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ENGL6080A - Travel Writing and Culture
2023-2024 Second Semester
Form of Assessment
100% coursework
Friday , 2:30 pm - 5:00 pm , Contact hours per week: 2.5, Classroom: CRT-8.66

            In the half-light of this moment,
            still dark, but not quite,
            we might meet,
            for the iron wall is
            not yet down.
            You give me food,
            I offer a dress:
            our skins, our souls—
            fragments of a shared earth
            in this time
            before dawn.

            -Tash Aw. In the Half-light, Part 1.

Inspired by Malaysian-British writer Tash Aw’s libretto for Canadian composer Zosha di Castri’s seven-part song series In the Half-light (its first part is quoted above), the course this year is organized as an intellectual journey through literature on this important theme: displacement, belonging and home. Throughout the course we will ask such questions as what does it mean by “travel”? What does the border or the act of border crossing entail? What is hospitality? As well as those universal questions that Aw’s libretto evokes: “what happens to our sense of being when we move from a place we know to a place we don’t then back again? How do we recalibrate feelings of attachment? how do we fit into a landscape? And, how do we appear to others and ourselves on the threshold between darkness and light?”



In this course, we read a broad selection of travel writings in English, and importantly some literary texts in English translation, by writers from different cultural backgrounds and periods. We will study how the experience of “travel” is recorded, imagined, and furthered in English through a variety of writing practices. We will encounter different travelling figures, such as pilgrims, missionaries, explorers, adventurers, tourists, voyagers, flâneurs, exiles, nomads, touring artists, expatriates, international students, migrants, and immigrants etc. The prescribed primary texts open up a fertile ground for discussion on home, displacement, and belonging.

We will also examine how different narrative structures correspond to modes of travelling; how the means of travel (train and airplane for instance) has changed the human perception of time and space; how travel writings reimagine borders and crossroads, such as those between self and otherness, between inside and outside, between tradition and progress, between East and West.



Students will learn from this course how to read and respond to literary texts (and travel writing in specific) professionally as a literary scholar and critic.

In addition, there will be a couple of writing workshops in which students are encouraged to produce their own creative projects of travel writings. Ultimately, one core objective in this course is to have fun and depart for numerous journeys in form of small excursions and guided tours through assigned readings.

Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously says, “We cannot step into the same river twice.” We should appreciate that each of our reading experiences, albeit through the same prescribed text, will result in surprisingly different impressions and new episodes.



We will meet every week for an approximately 150-minute (2.5 hour) seminar each Friday afternoon (2:30pm to 5:00pm). Our classroom will continue to be available for us afterward until 5:30pm. If a three-hour session is planned, you will be notified in advance. Occasionally, in case of time overrun issue for instance, we may extend the session slightly beyond 5:00pm. Each seminar will consist of lecture, discussion, improvisation session, short presentation (casual sharing) from students, and/or writing workshop.



There will be four assessment components for the course, as follows:

  1. Attendance and participation (10%)
  2. Individual improvisation* (15%)
  3. Creative writing project (35%), and
  4. A final critical paper (40%).

Written assignments must be submitted via Turnitin. Detailed guidelines and marking rubrics will be made available on Moodle.

*Please refer to the respective assessment component guidelines for more information (to be uploaded on Moodle). Here is a brief introduction to individual improvisation: throughout the course, each student will be assigned one improvisation session (approximately 6 of these sessions across the semester). As an improvisation, it is part of the design of this assessment component that students could hardly develop the content or outline of it well in advance. To prepare for this assignment, students are expected to actively and closely read the reading materials for the week of their assigned improvisation session. In each improvisation session, each assigned student will be given a unique topic related to the reading materials of that week. A topic can be a question, a scenario, or an idea etc. Each assigned student will then improvise their response/solution to, and/or interpretation/performance of, the given topic. Students may also choose to explain/justify their improvisation at the end. This will ideally lead to class discussion surrounding the topics and reading materials. Students’ performances will be assessed based on how well they understand the reading materials of the week, creativity, as well as the insight they provide in their improvisation.



All prescribed texts for the course, except the following novel, will be made available on Moodle before the commencement of the second semester.

Students are expected to obtain a copy of the following novel (either print or digital version):

Madelaine Thien. Dogs at the Perimeter. Toronto, Canada: McClelland & Stewart, 2011 (original edition).

You should be able to order a paperback or an Ebook copy from the link below (McClelland & Stewart is a branch of Penguin Random House Canada; this is the 2017 Canadian paperback edition):


You can order the UK version via this link (paperback, London, UK: Granta Books, 2013):


The US version is available here (paperback, New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2017): https://wwnorton.com/books/9780393354300#

2023-2024 Second Semester
Form of Assessment
100% coursework
Friday , 2:30 pm - 5:00 pm , Contact hours per week: 2.5, Classroom: CRT-8.66