by Barbara Black
Lorna Roth was surprised when she was told that she had won a trip around the world from CTV and British Airways. She hadn't even known she was in the contest. She recovered from the shock, however, and spent September 28 to December 14 in Asia, Australia, Africa and the U.K.
It was an enriching two-and-a-half months for the Communication Studies professor, who specializes in issues related to globalization, cross-cultural communications, the impact of media and the march of technology.
As Roth explained recently to a local CBC radio interviewer, it turned out that her travel agent had entered her name in the draw. The prize included 14 nights in hotels and free flights anywhere served by British Airways, Qantas and Canadian Airlines.
In fact, she was able to take the trip as part of a sabbatical, and spent her own money to extend the prize beyond two weeks. She visited Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and England. She chose her travelling companion carefully: a cousin-by-marriage with an adventurous, resilient personality.
Besides the things that every tourist notices (China is crowded, Singapore is clean), Roth was looking for new insights into her academic passion, and she found many.
In Zimbabwe, one of her favourite places, she visited a rural elementary school. The place was old and shabby, crowded and poorly equipped, but the teachers were doing remarkable work with the children.
"They were using the surrounding land as teaching material, drawing maps on the ground, for example," she said. "They also had a Grade 6 project that involved learning highway signs and local road systems. They set up a miniature highway system in the schoolyard, with little vehicles for driving practice. Their idea of 'reading rocks' where children could go and read books on their own, was also very clever, and the rocks were actually comfortable."
In South Africa, Roth could see signs of the painful transition from the apartheid mindset, but there were bright spots, too. One was in Cape Town, at the Sixth District Museum.
"This was a district that was highly integrated, racially and in terms of religion and so on, until 1966. Then, because it was an affront to the idea of apartheid, it was razed. Since 1994, people have been bringing back things like old street signs and other memorabilia to put in the museum, and a revitalization of the community is taking place."
Australia's famous desert outpost of Alice Springs was another highlight. It's a centre for flying doctors and others who work in the outback, and it's the home of the School of the Air, a pioneer distance-education network that fascinated Roth.
The Internet seems ubiquitous, if you know where to look, Roth found. Even in poor and overpopulated China, tiny cyber-cafés can be found in most urban centres. Roth went to a minuscule "English bookstore" run by a father and son in Guilin, in southern China. Though the father didn't speak English, "I just had to say hotmail, and in two seconds, I was checking my e-mail!"
While in Australia, Roth conducted a guest graduate seminar in the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Western Sydney. In South Africa, she visited with several colleagues to discuss common academic interests.
Now that she's back, Roth marvels at the depth of experience she has acquired, and she's sure it will be passed on through her teaching and research.
"I had been all over Europe, to Mexico, Latin America and the Canadian North, but not to these places. It gave me a real,
concrete, empirical sense of what's out there, including the pervading McDonaldization of the world."