Keira Carey: Leading By Example
At some point in our lives, we could all benefit from the guidance of a mentor. Keira Carey knows this well from personal experience, and in her day job she helps connect other young people of African descent with someone who might make a difference in their professional and, by extension, personal lives. Working mostly with international students, as Youth Mentorship and Cultural Sensitization Project Coordinator at the African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes in Halifax, Keira has found her passion in helping others navigate an experience that she once largely tackled on her own—finding her way in Canada.
International students are a group that Keira can easily relate to, having recently been in their shoes. She first came to Canada for university to study Political Science and International Development, a reflection of her interests and the wider lens through which she sees the world. When she graduated, she went back to her hometown of Nassau, Bahamas. She began going through the motions of applying for law school overseas, which had always been her plan.
Before leaving Halifax, however, Keira had applied for a post-graduate work permit to keep her options open, perhaps subconsciously beginning to consider a change of heart. By the end of the summer she had decided to come back to Canada, feeling like she was called to do something bigger and wanting “to learn a different way of working, and to learn from the systems already in place in Canada, especially in the not-for-profit world.”
And so she did. At 22 years old, Keira made the independent move back to Halifax. She admits that the transition was not easy. She shares that people sometimes assume that immigrants who started out as international students are already equipped to handle life as a newcomer. However, she gently cautions that it’s important to realize that it can be a challenging experience for everyone.
As an immigrant from an English-speaking country who is relatively familiar with the Canadian lifestyle, Keira shares that while it may be less of an adjustment for her than for someone with more stark linguistic and cultural differences, it is still an adjustment. Different technology takes getting used to, as does navigating the laws of the land and things like home or car ownership—especially when it comes to changing winter tires!
Although she had spent four years as an engaged undergraduate student in the city she returned to, finding a job was initially challenging without Canadian work experience. At first, she had to volunteer her time to get the experience that she needed. After interning for a few non-profit organizations, Keira landed a job as the first employee of a recently revamped African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes. Three years later, she has been part of the organization’s growth and is happy to be helping students in a way that she knows she would have benefitted from in their position.
When asked about the current work that she does, Keira says that she wants "to help international students learn about the ‘real Canada’ and what it means to be an immigrant in Canada.” In Keira’s experience, when you’re a student “you’re focused on studies…you’re a bit sheltered by the university community. You don’t think outside that community until you are placed in the larger society.” At that point, you have to navigate on your own. Whether it is to find a doctor (without access to the student health centre that you once used), or to apply for jobs (without the support of the student resources that you once accessed for things like resume writing).
Through the mentorship relationships that she works to create, Keira encourages students not to wait to start building the knowledge and connections that might help them succeed after graduation, whether they stay in Canada or follow a different path.
Keira clearly has a passion for giving back—something that she acknowledges but for which she just as quickly brushes aside the praise. She credits her parents with instilling the desire in her and believes that “there is always something more that you can do,” for individuals and on a broader scale.
She undoubtedly has a global perspective. In the future, she wants to be able to apply her skills developed in Canada to help the youth of the Bahamas. She is interested in working with the Bahamian government on socio-economic issues including poverty and job creation, particularly in regards to youth. She lights up as she talks about the idea of someday creating a national youth mentorship program.
Whatever your passion, Keira has some words of wisdom with broad reach for other recent newcomers:
“You have to continue to work hard for what you want. Being focused is very important. Being here without family and with limited friends, it’s important to know what you want because that’s the only thing that gets you through at the end of the day.”
Without a doubt, in this regard, Keira is leading by example.