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Active listener

Them Days work term allows folklore master's student to learn differently

Student Life

By Rebecca Newhook

Alexa Nicolle says she was thinking about her future career options when she decided to complete the co-operative education option of her master of arts in folklore degree.

Alexa Noelle smiles while standing in front of a large bridge with arches and a flag.
Alexa Noelle in New York City.
Photo: Submitted

“I thought that building a network of people outside of academia might be better suited to the work I hope to do in the future,” said Ms. Nicolle, who is from Rosthern, Sask. “I was right. My work terms have enabled me to connect to people throughout the archival, publishing, heritage and arts sectors of this province and I keep connecting with more as I continue this type of work.”

During the winter 2024 semester, Ms. Nicolle completed her second and final work term with Them Days, an organization that maintains regional archives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador.

It also publishes a quarterly oral history magazine of the same name that aims to collect, preserve and promote the history and heritage of Labrador.

Building her network

Memorial’s Master of Arts in Folklore Degree Program (Co-operative) pairs students with organizations in a wide range of public and applied folklore settings.

Students have the opportunity to complete two full terms working for employer partners as part of their program.

Ms. Nicolle has been working as an audio editor and interviewer with Them Days, under the supervision of Aimee Chaulk, the magazine’s editor.

“I’ve had great experiences with folklore co-op students in the past and we always have lots of interesting work for them to contribute to,” said Ms. Chaulk. “When I met with Alexa, I was sure she’d be a good fit for our work.”

Ms. Nicolle’s main project was to compile, edit, and complete audiobook editions of publications of Them Days magazine dating back to the 1970s.

“I am certainly never bored when I am listening.” — Alexa Nicolle

The project is part of the organization’s effort to make its magazines and holdings more accessible and was inspired by a subscriber who cancelled his subscription because his eyesight was getting poor.

Ms. Nicolle says the audiobook project contains many stories of the people of Labrador working with the land and their struggles.

She also says many of the articles are “really sweet and fun” and make her laugh out loud.

“There are quite a few eulogies and memorial pieces, for instance, which often contain favourite memories of the author’s loved ones, which are always endearing. There are also just crazy tales, such as one about knocking out a bear from a canoe in the middle of the river. I am never quite sure what to expect when I start editing a new issue, but I am certainly never bored when I am listening.”

When she’s not working on the audiobooks, Ms. Nicolle is connecting with people who have lived or worked in Labrador and who have now moved away to collect stories and photos for upcoming issues.

These interactions often come with slides and photographs that she digitizes and adds to Them Days’ archival collection.

Rifle balls

Although Ms. Nicolle has been based in St. John’s for the majority of the work term, she says she’s learned a lot about the people of Labrador and their stories.

“I spend a lot of time researching phrases or ideas from the old stories that I might be unfamiliar with,” she said. “Yesterday, it was learning about oakum, natural fibers mixed with tar usually used as caulking, but also chewed into balls to be used in rifles. The smoking balls can be reused once they’ve been fired. Who knew?”

In addition to folklore and knowledge about Labrador, Ms. Nicolle says she developed solid workplace competencies that she can bring to whatever comes next in her career.

She worked mostly independently at Them Days, honing her time management and workflow creation skills she says, particularly when trying to wrangle together audio files from numerous sources.

Two women stand in a library with maps and file cabinets behind them.
From left are Them Days editor Aimee Chaulk and folklore graduate student Alexa Nicolle.
Photo: Submitted

She also gained confidence in her cold call abilities while organizing interviews or times to examine slides and other archival materials, she says.

“I am aware of how awkward it can be to talk to an unknown person, so I am learning how to make people comfortable so I can better listen and hear the stories that they want to tell about their time in Labrador.”

She says she is now “much more” able to hone in on the important aspects of the things she listens to, whether it be a recorded piece or a real-life person, depending on what needs to be done with the audio, as well as what is being said and how.

Enthusiastic and motivated

For her part, Ms. Chaulk says she is pleased with Ms. Nicolle’s progress in finalizing the audiobooks for Them Days’ catalogue of magazines.

She is a strong supporter of the Co-operative Education Program at Memorial.

“Co-op students are enthusiastic about getting hands-on work in their field and are motivated to do a good job,” she said. “They take pride in their work, and that’s something I really appreciate as someone who is making a publication for public consumption. Alexa has been key in finishing our audiobook project and getting it off the ground. I’m so thankful to have made the connection.”

As Ms. Nicolle’s work term comes to a close, she is reflecting on her degree and the value of incorporating work terms into her education.

“I have gained a perspective about public folklore that is different from my fellow students by continuing to work in this vein of our discipline rather than something that is only academic. Doing a work term is not the same as doing regular school, but both allow me to learn, just in different ways.”

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