It’s been a while since the last Words in Place interview with an undergraduate: this conversation with Claire Matlock–the only English student I’ve encountered who has taken a class in chemical warfare–is a perfect return. Thanks to Claire for participating!–JLH
JLH: Your path to UWaterloo was a little different. How did that happen?
CM: I grew up in Waterloo Region and joined the Army reserves in my teens. That led me to the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston. After two years I had completed half of my undergrad degree, as well training in French, and taking numerous military courses (but I’ll spare you the tongue-twisting acronyms). Deciding to switch schools was not an easy choice. RMC is a lifestyle, as well as a school. So much of a young person’s identity becomes bound-up in military work. This made my transfer to University of Waterloo atypical in that I was not only switching schools, but switching life directions. Being the creative type – I love cooking, painting, and playing music – I didn’t want to march on the lines for the rest of my undergrad. Spring of 2014 I applied to a number of Ontario universities and the University of Waterloo was the most flexible with accommodating my transcript and credits. I was even granted my 200-level chemical warfare class! Waterloo’s advisers were extremely helpful and worked with my unique scenario. I owe a big thanks to Dr. Dolmage and Erin Campbell.
JLH: What has your experience been transferring universities? Is it a big adjustment?
CM: Transferring universities was a smooth process, but it is definitely an ongoing one. Upfront, there was the initial application, acceptance, registration for classes, and orientation. What lingers, and must be ironed-out over the following year, is how to maximize one’s degree. I studied English Literature at RMC as well, but their Honours requirements are quite different than Waterloo’s. This means I must now spend the last half of my degree playing “catch-up”. For example, I am currently enrolled in five upper-level required English courses. It has been challenging, but it is possible. I would urge all transfer students to challenge their initial transfer-credit assessment. Waterloo was generous with their preliminary offerings, but after speaking to the Registrar I was able to earn three more credits. This saves me an extra semester of university! Transferring universities requires a person to be in the driver’s seat of their own education. You don’t have the luxury of campus familiarity like your peers, and you’re working against a shorter clock.
JLH: You were one of the recipients of the English 251A Exam Award this year. Congratulations! Can you tell us a bit about that?
CM: Thank you! The nomination was a surprise. And the following essay competition was also a surprise…. The other winner, Andrew Clubine, and I were joking with Dr. Acton and Dr. Lamont at the awards ceremony: Dr. Hadfield had said that one winner demonstrated meticulous technique and sharp literary analysis, while the other winner was creative, eloquent, and abstract. I am definitely the latter. The wonderful thing about studying English is that a student cultivates the skill of discussing anything and everything. Our degree allows us to study history, politics, sociology, psychology, etc. through the lens of literature. English students, in a conversation, an interview—or a surprise essay competition—are able to quickly locate poignant conflicts/tensions and tease out their elements with style. I love the challenge of trying to ground abstract concepts with as much precision as possible. Some days I try to write and all that comes out is: “potato.” Other days, the words flow like honey. I guess the judges found the latter to be true.
JLH: I know it’s that busy end-of-term time, but I’m curious: are you already thinking ahead to next semester? Next year?
CM: Twenty-five books this semester and multiple research papers have me taking things one day at a time. Though this summer I will be interning in the Operations Department to the Premier at Queens Park! My interview went very well thanks to, in part, my English training.
JLH: Finally, a fun question: what one book would you re-read right now if given the chance?
CM: Given the chance, I would re-read Ram Dass’s Be Love Now. It’s a refreshing departure from the canon, yet still works to enhance my skills in English. Anything that opens the mind to higher perspectives and/or directs one’s attention to nuance and subtlety – yoga, meditation, spiritual books, etc. – I believe is an essential in an Arts student’s toolbox. One of the ways my long-distance boyfriend and I stay in touch is by simultaneously reading the same novel and holding our own mini book-club discussions over Skype. Be Love Now was our favourite of the year. 10% more wisdom registers each time you read it.