In The Media

Understanding the world through the eyes of others

By Terry Blaskovits • Schulich Leader at Universit√© Laval
Winter 2012

Bonjour de Québec!

The first time I heard of Université Laval was in Grade 8, on a long-awaited class trip to Quebec City and Montreal.  One morning, our group took a tour bus to see the highlights of the city of Québec, including a quick ride around the campus.  Needless to say, with all the excitement and full schedule of activities over the course of the trip, there was not much sleeping getting done and we were all rather exhausted in the daytime.  I was not at my most observant that day, and I only remember two things.  The first was that there were so many trees: from my seat on the bus, I have no memory of the buildings, but rather of wide open spaces, laneways and sidewalks lined with trees, and small patches of woods here and there.  The second thing I remembered was our tour-guide proudly announcing that the university campus was the second largest vendor of beer in Canada.

At the time, the fact meant very little to me, and aside from a friend ever so often reiterating the tour-guide’s comment as motivation to get good marks (so that he might get accepted to Laval),  my skewed first impression of Laval was soon stored away somewhere deep in my memory.

As things came about, over the course of the last year and a half of high-school, Laval rapidly resurfaced as a distinct option for post-secondary studies.  Plenty of explanation and a great deal of time would be necessary to explain these circumstances, but for now it suffices to say that the initial reasons I applied here were the beauty, history and culture of the campus and city (which were revealed to me at a later visit), the omnipresence of the French language in the bastion of French North America, and concerted effort and focus placed on the environment here, both as a frame of study and as a lifestyle. 

Although I am currently a member of the Chemistry department, all my courses are very general, much like a first year of university would be anywhere else.  This semester, I have a general physics course (classical mechanics), a biology overview course, mathematics (differential calculus) and a general chemistry course.  All of these courses are based in and contain elements of the courses I’ve taken throughout high school, so it has been a pretty smooth academic transition so far.  I hoped to take an option course in another faculty as a break from such an artistically desolate schedule, but was quickly dissuaded by the secretariat of the department of science.

There are very few non-Quebec students here, and our presence goes largely unnoticed outside of our faculty.  As it turned out, I’ve managed to keep myself very busy, however, with extra-curricular activities, volunteer work and plenty of music off the campus. So far, I’m volunteering with an organization which promotes literacy in the community, in my case by helping students out with homework at an elementary school two afternoons a week.  I’ve also continued with piano lessons outside of the university and have joined the city string orchestra to keep up my violin-playing.   Another addition to my schedule is a meditation session once a week. Something I’ve really enjoyed about university is the accessibility to so many new opportunities geared towards students.  I’ve developed a growing interest in spiritual growth and mindfulness over recent years, and this occasion has been perfect for me.  So far, it has permitted me to regain my inner ‘compass’ on numerous occasions, amongst the waves of exams and other small worries, and has offered me a better understanding of my space in the world, beyond the preconceived definitions of the things which usually tend to guide us as human beings: intelligence, wealth, beauty, success….

For me, studying in French means much more than just learning another language.  On the one hand, by learning the language in an environment saturated in culture and history, I am able to better understand a whole other dimension of Canada’s identity.  On the other hand, not speaking my native language usually limits my willingness always to be the one talking and expressing my ideas and opinions.  In a completely francophone environment, I am more inclined to listen to what others have to say and, consequently, I learn from the stories and experiences recounted by students from around the world with whom I have become acquainted.  Although it is my goal one day to be perfectly bilingual, a university landscape, in any language, offers a cross-section of peoples, cultures and ideas from around the world.  Even if I don’t support absolute political and economic globalization, there are few things more valuable than simply learning and understanding the world through the eyes of others.