Three years ago, Kacia Whilby (MEd’22) left the gentle cooling breezes of Jamaica for the howling north wind of the Saskatchewan prairie.
She couldn’t be happier.
Whilby knew that attending the University of Saskatchewan (USask) was going to be a massive change to her life and lifestyle, but she was ready for the challenge of embracing a new world.
“I had heard the stories about Canada, I knew it was very multicultural, it looked like a very beautiful place and I saw an opportunity (for me) to grow and expand. I just wanted a new adventure,” said Whilby, who works on the USask campus at Career Services.
Her parents, Barbara and Kingsley, both supported their daughter in the pursuit of knowledge abroad. That provided the fuel Whilby needed to take the next step to decide where to go.
As Whilby searched online for where to potentially pursue her education, she saw an ad for USask and instantly fell in love with the character of the old buildings.
When Whilby quickly dialed, she was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a real USask employee, rather than an automated directory. Katrina Hutchence, from USask’s College of Education for educational administration, provided answers to many questions she had about attending USask and making the journey to Canada.
Having that instant and personal connection to USask really pushed Whilby to target Canada and USask as her destination.
“Talking to her with that personal touch and reassurance that it would be OK really sealed the deal, since she had already spontaneously paid for her application.
Whilby recalls the moment she told her parents she had made the decision to leave Jamaica for Canada and they were instantly very supportive of her decision.
“They were pretty excited for me.”
Whilby said one of the best things about making the move to Saskatoon is the fact there are so many people from other places around the world who now call the city their home.
“I’ve never been in one place that has so many different cultures like we have here, all the different languages you hear. I came all the way to Saskatchewan to experience that,” said Whilby.
“Being a young black woman in Saskatoon has really opened my eyes to my own strength. I’ve had my fair share of cultural and social challenges that made me uncomfortable,” said Whilby. However, her positive experiences at USask and in Saskatoon far outweigh any negative experiences she has faced.
She has jumped right into the multicultural experiences offered in the city and is an active member of a local church in Saskatoon.
“For every negative, there’s even more positives. Yes, I’ve had some unpleasantries, but I’ve had twice as much positive experiences that I can’t complain.”
Her mother, a retired vice-principal, her father, a retired senior police officer, and her sister Kimberley remain very close despite the great distance apart. They communicate regularly and Whilby stills feel their strong connection and support.
She beams when talking about her family and home back in Falmouth and is quick to extol the virtues of her hometown, such as being the home of the largest cruise ship port in the Caribbean.
“I felt like I had water withdrawal when I first got here,” Whilby said. “Literally, when I came here my skin was drying and I now have the worst case of dry eyes.”
Whilby, who plans to go back to school at USask next fall to obtain her PhD in educational administration, wants to use her education to offer support to students to achieve their dreams, no matter their backgrounds.
“I’m so happy to tell them because I’m a living example of that.”
Whilby believes by not taking a linear path in her education has given her a stronger position to provide career assistance to students.
“You get to really discover your strengths,” Whilby said. “If I never stepped out of my life back home, I would have known that I could do it and find a new career here.
“I really encourage people to take your time and listen to your heart and try new things. You can even be a blueprint for someone else’s future job.”
A big piece of that is being adaptable to change, Whilby said.
“I hate the fact that so many people are afraid of change. You have to embrace change.”
Just like Whilby did when she embraced a life change from the idyllic Caribbean to the Canadian cold.