The Advantages of Co-op: Alumnus Brendan Blom


I love interviews where I learn new things–this one surprised me with what I learned about co-op and government service. Thanks to Brendan for sharing! –JLH

JLH: You’re originally from the Waterloo region: was UWaterloo an automatic choice, or did you think about going further afield? Were there specific benefits or drawbacks to being so close to home for your undergraduate degree?
BB: The choice of UW was pretty straightforward. I had been accepted at a couple of other places, but I particularly wanted to go somewhere with a co-op program, and it helped to be able to live at home to save money. I do think it’s good, if possible, to be able to get out of the family home at that age and learn to be independent – and while I didn’t get that while I was studying, my co-op terms did offer that opportunity.

JLH: What was your experience of undergraduate English like?
BB: Before university, I never intended to study English literature; I always thought I would do something more business- or accounting-oriented. But after really enjoying a first-year English course, I chose it as a major going into second year, and never doubted that decision. I had some wonderful professors who managed to teach the importance of reading with a critical, analytical eye, without spoiling the fun of losing yourself in a story or poem.

JLH: As one of the founders of Culture Magazine, you made some interesting contributions to Canadian literary criticism. Can you talk about your experience there?
BB: I don’t think I personally made too many contributions to literary criticism at Culture. We were a group of friends who enjoyed meeting up in pubs to talk about books, music, movies, and politics. I did get some wonderful personal experiences out of it – the most memorable was probably driving out one Saturday in May a few years ago, with a couple of other Culture people, to spend a few hours with Kim Ondaatje, Michael Ondaatje’s ex-wife. She lives on a farm near Kingston, takes beautiful photographs, and advocates for artists’ rights. She’s led a fascinating life, is a great story-teller, and is a vibrant, passionate, warm character.

JLH: You’re now with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Did you always plan to write the government exams, or was that a later decision?
BB: Luckily, I didn’t have to write the exams – that’s one of the benefits of doing co-op terms with the government. I was “bridged in” at AANDC after I graduated. I’m a poor role model for any sort of career planning – it certainly never occurred to me, growing up, that I would become a government employee. It’s a challenging, sometimes difficult place to work – but it’s always stimulating as well, and I wake up every morning looking forward to getting to the office.

JLH: Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when you’d just graduated?
BB: In university I was very self-conscious and reserved, and didn’t meet a lot of new people. Now I know that life is a lot more fun and rewarding if you open yourself up a little, both to new people and new experiences.

JLH: Finally, are there any new writers are you currently watching?
BB: These days, I’m spending more time discovering old writers: Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet, Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry Tales, and Erskine Childers’s The Riddle of the Sands among them.


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