For our family, school now means university. Which is a convenient topic, because in the spring I researched Canadian writers who sought education outside of Canada. I don’t have at my fingertips the number of Canadian students that studied abroad over the decades. But I do have some interesting facts.

In 1928, the year before Morley Callaghan boxed Hemmingway in Paris, P.K. Page was attending school in England. She returned to finish up her education informally in 1934, reading modern poets, visiting galleries and museums. 1934 was the same year that Earle Birney studied at the University of London on a Royal Society of Canada fellowship; that and his war service in the 1940s launched him on a lifetime of travel. In 1937, Gabrielle Roy went to London and Paris to study theatre, and discovered while in England that she preferred to write. Timothy Findley also went to London to study acting in 1954; he later lived in France.

Norman Levine had a fellowship to study at King’s College London in 1949.  Jane Rule studied in London from 1952/3 to 1956. For the academic year 1955-56, Carol Shields was at the University of Exeter. From the 1930s through to the 1970s, at least seventeen Canadian writers attended university or theatre school in the UK or France. dsc_0736.jpg

For the 1990s, I found on the Rhodes website that novelists Robert McGill and Emmanuel Kattan were at Wadham and Balliol respectively. (“The first Canadian Rhodes Scholars took up residence in Oxford in 1904, and since that time over a thousand Canadians have been awarded this prestigious scholarship.”)

Robert McGill also did post-graduate work in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, as have, more recently, D.W. Wilson and Eliza Robertson. Those are just the ones I know about. Are there others? Most likely yes. I can say this with confidence because a table by UNESCO (thanks to Caroline Lachance of AUCC for finding it) states that over 45,000 Canadian students went abroad for post-secondary studies in 2010. If that seems like a lot, I’ll add that they are among 3.6 million students seeking study away from home around the world. Over half of the Canadian students went to the US in 2010, while 5,508 went to the UK, 4.320 to Australia, and 1,442 to France.

Is this important? Does it matter? I think it is interesting. The writers I’ve named have done well. Most have won prizes. This raises a chicken and egg question: did they do well because of the extra education in going abroad, or did they go abroad because they were already doing well? Is it ambition? One imagines someone smart with a supportive family, informed advice, the wherewithal to go. Yet Malcolm Gladwell in Guardian Weekend argues the opposite, looking at studies that show the people with dyslexia (CEOs in particular) or who lost a parent in childhood (presidents in particular) are driven to succeed (not, however, by studying abroad).  In this as in all questions about Canadian writers abroad, the answer depends on the individual.

Karen Le Billon

photo from Karen Le Billon’s website

With school lunches lurking behind the title of this post, I will make an exception to my rule of not covering non-literary writers. Besides, Karen Le Billon (nee Bakker) also had a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford (D.Phil 1999). And she teaches on a topic that interests me: water issues.  At the University of British Columbia, Dr. Bakker  holds the Canada Research Chair in Political Ecology and is Director of the Program on Water Governance .  I’m pretty sure that this is the same person who recently published, as Karen Le Billon, French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters (2012). The book, based on the blog, draws from  the year that she and her family lived in a village in Brittany. On her website, she puts a disclaimer: she is not a nutritionist and “I definitely don’t want to convert anyone to French parenting (or any other kind of parenting). My goal is to inspire debate and reflection, and the stories I tell are meant to do just that.”


(photo: E. Proudfoot)

Ok, I haven’t read the book, so here is what the publicists at HarperCollins say:

French Kids Eat Everything is a wonderfully wry account of how Karen Le Billon was able to alter her children’s deep-rooted, decidedly unhealthy North American eating habits while they were all living in France.
At once a memoir, a cookbook, a how-to handbook, and a delightful exploration of how the French manage to feed children without endless battles and struggles with pickiness, French Kids Eat Everything features recipes, practical tips, and ten easy-to-follow rules for raising happy and healthy young eaters… But the real challenge comes when they move back to North America—where their commitment to “eating French” is put to the test. The result is a family food revolution with surprising but happy results—which suggest we need to dramatically rethink the way we feed children, at home and at school.

Posted by Debra Martens

author, editor

One Comment

  1. Writers to add to the list: Dorothy Livesay, Mark Abley, Anne Carson, Douglas Glover, Nancy Huston, Jean Marcel, and Keath Fraser.


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