Convocation, Students, World Literature, Linguistics

Convocation Profile: Kelsey Wilson, World Literature

June 08, 2017

Kelsey Wilson’s first class as a university student was World Literature 100. At the time, she had no idea what World Literature was, and today she graduates with an Honours degree in World Literature, with extended minors in Linguistics and Publishing.  

Wilson came to SFU in 2012 for a number of reasons:  it had a family connection – her mother is an alumna (B.Ed , 1986, with extended minors in English, Psychology, and Kinesiology); it had campuses close to home;  and it offered the Global Issues First-Year Learning Community (FLC), whereby a core group of students work together to study the combined fields of World Literature, History, and International Studies. Based at the Surrey campus, FLCs have now expanded into the first-year entry pathway FASS One, and provide opportunities for first-year students to connect with professors, advisors, and each other across a number of FASS disciplines.

For Wilson, the World Literature program was an immediate fit. One of the first of its kind in the world, the program is for students interested in studying literature and culture as they are produced and spread from one place to another. Its courses cover a broad spectrum of literary genres, historical periods and translated texts from regions around the world.  Wilson says, “I have always loved books and reading and writing, but had never really veered outside of literature in English, and after that first class, I’ve never looked back. It opened me up to so much more, and combined my love of different languages and cultures with my love of books. The classes were small, the people, both professors and students, were so interesting and friendly and supportive of one another, and the work was something I have absolutely loved.”

Wilson is also a Caledonia Award  winner (2015). She says that what impressed her most about her World Literature courses in particular, and also about many of her other FASS courses, is that she has learned so many things that are applicable to understanding the world at large, as well as how to navigate it: “I have developed so many skills that I honestly didn’t think an undergraduate degree would impact. World Literature has made me a more global citizen, and I’ve become interested in many new things. Most importantly, I think I’m just more eager to try new things and have as many experiences as possible.”

The opportunity to learn new skills has extended outside her classrooms as well. Wilson served as President of the World Literature Student Union (WLSU), managing editor of the World Literature student journal The Lyre, was an organizer of the World Literature Student Conference in 2016 and 2017, and volunteered as a FASS Peer Mentor.  She also assisted in developing a promotional video  for the program, and emceed the 2015 World Literature Student Conference, which she says helped her get over her fear of public speaking. These “extra-curricular activities,” she points out, were all positive experiences: “my time with the WLSU, The Lyre, mentorship, and the World Literature Student Conference has been the most enjoyable of my life. These experiences are where I’ve made lasting relationships and gotten to know people … Plus, in terms of academics, in addition to the skills these opportunities have helped me develop, I have a group of people willing to help and support me with my studies when I need it!”

She sees her major and minors as similarly inter-related and supportive: “What I love the most about my degree is that it’s all about words at every level. Linguistics has taught me more about spoken languages, but learning about how language works has helped my understanding of World Literature. On the other end of the spectrum, my minor in Publishing has helped me understand how literature is made public, and as I have focused on ‘Western Publishing,’ I’m starting to see why so much of World Literature is sort of swept under the rug in favour of more of the same.”

All three fields, she says, have helped her understand language and literature much more deeply than if she had focused on one, and that “the three have absolutely interacted with one another.” For example, in Wilson’s final Publishing class (PUB 401), her focus was around issues of translation and publishing more world literature. And some of her Honours research in World Literature incorporates the rhythms of oral literature, which, she notes, “Linguistics has greatly contributed to.”

More than anything, Wilson says, her degree taught her to open up to different perspectives. She notes, “I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life and haven’t really ventured out of my comfort zone, but World Literature has changed all of that. I’ve always been interested in languages, and have taken courses in Japanese, Spanish, and Italian at SFU. World Literature has made me want to learn as many languages as intensively as I can and put them to use. Ideally I’d like to be a translator one day, and try to help people understand one another more.”

Wilson (centre), celebrates with fellow Honours students and WL faculty, including Dr. Mark Deggan (L), Dr. Ken Seigneurie (R), and Dr. Melek Ortabasi, Director, World Literature Program (second from R).

“I think I’m most proud of where I am in the World Literature program. People place a lot of responsibilities on me, and I am trusted and I truly feel like my opinion matters and makes a difference. I know that the World Literature program, especially with respect to its student groups, has greatly grown and improved during my 5 years here, and while I’m obviously not the sole cause of it, I’m very proud that I’ve been here to help as much as I have.”

Most of all, Wilson says, these experiences have helped her grow both personally and academically, broadening her sense of her place in the world: “For most of my life, I’ve been like a turtle hiding in my shell – the thought of travelling scared me, and while I liked the thought of other places, I preferred reading about other places, real or imaginary. However, after five years surrounded by so many amazing and worldly people, I’m ready and excited to get out and see the world myself.”