What Scottish exchange student Jessie Staniland taught me about living in Canada


Having been bitten by the travel bug at an early age, and being someone who is only a second generation Canadian to boot, I have always been enamoured with the world that lies outside our country’s boarders.

I subscribe to the secret thought that living in another country or being able to go to school internationally is better than currently residing in Canada or the schooling that I attended while here. My obsession with getting out of Canada goes as far as having the International Real Estate section of the New York Times as my homepage.

It took meeting someone from another country who actually did what I have wanted to do for so long to make me realize just how lucky I am to live in Canada. It helped me to regain some of my homegrown pride in our country, and especially in our unique education system.

Last spring I had the pleasure of attending the Dundas Valley School of Art’s 40th Annual Art Auction and while there I was introduced to Jessie Staniland. Staniland is a 20-something advanced studies art student who recently moved to Canada from the UK, and amidst the art pieces and the hustle and bustle of the auction, I couldn’t help but be completely charmed by her and her story.

Staniland’s mom is Scottish, her dad is Italian, and she was born in Washington State on the Makah Indian Reservation. Her parents were archaeologists who ventured to the United States for digs and ended up staying, getting their teaching degrees and starting a family.

Growing up on the reservation wasn’t easy for Staniland, as she was always something of an exotic outcast. After growing up in a place where the art teacher was also the volleyball coach and the Spanish teacher, it’s a wonder that Jessie’s passion for art never dwindled.

As surprised as I was with her choice to move from the UK to Canada to study art, especially since I considered her a seasoned traveller, what threw me more was my realization that I have lost a sense of value in the place that I live. Embarrassingly, I caught myself saying “Why would you want to come here?!” more than once in our conversation.

Her answer was simple: she found the Dundas Valley School of Art on the Internet, and was immediately enthralled with its tiny class sizes and flexible programs. The young artist also claims to “enjoy some scum” when it comes to her place of residence, and has taken to Hamilton, Ont., like a three-eyed fish to Lake Ontario.

Staniland’s pieces are just as interesting, if not more, than her life story and it’s no wonder that they intertwine with such eccentric glee. The young artist has just completed exhibiting a three-part storybook photography piece based on her life, presented in an old school way.

Her past experiences are definitely reflected throughout her pieces and started with a dress made of lint, which she cleverly described as a “history of wash.”

In our conversation, Staniland told me about her inability to get rid of clothes and said she finds it so important to hold on to certain articles of clothing simply because of her personal attachments to them. Her tweed on tweed ensemble was instantly explained and my interest in her art was piqued.

It seemed to me that Staniland’s personal attachment to her clothes was so strong partly because they uniquely defined her history and, at present, her journey to Canada.

This again made me think about my own attachment to the experiences I’ve had here, in Canada, and the fact that I have always compared them to the great experiences I think I could be having somewhere else.

I’m not surprised that it took someone from another country to make me realize just how appealing our beautiful country can appear to those living in the international sphere.

Staniland’s ultimate place to live and create? Kyoto, Japan. Even after having a multitasking Spanish teacher she doesn’t speak any Spanish, but she knows some Japanese.

Photos courtesy of Jessie Staniland


About the author

Kate Morawetz is a recent Media, Information and Technoculture graduate from the University of Western Ontario. She interned at various media gigs in Toronto and LA, before landing her current job at MTV Canada in the Series & Developments department and continues to write about life experiences, the ever present media and generally about things that interest her via her blog One Curly Fry in a Box Full of Regulars. A self proclaimed connoisseur of man-ponies slash creativity junkie, Kate has an eclectic musical taste and enjoys reading, long walks in wooded areas, photography, writing, dry white wines and a good spinach & strawberry salad.