In Canada I had many new experiences; maple syrup became a staple in my diet (turns out it’s great in curries), I felt what it’s like to walk around in -40’C, I witnessed politeness so extreme it made me uncomfortable, and, for the first time, I felt how it feels to buy a book for my studies. That’s right, you read correctly, Eva bought a book.
We were all given ‘course outlines’, printed handbooks, made by and handed out in the first class by the lecturers, which contained information about the module and reading lists. Course outlines were so detailed (they averaged about 12 pages in length) that students obediently followed them, including the section on which books to buy. In the course outlines, most lecturers made it very clear exactly what you had to do, the style you had to do it in, which themes link with which, and which boxes to tick. Some would say spoon-feeding, some would say clarity.
Students were not only accustomed to spending huge amounts of money at the beginning of each module (they still complained (until I told them how much we pay for tuition fees)) but they had the resources there for them to do it in the most efficient and easiest way possible. The bookshop was centrepiece in the student union building and the lecturers communicated with local bookshops who compiled all the short readings into a printed bundle with a $30 tag on. These reading packs (a.k.a. ‘course readers’) were available to purchase from a couple of local book shops and were printed compilations of all the journal articles, book extracts and newspaper articles on the reading lists. I never bought one because I found all the articles online through both Sussex and Ottawa’s online library, and I found most the books in uOttawa’s library. Luckily I didn’t experience much competition on my monopoly on library books as the reading packs were so popular. They were popular not only because they covered the module’s entire reading material, but also because they were printed rather than online so students could write notes and highlight on them.
It is perhaps how accustomed everyone else in my classes were to buying books and course readers that enabled me to mainly bypass the system. I reserved books well in advance from the library, I used old editions from the library (checking with friends which chapters had changed in the new editions), I used Sussex university’s online library collection and I immediately dropped a class that expected us to buy 3 books.
In my second term I felt forced to buy a book due to a particularly scary “proff” who used the book as the foundation of her course. As I had managed to dodge buying around 8 required books/ reading packs since starting at Ottawa, I knew that it would be my first and last purchase. I bought it from the bookshop on campus who promised to buy it back off me half price in order for them to sell it second hand which was a huge incentive. It ended up being well worth the money as it was both a fascinating book to read and imperative in order to stay on the good side of the scary proff. I then sold it back to the bookshop at the end of term which saved me money and valuable suitcase space.
It is perhaps the fact that I had let down my guard of never buying a book that I actually bought another one recently, upon starting my final year back at Sussex. And this time the purchase wasn’t even motivated by intimidation. It was a core reading for one of my modules and I thought that while I had found an online copy for free, I would enjoy reading it as it was a book it broad enough to be politically relevant to most of my studies and explains a theoretical concept important to engage with international relations today. Canada has changed me beyond recognition.