Anne Urbancic is the Mary Rowell Jackman Professor of Humanities at Victoria College, teachng in the Vic One program. Her research focuses on Italian food, food waste, and the academic aspects of cookbooks in the early twentieth century.
“Usually when I’m walking around, that’s where I am in my head. If I walk right by you, stop me and say ‘hello,’ because I’m in another century,” she said during an interview with The Varsity about her life and career.
The Varsity: Have you ever taken important lessons from difficult or stressful experiences, and if so, could you give some examples?
Anne Urbancic: Sometimes students get discouraging words and they take them to heart, and don’t realize that it could be a window to something new. In grade six, I had a teacher who promised that when parents’ night came along, he would indicate to the parents of those people who he thought should go to university that they could prepare their child for this. For a teacher to say that someone should consider university was a big deal.
I stood first in my class and was so excited when my parents went to parents’ night. When they came, that was the first thing I wanted to know, but he hadn’t said anything — I was incredibly disappointed. It was only later that I discovered that he did not say anything to the parents of the girls because he felt that girls didn’t need an education.
That really disappointed me, but this teacher then wrote in my autograph book at the end of the year an old French proverb, which I’ve never been able to find: “If you love honey, fear not the bees.” If you really want something, you’ll find a way to befriend the bees — you shouldn’t be afraid. That has led me through all of the ups and downs of my years as an undergraduate, graduate student, and as a faculty member. Nothing was ever smooth, but we work through it.
TV: What do you think you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were 20?
AU: There’s an Italian proverb: “Dare tempo al tempo” — “give time to time.” I’m an ‘A’-type personality and I forget sometimes that you need to take time. I tell my students: don’t worry, just take your time to work your way through; take a gap year or travel. Taking the time will actually be enormously helpful. You’ll become a different adult; you understand that there are other perspectives, and you become enriched.
TV: What are some principles and habits that you live your life by?
AU: Compassion and empathy. To understand that there is a different perspective, and that my students add as much to me as I can to them. I also look at them and think, “I have to prepare these people for jobs that don’t even exist,” and that’s an awesome task. Not putting people down, but giving them the self-esteem and knowledge that they can do this.
With the empathy comes kindness. Kindness is greatly underestimated these days. It will never make you rich and sometimes people will misunderstand your kindness, and you have to accept that. But whenever possible, be kind.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.