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The human condition

Rothermere Fellow uses literature to decode the migrant experience

Student Life

By Janet Harron

The migrant crisis is on everyone’s minds and in everyone’s newsfeeds these days.

Much has been written on the reasons for and the day-to-day reality of the current crisis. Immigration and emigration are fundamental to all our lives. But, how do we begin to understand the experience of someone who is forced to flee their home to save their life?

Kendsey Clements is the 2016 Rothermere fellow.
2016 Rothermere Fellow Kendsey Clements.
Photo: Submitted

Read literature, says Memorial’s latest Rothermere Fellow.

The Rothermere Fellowship is awarded to an exceptional scholar who has completed a first degree at Memorial. Ms. Clements completed both a BA and MA in French at Memorial.

Fundamental tool

Kendsey Clements believes that reading and studying literature is a fundamental tool in the quest to understand the perspective of “the other” and that an analysis of the literature that is written by people who have emigrated and immigrated is more pertinent today than ever before.

Her current focus is on French migrant literature, most specifically the work of Milan Kundera and Andrei Makine, two writers that immigrated to France from the ex-Soviet bloc. Themes of identity, memory and exile come up regularly in their work as does questioning of the self.

Both authors wrote exclusively in French after going into exile in that country, the Czech-born Kundera in 1975 and the Russian Makine in 1987.

“That’s an interesting part of the whole identity question,” said Ms. Clements, who notes that the issues both address in their work are applicable to the current migrant crisis. “After they left their native country, they left behind that part of their identity, their native language.”

For her PhD, Ms. Clements decided to examine French-Canadian authors and the literature of Quebec, where the idea of migrant literature first originated.

London bound

Established by Memorial University’s first chancellor, Lord Rothermere, the fellowship is awarded annually by the Rothermere Fellowships Trust to a candidate who will be pursuing their studies for a higher degree at a university of their choice in the United Kingdom. The fellowship is currently valued at about £15,000 per year, plus tuition fees.

Ms. Clements will be attending University College London.

“I recently visited London and fell in love with the city,” she said. “UCL also has research interests that coincide with mine, so it seems a good fit.”

“If it wasn’t for Memorial, I know I wouldn’t have had all the opportunities to study abroad, teach and generally become the person I am today.” –Kendsey Clements

Recently returned from a year teaching in France—and having spent the third year of her undergraduate degree in Nice—Ms. Clements is a committed Francophile who appreciates the European lifestyle but also recognizes the value of the education she received at Memorial.

“If it wasn’t for Memorial, I know I wouldn’t have had all the opportunities to study abroad, teach and generally become the person I am today,” she said.

“Bonne chance, Kendsey!” said Dr. Anne Thareau, former head, Department of French and Spanish. “Kendsey is a very bright and motivated student who took advantage of the many opportunities we offer to study in a francophone milieu. Her hard work throughout her studies and her experiences abroad have prepared her for future endeavours and prove her dedication to her field of studies.”

Provincial input

Lord Rothermere
Lord Rothermere

A major part of the Rothermere Fellowship is to reward students who are committed to Newfoundland and Labrador. Applicants must provide a written letter on that theme and how this commitment is reflected in their research.

In her application, Ms. Clements commented on Newfoundland and Labrador’s long history with immigration and the province’s more recent experience with emigration.

“Migrant literature offers us a profound exploration of the human condition—this condition that is inextricably linked with our very essence and destiny as human beings who share the common elements of humanity.”




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