I am still recovering from the trip I made a few weeks ago, which started with a drive to Pittsburgh for my Ambassadorial Scholars training…
Phase II of my road trip was in Montréal, via Buffalo (where I stayed with friends, who helped me out when I managed to lock my keys inside the rental car). I cut my trip to Montréal short by a couple of days when I was reminded, at the last minute, that I had to make it back to the Chicago area in time for the Rotary District Conference (Phase III–update to come).
So, sadly I couldn’t make it to le Petit Maghreb, as I’d hoped I might.
I spent most most of my three-day visit meeting with current and former students and faculty of a few urban studies and urban planning programs in Montréal. I’ve been shopping around for a Masters program, probably for Fall 2011. This Ambassadorial Scholarship business has put me in the habit of planning things far in advance…
Why Montréal? Aren’t there great programs in the U.S., even in Chicago?
On a personal level, the bilingual French-English environment feels like home for me. Purists will say that Montréal is not “true Québec” because so much of the city is anglophone, but I love that mix.
I really appreciate how cosmopolitan the city is, on several levels. First of all I think a society where people speak several languages is automatically less insular. (Oh hi there, Tim James.)
Second of all, Canada’s relatively progressive immigration policy, combined with the strong and vibrant francophone culture in Québec, means that Montréal is the destination for immigrants from all over the francophone world. Haitians, North Africans, the Lebanese, Francophone Africans, the Vietnamese all have a strong presence in Montréal. I don’t have sufficient background information about Montréal to comment too much on its immigrants or the multi-ethnic character of the city, although this is a topic that really interests me. I do know that the result is a society that is very different from both the U.S. and France (those two countries being my frame of reference). It’s fascinating to look at immigration, and how it shapes a city, through a different lens.
Which brings me to my next point: Yes, Chicago would be a great place to continue my studies in urban sociology. In fact I’m pretty sure that part of the reason why I’ve been attracted to the cluster of topics that make up “urban studies” has been because the literature in the U.S. so often focuses on my hometown. This is a problem! First of all, as someone who’s grown up with each foot in a different continent and country, I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. Second of all, it’s much more intellectually stimulating to step into a different context, as a way of shedding light on and challenging the assumptions that I’ve picked up and taken as universal truths.
This is also my reasoning for going to Casablanca to look at urban issues. I’m hoping I’ll get to better understand not just what’s going on there in terms of urban development, but also how people conceptualize “urban development.”