Born and raised in the island nation of Jamaica, 28-year-old Natasha Henry attended teachers’ college in her homeland. She also attained a Bachelor of Arts in Management Studies at university, majoring in business education. After spending seven years employed in Ocho Rios by SuperClubs, one of the major hotel chains in Jamaica, the lure of other lands beckoned. So Henry arrived at Assiniboine Community College in September to begin work on a two-year business diploma, majoring in accounting. But while she misses Jamaica, she’s truly enjoying and making the most of her time in Brandon. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Why — oh Natasha! Why did you want to come here?
I wanted to advance my education and get some international flavour, and since I’m a trained teacher, I wanted to come out of travel and tourism and I wanted to broaden my skills in accounting so when I return to Jamaica, I’ll be better able to teach accounting — that’s where my heart lies. But unfortunately, travel and tourism just can’t get out of my bones! Because since I’ve been here, I’ve been recommending Jamaica to people, and suggesting different hotels. I guess it becomes second nature after so many years!
And you’re a proud Jamaican, as are most Jamaicans I’ve met, because as I told you, my husband and I have been there five times. And we absolutely love it. People there are pretty proud of their country.
We are. We have so much to celebrate. We have wonderful food, the flora is just fantastic, we have beautiful landscapes, enveloping mountains, a lot of different scenery, picturesque oceans and so forth, so it’s really wonderful. I usually say, ‘When you’re depressed, just take a walk down to the ocean and feel the breeze.’ When I’m at work and I feel overwhelmed, I just take a five-minute break, I walk to the window and enjoy the beautiful scenery. It’s really magnificent. And of course we have our athletes that make us SO proud, and almost everywhere Jamaicans go, we always seem to excel. I say we are the spice of the world! We usually carry the fun and entertainment, despite the challenges we may have. We are always a happy set of people. We usually try to overcome the different challenges and just make life fun.
Did you follow the Olympics and the bobsled team at all?
I DID! And you know, I read an article that said even though they weren’t looking to medal or actually qualify because they were dead last, everyone was just there to cheer them on. And of course they carried their song and their music and people were just dancing and everybody was just happy to see Jamaica in the Winter Olympics. It’s just so ironic!
It really is. Now back to your being here. Why the move? And why to Brandon, Manitoba?
I get so many questions about that! Well, I really wanted a change of life, a change of lifestyle. I wanted to be part of a different culture — learn something new. I wanted to explore. At first I thought I was going to be in Toronto, but then I didn’t want to be in the big city — I wanted to be closer to nature, away from the commercialization. I wanted to have fun, and of course I wanted to experience the sub-20s in temperature.
Again, I have to ask WHY?
Because I think human beings are adaptable. But never did I think I could adjust so quickly! I mean, a lot of people keep asking me, ‘How do you manage with the cold?’ and I say, ‘It doesn’t bother me.’
That’s amazing! It certainly bothers me! Had you been anyplace cold before?
And how did you select Brandon?
It was just coincidence, really. I was searching for schools that I wanted to study at, and I was heading for Toronto, and then I found Assiniboine Community College. And I was like, ‘I don’t know anyone in this neck of the woods. So it would be a great adventure to step out of my comfort zone.’
So I saw the school online on a Friday in December, and on Saturday, I met one of my friends and she told me she got through for the same institution and she was leaving in January. So I was like, ‘Yes — this is somewhere I’d want to be!’ Away from the city, away from the hustle and the bustle and we wanted to start something fresh for ourselves.
And when you say yourselves, that’s you and your friend?
Yes. We didn’t want to be where our families are, because I have relatives in Toronto. I wanted to do something different. So Brandon seemed like a nice place and it’s also one of the more economical towns. It’s very safe, based on my research. And I wanted to be somewhere not too big, and the size is OK for me — people pretty much know everybody here. And that’s great. And of course it’s very lucrative in terms of job opportunities.
People would wonder, though, at the choice of the bald Canadian prairie. Now you were out for adventure and you were out for the cold, and boy did you get it this year! This is the worst winter I remember in my life!
Yes! I was actually listening to a forecast and they were saying it’s the worst winter in 65 years! Because my friend came in December 2012, and she told me about the -45ºC, which was the coldest weather last year. But this year, we got sub-50s! And I found that fascinating, because I was saying to myself, ‘If I can survive this, then I can survive even more! I didn’t die!’
I applaud you for being so embracing. Because there’s a daily conversation in my office — sometimes more than one a day — about how much we HATE the winter. And I would move to Jamaica in a heartbeat if I could. This is too much! It’s an adventure for you but you can go BACK to Jamaica! So why do you think you’ve adapted so well? We laugh when we go down there that on a cool day in Jamaica, I’m still in a bikini or a light, short dress and the Jamaicans are huddling in jackets and scarves…
That’s what amazed me most. Because when I was back home in December, we have temperatures like 28ºC, 29ºC, and I thought it was cold! I actually wore sweaters — not thick sweaters, but I had sweaters on. And when I didn’t have a sweater on, I was shivering. And now I’m here at like minus 20 and I’m OK! Because I’m mentally prepared. I told myself I just have to do it.
But actually, I do enjoy the cold here. I don’t have a problem with it. It’s just a season and you go through various seasons, so I just prepare in my mind that this, too, shall pass. And there are many benefits. I like the snow.
Because I’ve never experienced snow before. So I think it’s a magnificent creation! I think it’s very beautiful when it just flutters in the air and lies on the ground at the end. It’s just so smooth and crisp and it gives a beautiful glow at night. And feeling it on your fingers — it’s just heavenly. I don’t think there’s anything that can actually compare to that.
I actually like to take photos of the trees when the snow is falling on them — it’s just beautiful. And I’ve never made a snow angel but I do kick it on my feet. So sometimes I may just run outside, skimpily clad — I just play and get in. And I love to walk and kick the snow.
The snow feels like sand, except the snow is lighter. And I really love to feel when the snow is falling on my face and giving me the occasional kiss on the cheek. It’s really beautiful.
So are you planning to stay here for the summer?
Yes. Here in Canada, the country has many resources and opportunities for growth and development. And it’s about developing the overall person, not just finances. And I applaud the education system here — it’s very practical and I really enjoy that. And of course I don’t think I would ever trade another institution for Assiniboine Community College.
Well isn’t that lovely!
I really love it there. The family’s very friendly there — like the instructors and staff are very friendly. I’ll work with them any day!
Now you’re not really looking for employment opportunities in Canada — you want to do your training and then go back home, right?
Well, it really depends. I would not mind being able to spend some time here — my younger years here — and get some gainful employment. That would be my ultimate goal, because I want to really get a full, rich Canadian experience before I go back to Jamaica. I just don’t want to be a short-time visitor here and then go back.
Are you planning on doing any travelling once you’re done your education?
Yes. I love to travel, even though I don’t like the plane. My experience here has been great so far. I’ve met amazing people, and before I came here, we’ve always heard that Canadians are very nice people, and I’ve also heard that Canada is one of the cleanest countries. And I must say, the experience so far has concreted that information. I’ve met really loving, wonderful people — genuine people. And the country’s very clean. And what I like is the order. Manitoba especially is very organized. Recently my friend purchased a vehicle and he got all the transfers and everything done in one place. So I really like the organization for this area. I really like the fact that people are disciplined here, and they are non-confrontational — I really enjoy that.
The food, well…
Ha! It’s a little bland for you, I bet!
You’re right. I must be honest. It’s a little bit bland for me, but there’s an ethnic store here, so we’re able to get some Jamaican food, which is really great, because in this neck of the woods, I was imagining that maybe I wouldn’t be able to get Jamaican food. And we have gotten it so far.
But while I’m here, I want to try bison — I’ve never had a bison burger. I know in some of the Aboriginal communities, they eat moose. I want to try moose. If there’s anything unusual, I want to try it. And I want to go hunting! I don’t want to hunt — I just want to be there. I don’t think I could do the shooting.
What are you going to miss about Canada when you do go back home?
I’m going to miss the people. I’m going to miss the snow. I’m going to miss the cold! I mean, it gives bragging rights when you’re in Jamaica and you can say, ‘Did you know that I weathered through this — the minus 50s?’
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 1, 2014