Trading year-long sun for winter is a choice that not many people would take, but for DeAnndra Sands it was one of the best decisions of her life.
Born and raised in the Bahamas, Sands says she wanted a career change and thought going overseas for her studies would be the perfect way to start a new chapter. She Googled “small town colleges” and found Coast Mountain College (CMTN)
She had never heard of it but it looked like a promising adventure. Sands says she was impressed with how helpful CMTN was whenever she was unsure about her application.
“What really made me choose the College was that whenever I messaged, they always had an answer to my questions,” Sands explains.
“If they didn’t have an answer, they would always refer me to somebody who could help me and that made me feel very comfortable choosing the college.”
In pursuit of her Associate of Arts degree, Sands moved to Terrace in 2017 and was taken aback with how friendly the school was. By the end of her first semester, she knew all the students and instructors by name — even those not in her classes.
Amongst all the initial excitement though, Sands says the hardest obstacle in school was bringing up her cultural background in fear. As she grew more comfortable, she realized people here were a lot more accepting here than she thought they would be.
"It was a culture shock for a person like me of colour, coming from the Caribbeans. It was a challenge because at first I was a little timid to bring my perspective into the classroom,” she says, adding she had only met one other Bahamian student at the college.
“But I had great professors and classmates, even outside of school, where everybody was so open. In a small setting, everyone was so excited to learn and accepting of our differences so that made it easier.”
Back home, Sands says Canada is seen as this perfect country but living here she witnessed how untrue that is. She began working for a nonprofit organization where she was involved with their youth outreach program and helped people with disabilities in assisted living.
As she became more involved in the community, she discovered that social work was her calling.
“I was thinking that I was just going to go to college and be a bookworm, but I learned so much outside of the classroom as well... being immersed in different cultures and meeting new people, I learned my purpose because of everything I experienced living here,” Sands says.
During the summer break in 2019, Sands was visiting home when a category five Hurricane Dorian devastated her country. Thousands were left without homes or electricity, including her family, but when she returned to Canada she was heartbroken to know there was little talk about her homeland’s catastrophe.
“When I got back, I really struggled to focus on school when there was so much going on at home... and there were so many people who were unaware that this happened,” Sands says.
With the help of a professor, Sands eagerly raised awareness on how people could donate to the cause. She managed to raise a bit of money to help her nation.
“The severity of the hurricane was unreal and when I saw the devastation it left, I just knew I had to help in some way.
Nearing graduation, Sands opted to enroll in more classes so she could qualify for the social work program at UNBC. She was offered a full-time position in Terrace to continue her line of work and was thrilled that her new life was coming together in Canada.
But when she travelled home for Christmas at the end of 2019, the pandemic became a grave concern and the Bahamas closed its borders. Sands was forced to defer her job offer and has been waiting there since. As she waits for the world to resume normalcy, she says she’s eager to come back to continue her journey at the CMTN and onwards.
“The college is such an incredible community... after all that nervousness, I want to tell my younger self that you’re going to be in great hands amongst people who care for you,” says Sands.
“They see your potential here and that alone will lead you to so many opportunities."