People on campus may not know Leo Gayle by name, but they know his voice. His presence can often be heard long before it is seen, with his signature singing and warm laughter echoing the through the halls of MHC.
“Singing – it is who I am. My people are very expressive and engaging. It is part of our culture to share,” says Gayle of his Jamaican heritage.
Gayle arrived in Medicine Hat with his wife and two children last August, leaving behind family, friends and everything familiar. While they had a “comfortable” life in Kingston, they saw that tougher times ahead and were faced with two options – ride out the storm or seek greener pastures.
“We saw Canada as a land that is great in opportunity but in making the move, we wanted to maximize our true potential which meant going back to school.”
With a degree in sociology and minor in psychology, Gayle was a guidance counsellor in Jamaica and wanted to find a program that was similar in field but had a new dimension. An online search led him to the addictions counselling program at Medicine Hat College and a new life in Canada.
“And that’s how we ended up in Medicine Hat,” says a grateful Gayle. “We did not know anyone here. We had never been to Canada. It was faith. We just took a leap of faith.”
Part of the appeal of Medicine Hat was the smaller community and slower pace.
“We are not fans of big city, urban life. It is not good for our family. I think both Medicine Hat and the college offer us that home, family feel which is what we wanted. It has been a blessing
Despite finding the temperature “chilly” in August, the family settled in and Gayle began his program in September.
In addition to taking addictions counselling courses, Gayle also registered for a course on Canadian social development to give him a background on his new home.
“I needed perspective. I knew it is a different culture and it is easy to offend if you don’t know the culture. I don’t think an international student should undertake education in any country and not have some historical perspective on that country and its communities. This course has helped me make sense of life in Canada.”
From tobogganing, to the history of the railway in Medicine Hat, to Canadian politics, Gayle is learning quickly.
“Working at the college is another blessing,” says Gayle who works part-time as a library assistant. “I love the customer service. I think the staff and the service – and this is with every aspect of the college – are excellent. Everyone is courteous, everyone smiles. Everyone makes you feel at that moment in time like you are the most important person. I like to be part of that team.”
By embracing not only his education, but every aspect of college and community life, Gayle hopes that when the time comes to put forward his application for residency it will show his commitment to his new country.
“I want people to say ‘here is a person who has come to Canada and carried his family, who got good grades and worked hard, who is worthy to be part of this society.’ I want that to be my legacy.”
Whatever his legacy may be, an impression he has certainly made.
Last semester while studying in the library, Gayle returned to his desk and found a note that said:
“I enjoy your singing so much. You bring light into my life. Don’t stop.”
“I didn’t realize the impact of singing and being expressive and how it touches people’s lives,” says Gayle. “So I keep singing.”