/summer/special/quebecstudies.