Saturday, September 25, 2010

Study Abroad Fiction

A recent story in the local news highlighted the increasing number of international students who are coming to Halifax. Working at the library, I get to meet loads of students who are working on school projects, and among them, are many foreign students who have moved to Halifax from abroad to go to school and explore Canadian culture.

Having been a foreign student myself as well, I think I can relate a little bit to their experiences trying to navigate a world that is sometimes very different from the one they left. It’s a challenging but really rewarding educational experience.

Not surprisingly, fictional accounts of being a foreign or international student aren't hard to come by, the fish-out-of-water feeling that many students feel, combined with the stress and challenges of their academic experiences combine to make compelling stories, whether they are told for laughs or with a serious voice. Whether you’re reminiscing about your own study abroad experiences, or want to take a peek into the world that an increasing number of students in Halifax face, here’s a few titles that will make for great reads:

English as a Second Language by Megan Crane

A boring job and an awful ex-boyfriend lead to overseas escapades in this fun and funny novel about a woman who leaves behind her American life and goes to Britain to pursue her Masters Degree. This quote from Publisher’s Weekly made me chuckle “Heads up, world: British university students drink a lot. That's the main conclusion reached by first-timer Crane in this novel about a 20-something American student forging new friendships, swilling lager, kissing boys and generally behaving as if a master's degree is the furthest thing from her mind.”

The Reverend's Apprentice by David N. Odhiambo

An African student - the son of a minister - arrives in America to attend Grad school, boarding in the home of another minister. The book jacket description – “a powerful, tragicomic novel about power, culture, money and identity politics in contemporary America” – makes the story sound dry. But this review description, from Publisher’s Weekly, makes it sound a lot more interesting: “ the picaresque adventures of an African grad student in Pennsylvania imperiling his inheritance—and sanity—with lustful exploits. Jonah Ayot, a minister’s son from the African country of Liwani, attends Dingham University and lives with the kindly, upstanding Reverend Tusker, who holds the power of attorney in Jonah’s inheritance. Although Reverend Tusker hopes Jonah will marry Clementine Pinkston, a saintly young woman from the church choir, Jonah takes up with an exotic dancer/prostitute, Babycakes, and hopes to help straighten out her life. Jonah’s internal struggle to do what’s right is undermined by the other characters’ mercenary manipulation of the young man.”

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

A young woman leaves rural China and travels to London to study English. The culture shock of changes from rural to urban and East to West as well as the main character’s attempts to learn the language are wonderfully rendered in this first novel in English by a Chinese author, which is also a romance and coming-of-age story.

Beyond the Limbo Silence by Elizabeth Nunez

An historical novel of the US Civil Rights era which sees a young woman from Trinidad arrive in a Midwest Catholic College that is home to many other international students. Publisher’s Weekly said: “Cultures collide, and reality and mysticism exist side by side in this highly charged, lyrical account of a young woman's political awakening.”


  1. I always enjoy reading this blog to discover new ideas for books to read. Today I tried to put English as a Second Language on hold, however it says it's not available for holds! A bit disappointing . . . why would this be the case?

  2. re: not available for holds

    My bad! I didn't notice that our only copy had gone missing.

    I have requested a new copy to be ordered. Please check back in a day and you should be able to place a hold on a shiny new copy.

  3. Now that's good service - thanks David! :-)