with lifelong learner Jaime Smith


When Jaime Smith was five years old a favourite aunt asked him to consider whether he thought the earth went round the sun or the sun went round the earth each day. Since then, Smith’s life has been propelled forward through an unfolding series of learning experiences, occupations and new goals. Most recently he has been studying Mandarin Chinese at UVic.

As soon as you meet him and start chatting, you realise he is going to be difficult to pin down. The facts start sprouting like a forest around him. He is of Finnish-American heritage, and uses the Spanish form of his first name. Fluent in Spanish, he learned Finnish well enough at UVic after he retired from medical practice in 2009 to complete a translation into English of a Finnish novel. He also knows some French, German, Italian, Swedish and Russian. He has been an astronomer, teacher, a medical doctor and a psychiatrist. Now a Canadian for the past half century, he was born in the US and first emigrated to Argentina before coming to Canada in 1966. His many travels have ranged from the Trans-Siberian Railway to the "Old Patagonian Express."

Now in his ninth decade, Smith shows little sign of slowing down. He is a supporter of the Victoria Baroque Players. He goes to the gym three times a week and would like to get a free membership when he turns 90. He admits to now finding it awkward to get in and out of cars, and prefers to use his 800cc motorcycle "Shadowfax XV" when he can.

When asked what’s next, Smith mentions wanting to further his knowledge of Chinese history, culture and language.

“You need to know about 3,000 characters just to be able to read a newspaper,” he notes. “I have only about 1,500 in my head so far."  But as they say in Finnish, "You can learn at any age."

This article was writen by MJ Turner and first published in the Fall 2016 Calendar.

  • Posted July 28, 2016

RELATED TOPICS: World Languages