As some of you know, I was in Croatia this time last year working as a visiting professor. I took a half sabbatical from my job at uW and went to teach a senior undergraduate course on Canadian Multicultural literature at the University of Zagreb. Plus I gave a series of lectures at other universities in Croatia and universities nearby, in Slovenia and Austria. What a rich experience that was! If you want to read the blog I kept while I was there, please click here.
It was my considerable delight and honour to host one of my Zagreb colleagues, Dr. Vanja Polic, when she was visiting Canada this past Fall. She was doing research at the University of Calgary, but it wasn’t difficult to persuade her to visit us at the University of Waterloo as well. While Vanja was here we did an informal talk in the English department about what it is like to teach Canadian literature in Croatia, and what it is like to do research on Canadian topics from a university such as Zagreb.
We did attempt to videotape the talk, but the sound didn’t work. 😦
However, here are a couple of photos.
And here’s what we talked about.
Croatian students know very little about Canada, except Canadian music and musicians. They know, for instance, that Nelly Furtado, Justin Bieber, Arcade Fire, and Leonard Cohen are all Canadians. Some knew that actors such as Jim Carrey and Mike Myers are Canadians. They know almost nothing about Canadian literature, though they might be able to identify Margaret Atwood as a Canadian author. Their English curriculum is still very British and American in its focus, although there are a couple of people teaching Australian and/or Postcolonial literatures. American professors routinely teach at the University of Zagreb (and all over the world, it seems!) on Fulbright Fellowships, so the instruction in American literature is rich. Canadian. Not so much. So I was happy to be the “native informant.” Happy, but also really worried about what sorts of misconceptions I might have been conveying about Canada.
In my teaching I found myself explaining all sorts of things about Canadian history, geography, and culture/s. I showed maps. I showed photos. I made up historical timelines. I tried to convey the immensity of this nation to people who live in a country where the population of the entire country is about the size of the GTA. I tried (through the literature) to talk about Canada as very diverse while also problematizing the official discourse of Multiculturalism. Actually, I’m not sure they bought that problematizing: after all, they live in a country that is, ahem, mono-chromatic. And when I tell them that 140 languages are spoken in Toronto they are amazed.
Doing research on Canadian literary topics is very, very difficult. While the University of Zagreb has a nice, new library building, and while the selection of Canadian books is small but well selected, getting access to scholarly books and journal articles is next to impossible. Partly, neither students nor professors can afford to buy books. If books are available for purchase it is mainly through online bookstores–which charge enormous shipping rates. Scholars in Croatia are desperate for books and access to scholarly articles. While their university library might have a subscription to JStor or ProjectMuse, database searches turn up titles and abstracts but not the full text article. Vanja described it this way: “It’s like getting a candy wrapper that you can lick, but not the whole candy that you could eat.” I do what I can to help by sending my own books and copies of articles. I will NEVER again take the wonders contained in or accessed through our libraries for granted.
Turns out that the connections between Canadian and Croatian universities are not that new. The University of Zagreb bestowed an Honorary degree on (possibly) Canada’s most famous literary critic: Northrop Frye. And esteemed (late) feminist scholar from York University, Barbara Godard, has also visited the University of Zagreb.
I anticipate that our connections will develop. We are hoping to attract Croatian students into our English graduate programs here at Waterloo. And, eventually, we hope to establish an exchange program between uW and UZagreb for undergraduate students.
Canadians in Croatia; Croatians in Canada. What a rich exchange. Speaking personally, it was one of the highlights of my career. For this immigrant from England it was also a nice way of performing my Canadianness. I was an ambassador for our country, and I was proud to be so. Oh, and having lunch at the Canadian Ambassador’s house wasn’t bad either!