Posted by: Jennifer Britton (professor and fearless leader!)
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
We travel abroad to see different places and people, to experience and learn from our world’s diversity and share commonalities in the human condition. But how can we teach travel? Of all the pedagogical experiences in a professor’s repertoire, study abroad can be one of the most challenging and rewarding. This summer for eight filled to the brim days I led six Montana State University Environmental Horticulture and Plant Sciences students on a study abroad to Montréal, Québec. A short plane ride but a world away from Bozeman, Montana we explored our North American neighbors unique French-Anglo cultural, horticultural, design and undeniably charming joie de vivre!
We lodged in McGill University’s New Residence Hall dorms, a perfect central downtown location and comfortable too. A busy venue at the peak festival season the lobby had a steady flow of Canadian’s coming for a multitude of events. On any given day the ménage was an eclectic mix of scout troopers and people with body tattoos, sometimes both! McGill’s food services provided us with lunches and a dinner making food logistics easy and tasty. Students commented often their surprise and pleasure of the food quality both at the dorms and in general around town- there was much fresh and healthy food to be found.
In a constant flow of observation and conversation we saw, heard, and tasted the culture; and true to the non-vehicular urban experience we walked, biked, and rode the metro to gardens, parks, and open air markets. Lectures, topics, and tours in horticulture and landscape design provided students with historical and contemporary Québec knowledge. Lessons provided an opportunity for depth in experience with four main learning objectives: cultural, plant, park observations and blogging.
During the trip students were required to seek a new experience beyond our time in class together. Allowed the opportunity to try something new and unique in Montréal their cultural experience could take many forms: food, music, theatre, art or historical museum, architecture, or shopping. Shared in a written and visual exposition students described their unique cultural exploration and phenomenological experience of who, what, where, when, why their exploration felt “very Montreal” and what they took away from the experience. The general parting sentiment and noticeable theme was the description of Montréal as a place weaving “the old with the new,” an irresistible balance of history with contemporary life.
Students also kept a journal and travel sketchbook entry for everyday on the trip and constructed a camera obscura (an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen) to help them in their sketching ability. This project had two parts: first to build an individual camera obscura with the supplied material and second to use the camera at their discretion to sketch the landscape.
To engage their exploration of the Montreal Botanical Garden in active learning, students researched the flora on display to discover which, if any plants might also thrive in Bozeman, Montana. Suffice it to say, not many woodies! Although Montreal is a Zone 4 the less fickle spring and neutral to acidic pH lends itself to a wider planting palette. Just look at those Maples! Students also explored the garden with a specific focus area of how plant and place come together to make unique landscapes and to understand the concept and benefits of botanical gardens.
Parks also abound in Montréal, again what’s not to love? But the unquestionable jewel crowning Montréal is Mont Royal designed by Frederick Law Olmsted the landscape architect of New York’s Central Park and a multitude of other landscapes in North America. To engage students with the sense of place, they created “leave no trace” earth art with documentation. I admit I gave very implicit instruction on this assignment: NO digging, cutting or any other activity which may be construed as a legal offense! In the end my hesitation was unfounded, as the two student groups illustrated their sensitive character in ephemeral engagement between themselves and the environment, capturing the spirit and genus loci.
Finally to share the students experience with family and friends, and as a record of our travel together, we blogged daily with a student assigned to each day. Students were responsible to record the events complete with photos, sketches or any items that might share the class experience. The blog was their postcard home. If you would like to read more about our trip and activity see the posts below.
In my final reflection as teacher and traveler I can say yes the class rubric integrated theoretical knowledge and technical skill, but most important I believe our time in Montréal instilled a joy of travel through an experience free of fear and judgment. Not an easy task in a time when the U.S. State Department issued an unprecedented worldwide security warning (literally the night before our class began) and yet, for my first study abroad program to Québec I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable and playful group of students. They embraced the Québécois culture, sharing in my passion for this beautiful place, with open and easy-going exchange. They represented themselves, Montana State University and the United States as fun-loving, open, and thoughtful individuals. Most important they left people with a smile! Upon student’s feedback, I look forward to continuing and even expanding this program for the Summer 2015 by including Québec City and the agrarian Île d’Orléans. À bientôt, see you soon, Québec!
Photo’s of our trip…
Montréal has some seriously great street art!
Mosaicultures Internationales Montréal “The Man Who Planted Trees” Is this just not perfect for us?
One for our MSU bee folks!
Japanese Garden- a favorite.
Chinese Garden- also wonderful especially with a cup of Jasmine Tea.
First People’s Garden- tobacco.
Classic full perennial garden.
Away from the crowds and under a gorgeous Maple!
Random “tree house” artwork engaging trees…
and Miss. Elisa.
Across the street Schwartz’s smoked meats.
In Mont Royal…
and then the big kids played!
And now to eat!
feel the love?
Well, how about a little fashion…
Our week flew by! Last night out on the town…
Just have to go to a Jazz supper club if you want to say you experienced Montréal!
What a great trip!
Posted by: Patrick Heslin
I woke up this morning to grey skies that threatened for sure rain, this did not look promising for our long anticipated bike ride planned for today. After a short walk through old Montreal revisiting for the first time since day one, we arrived to the bike shop on the riverfront anxious to gear up and jump on a bike to start on our way. The bike shop was in what seemed to be an extremely old and small building filled with bikes hung on every inch of the wall. Jennifer quickly shut down any thought of Kyle’s and my dream of cruising on a tandem bike today, but the nice man working at the shop hooked us up with some great cruisers, accompanied with matching helmets and fanny packs tightly secured to the handle bars…we looked really cool. We started off on the bike trail through the city along side the river, and after a few confusing street crossings and detours we found our bike path that would take us on a scenic and relaxing loop. The weather turned out to be perfect, overcast skies and a slight breeze while cruising on the bike made the heat and humidity quite pleasant compared to my expectations of pouring rain and wind that would have turned this into “not such a relaxing day” which it was supposed to be.
The bike path was very well constructed and maintained with painted lanes on the smooth asphalt that provided for a smooth ride, along side the path were beautiful old trees and simple but nicely maintained landscapes, I was impressed. Seeing the city via bike path gave me a whole new perspective of Montreal. There were many people using this path for their daily commute and many others for their daily exercise and recreation. We biked along the river where old textile mills had been converted into apartments and office buildings, while looking very modern, but staying true to their original architecture. We looped through a sculpture park which had many large works of art that continued to catch our eye on the bike ride. We stopped for lunch underneath a large canopy of trees by the river, and watched some locals paddle board. After lunch the group started our way back towards the bike rental shop to end our perfect ride on this perfect day.
After the bike ride we dispersed and I went back and took an incredible nap, (not exaggerating) it was one of my best. After we regrouped later that night in the lobby we made our way to china town for cheap but delicious steamed buns. We then walked around and experienced a little bit of Montreal’s nightlife it was a perfect way to end this perfect day. The night came to an end when we tried entering a “bumping” club when a 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide bouncer said we “needed reservations” after cracking his neck. Although his obvious disapproval of us was somewhat hurtful, it was probably for the best.
Posted by: Breanna Leake
An overview of LUFA Farms. After a short metro ride and a long meander through an industrial part of Montreal, we visited the rooftop garden built and operated by the LUFA farm organization. Almost hidden, the greenhouse is easy to miss from the exterior, located above conventional office buildings. The concept for the LUFA farm is simple, but powerful. Instead of clearing forest ecosystems for agricultural use in rural areas, they aim to place farms directly in the middle of large cities on the rooftops of pre-existing buildings in order to feed ever-expanding urban populations. By aiming for sustainable living in an urban setting, these forward-thinking entrepreneurs hope to start a trend that will spread across Canada and into other industrialized nations.
The LUFA farm strives for sustainability in all aspects of its enterprise. Their daily operations use 50% less energy than a conventional greenhouse of comparable size and they recirculate both city water and collect rainwater for irrigation. A wide variety of crops are grown through a hydroponic system with peat moss used for anchorage of the root system, including bell peppers, 9 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant (seasonally), lettuce, spinach, herbs, and other leafy greens. For an average starting price of $30 for a basic package, the LUFA farm will deliver a box of fresh vegetables to one of nearly 100 drop-off points throughout the island of Montreal. The crops are harvested ripe the morning before delivery and the box can be upgraded with add-ins such as fresh-baked bread, honey, jams, coffee, and a variety of other produce from their partner distributors. Although the methodology inherent in the water nutrient/recirculation process makes them ineligible for organic certification, the LUFA farms minimize their environmental impact through the absence of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides. Additionally, a large portion of the organic waste is sent to compost, with the hopes for expansion in the future.
Overall, the tour of the LUFA greenhouse leaves the visitor with a sense of hope for a sustainable future and continual innovation in an expanding world. “LUFA” is no acronym – the farm was named for the Vietnamese “Luffa” squash, well-known for its fibrous texture used as sponges, but also for its versatility as a tool, food, and even medicinal uses. The greenhouse seeks to reflect its namesake and establish a multi-purpose space for both business and sustainable nutrition.
A wide array of vegetables and herbs are grown on the rooftop gardens of the LUFA farms.
Our tour guide in between rows of hydroponic, rooftop-grown vegetables
“You Made This Happen” – written in the cement at the top of the staircase.
Translation: “Our vision is of a city of rooftop farms”
Posted by: Rob Bourne
Today Pat and I continued the with the “GREAT berry earth art” experiment. This turned out to morph into more of a disaster as time went by but the final product turned out as planned so with failure and mostly embarrassment came a small success. Thus ending our short lived earth art careers for now.
I was able to break out my skateboard on this beautiful day and make some much needed arcs and a few slides to start off the morning in style. We met for the main event and traveled to the open market place called the Marche jean-talon which was officially revived in 1993 and is open daily for produce, breads, cheeses, fish, meats, crapes, coffee and other such items one would expect to find at a typical farmers markets. Surprisingly enough this market focused more on the food which was fantastic. This market was packed with local families shopping for their weekly needs. We appeared to be 7 of very few non-locals. While doing some quick sketches many locals came up and talked with us in curiosity into what we were doing which added to the dynamic of the experience.
Jennifer’s quick sketches in the market was an exercise to loosen us as a group up. They were no longer than a 1 minute of a random item of her choice and it was “quick and dirty”. This was great because we all come from fairly different backgrounds and styles and it forced us as a group to produce something quickly in a public setting. We went as a group through most of the market stopping at random for a quick sketch that ended as quickly as it started. It was really exciting and fun.
We went to the Montreal museum of fine arts in the afternoon where we enjoyed many exhibits for free. Something that the U.S museums could learn from by making it more easily accessible for people to interact with great art work. We continued with the quick sketches throughout the drastically different exhibits and picked a piece that spoke to each of us and had about 5 minutes to get a good drawing or drawings done before moving on to a different floor of the museum. This was great after we had all loosened up at the market and where ready to put pencil to paper (no pens allowed in the museum…news to me).
A large Chihuly exhibit was the main attraction (had to pay to see this one). Massive amount of great glass works varying form bowls to trees and a great celling exhibit where you would lie down and observe a clear glass ceiling with many different pieces arranged and overlapping each other. The great part about this portion was the interaction with others trying to lay on the mats in turn so you ended up laying down next to random people but it didn’t matter and certainly wasn’t awkward (at least for me) because the exhibit was so profound that you were so focused people kept bumping into each other in stunned observation.
Earth art project
We Choice to focus on the natural movement of earth and stone that initially created the park and the formation of the area through time.
Brianna, Pat, and I (Rob) set up at a main entrance of the mt royal park by the large pound. We set up on a fairly good size rock and placed the small amount of berries we collected in the cracks and pits in the rock. We added some charcoal to bring out the contrasting colors. We were successful in displaying our concept but wanted to expand so unfortunately we took the berries with us for the next set up.
Pat and I were initially very excited about expanding this idea to a larger scale and headed out early the next morning with the excitement of children at Christmas. We walked quickly to the nearest park and found more of the similar berries and about 50 feet from those berries a good rock with lots of character on the side of the trail was available for construction. We began with excitement and joy. After about two minutes three middle age women walkers came by and asked us with amazed looks on their faces “Are you guys trying to grow something?”… We told them we were studying earth art for a class we and needed to create and document a piece for class later that day. The woman responded “how many people have asked you what you are doing here?” Pat responded “You are first of many I’m sure” with a chuckle they went along up the trail leaving us questionable of our concept and of any artistic ability we may have possessed.
We pressed on a little less confident than before. The next who passed was a man with knee high socks who slowed his pace but had no earthly business commenting based on his outrageous walking outfit. We pressed on as more passed, more odd stares and weird looks weighted heavily on us.
I could barely contain my laughter as more passed.
The final straw was about 10- 12 minutes after our initial set up on the site an older man came over and was staring at use with wonder. I spoke and said “how’s it going” no response and he looked straight up to the tree tops as if wondering where these berries came from he took two more steps forward then retreated back from where he came from with a look of disapproval. As three more people came walking down the path in the distance we bailed on any further attempts to document this apparent failure.
It’s truly a shame that we were disheartened by the views of others in our attempts to stretch our concept. This was a completely different experience from trial 1 where we were not bothered at least we thought. Overall this was a great experience and I will remember it fondly as I continue my higher educational pursuits.
Posted By: Kyle Anderson
Today over breakfast we were engaged with an astonishing lesson of the history of green-spaces placed intricately throughout the cities of the world. Grasping the idea that our wonderful city parks were based off the early forms of our cemeteries proved challenging at first. The romantic perceptions that are involved in creating a quintessential area for our deceased to lay at ease followed the nature, art and adornment, melancholy, national identity, and a didactic approach to reinforce the gratitude that we have for our loved ones. Frederick Law Olmstead, after many jobs and travels around the world, was able to grasp the design concepts to create a space that appealed to the public. Olmstead provided the U.S. and several other countries, including Canada, the gift of city parks. Central Park in NYC is one of his greatest accomplishments, but in Montreal, Mont. Royal is a spectacle worth viewing. Our group packed up and hit the streets towards Mount. Royal.
Arrival at the base of the Mount. Royal showed us the importance of a green area in a city. After viewing skyscrapers and endless concrete, the dense forest and untamed rock expressed the contrast that Olmstead sought after. We climbed the steps up the mountain viewing the various activities and relationships that were very different from the city just steps behind us. Arriving at the pavilion atop Mount. Royal we were astonished by the city scape before us. A short tour of the Smith House lets us understand the gravity that this green space has in the city of Montreal. A break for lunch in the park is well needed after a sweltering hike up. We then make our way around the pond that offers excellent recreational activities, both during the summer and winter. Our group then gravitates towards the children’s playground and the kid in all of us comes out, playing on various bouldering rocks and swings. We then split into two groups to find art in nature. Assigned with the task to establish a form of art with nature, our groups collect various pieces of plant matter and natural elements to create an image in nature.
After a long day in the park our group reconnects to head out for dinner. Tonight we were able to try a magnificent Venezuelan meal in a busy and cultured part of Montreal. Various flavors and combinations of meals were tasted as well as several flavors of tropical fruit juices. A walk down a street popping with color and life capped a day of exploration of all the different corners that a city can offer.
“Take it or Leaf it.” Earth art by Group B.
A whimsical representation of our movement around Mount Royal
Posted by: Elisa Boyd
We started the day with breakfast at our residence and then preceded to take the metro to the botanical gardens. Everyone was enthralled with what the gardens had to offer. There were 48 different mosaicultures (sculptures covered in plant material) all with environmental themes. The concept for many of the sculptures were true stories and myths, each presented by different countries. This display is international and each year it is hosted by a different country. We were so lucky that our trip coincided with the display. The exhibit was expertly weaved through the many themed gardens.
On our way to the Japanese garden we passed a lemur family, the man who planted trees with horses and sheep at his sides, frogs, a loyal dog, and a girl hugging a crane with many cranes surrounding her along with many other mosaicultures. Upon arrival at the Japanese garden we had a chance to try out our camera obscura and sketch the landscape which was lush with plants, a cascading waterfall, and a pond. Lunch was enjoyed and then the group split up to enjoy the rest of the gardens.
Jennifer and I got separated from the group and found ourselves going through a forest seeing “spirits of the forest” mosaicultures. One sculpture was a mare and foal made from drift wood standing in a meadow of flowers. Thinking the displays couldn’t get much better we left the forest into a clearing where a two story mother earth erupted out of the ground. The scale and beauty was breathtaking. She was accompanied by a herd of horses, bison, and held a water fall in her hand. Our path took us on a long loop through an arboretum and past several tree houses, spaces on the ground that required the person to interact with trees.
The group met up again and broke off to work on an assignment. Our walk out of the gardens led us through a series of greenhouses that held tropical plants. We took the metro back to our residence and after a short break, we went out for dinner. After a long wait in an outside line, we enjoyed Schwartz smoked meat sandwiches in a local park. Half of the group turned in for the night, and Annalise, Breanna and I walked to a local tea shop for bubble tea, a flavored black tea with large tapioca pearls. Even after an all-day experience at the botanical gardens, many want to return on our free day.