InsightOut: Doing What you Love 

Graduand Camila Justino receives her degree in Book & Media Studies, minoring in Celtic and Mediaeval Studies, this week. She will begin the MA program offered by the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto in the fall. 

Camila is from Brazil and has published four books for young readers back home. After immigrating to Canada 12 years ago, she decided to learn and write in English to connect with the language directly, without the need for translators, and to engage more fully with the community around her. She is the mother of Lily and Bento, who bring her the greatest inspiration in life. 

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that when he achieves financial success, he will return to university to do what he loves: study and be part of a learning community because knowledge is what brings happiness. Curiously, it’s not the first time I’ve heard a similar sentiment, with the university being for before or after real life happens, and doing what we love as something to not take so seriously, as we set what we love aside so that we can pay the rent.

I am just around the corner from my convocation day and am heading down a path different from these friends. I don’t yet have a so-called stable job, and in September, I am returning to university to keep doing what I love. Through the MA program in Women and Gender Studies, I am willing to research and understand complex power dynamics in this world, especially for immigrant women. If you ask me why I keep studying I will answer that I do it for love, and I wonder if I am naïve to put in my goals and passions ahead of other things instead of being like my friends who leave them for later or do passions as hobbies.

The question of love for searching for knowledge and university studies has followed me since my first days as an undergraduate student four years ago. As an immigrant and single mother, I know that my love for learning doesn’t always align with the responsibilities and demands of the real world. When my children were very small, I had to make a decision: Should I pursue a job that offers growth and stability to afford vacations back home, or should I go to university to learn how to write and speak English fluently to follow my dream of becoming a writer in my second language?

In times when productivity and optimization are trendy, one might say I could try both. However, what I have discovered as a student is that learning is a process that requires time and space. Especially when you place learning with love. In my experience, reading a text and discovering its words and meanings is an exercise and habit that can’t be truly accomplished through an optimized schedule—in the 20-minute gap between the gym and preparing lunch. When you have love for an activity you will try to understand it from your heart and not for the sake of a grade.

In my first semester as a student, I accumulated low grades, which I think was part of the learning process of being in a university in a country with a different culture and language. The stress from feeling “I am not learning well, or maybe I am not capable” added pressure to my learning process. I did think that doing what I loved perhaps was silly. 

In moments when I doubted my choices and trajectory as a student, I took the chance to go to St. Basil’s because it was a very quiet place. I also wanted to learn about faith, and even though I am not a practising Catholic, I found that going to a space where people practise what is not visible, like knowledge, could be a good exercise.

Over time, I noticed that faith and knowledge were not transactional, but they would “show up for me” when I least expected it. Eventually I was able to achieve good grades, and my heart was calm and filled with what I called faith. What I realized was that the learning process, including learning how to write in a second language, wouldn’t be a straightforward and immediately rewarding journey. Experimenting with love is not a road without its bumps.

Some texts I read would be understood many days later because the words needed space, time, and research to find their way into my mind until becoming authentic enough so I could write about them. Even when I wasn’t learning and restless because I couldn’t grasp obvious key lessons from a theme in the course, I was somehow navigating crucial layers of learning stages. At moments, learning was also not learning.  Sometimes loving what I do which was studying was horrible and frustrating.

After a long journey in which I was transformed and finally able to write in my second language (aware and proud of my idiomatic expressions) I decided to apply for the MA Program in Women and Gender Studies (WGS). I was told by the coordinator Professor Dina Georgis it would be difficult because there were many applicants, and I didn’t have many courses in women and gender studies. However, she encouraged me with sincerity and also supported me in trying to apply for other programs so I could have more chances. I knew after years of experiences and stories that  great advice doesn’t come always with only supportive words.

Love sometimes can be tough.

After our conversation, I felt overwhelmed by doubts. Until then I would keep insisting on doing what I love and taking the risks of failing over and over again. Still, stubbornly by love, I applied only for the Master’s program at WGS because I needed to be wise about my reference letters in the application. I was prepared to fail entering the program, and somehow prepared to face the consequences of my love for learning. When I learned I was accepted I was happy but careful and aware of my responsibilities towards what I do for love, my major intersection in life.

When my friends told me they were living to do what they love for later in life it came to my mind that they were intelligent people playing the right game in the world.  What I never told them is that I do what I love because I believe in resistance and change in the world. And this can’t be left for later.

Read other InsightOut posts.