Since graduating university, Meredith Bratland hasn’t been one to stay in a single location for long. Not until she found her niche as the communications co-ordinator in Lacombe at the Parkland Regional Library.
The 27-year-old, who grew up in the village of Lougheed, southeast of Camrose, has now been back in Central Alberta for about a year.
“My career is super fulfilling and I love my job. I never thought I would find it,” Bratland said. “All of my interests meet: writing, literature, new ideas, social media.”
But she’s not sure she’d have come to that conclusion without a few years of travelling under her belt and the culturally rich experiences those treks brought with them.
She’s toured a Sami (the indigenous people in many parts of northern Europe) reindeer farm in Lapland, bartered with market vendors on the busy streets of Nairobi, attended Finnish classes in Jyväskylä, Finland, and been through the woes of months of job hunting in Brussels.
“Travelling, taking that leap was the best thing I ever did,” she said.
It started in 2009 when she was in the thick of her history degree at the University of Alberta and decided to jump aboard the Education Abroad program.
“I got a bit of the travel bug that year,” she said. “So a friend and I went to Finland on exchange. … It was one of the places that worked best for her and it was great, just a winter wonderland, a wintry, sporty city. … It’s called the belly button of Finland actually, because it’s right in the middle.”
Among about 500 other exchange students, Bratland “fell” into studying communications at the University of Jyväskylä and found she enjoyed it. She also met her boyfriend on campus, a Belgian who has been with her ever since, immigrating to Canada recently to join her in Lacombe.
“After Finland, and I had a little taste of independence and knew a little more of what was out there, I could not wait to find something else and that’s probably what gave me the courage to go to Kenya next.”
Upon graduating, she took a four-month internship as a communications assistant at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi. It was one of the most empowering, exciting and overwhelming journeys of her life, she said.
It started with a bang: Bratland was left stranded at the bustling Nairobi airport on day one. After making a homemade sign with her name and employer on a sheet of paper, a gentleman tried to help her find a ride.
It led to an introduction with a very “well dressed man in a suit with a Mercedes” who turned out to be a “foreign ambassador with Tanzania or along those lines” who drove her to her new home. She never saw or heard from him again.
“It was pretty intense … and I had culture shock for two months.”
In Kenya, she was blown away by the “rich culture,” the professionalism and power of women in the workforce and how political everyone seemed to be, watching the news as often as possible.