Almost a year ago, Portage la Prairie welcomed a woman from Ireland as her new home, and she absolutely loves the community. Leah O'Leary says she came from a very small town, called Kilcullen.

Kilcullen, County KildareKilcullen - photo submitted by Leah O'Leary

O'Leary works at the Portage Regional Library as Community Program Coordinator, previously working in Dublin.

"In University during COVID, I had to do my 'uni' degree which was always great but I did Event Management. After that, I moved to Dublin City for two years where I worked in an Event Management company and I did digital marketing and event coordination," explains O'Leary. "So, it gave me a good experience for this job. Then my sister, Eve, came over in May, and she spoke highly about the community of Portage la Prairie. So, I felt an intimate connection, like an immediate media connection to the place and even for visiting. So I was like, I really want to move there and see. I wanted to try something different because I'd never lived abroad before."

She says she's not done much travelling and wanted that part of the experience in moving here, too. This led to May 2023's application for her Visa and decided to take the leap of faith to move to Portage. O'Leary landed in Canada with her Visa in hand by July.

"I went to Saskatchewan before. Eve and Darren, her husband, lived in Saskatchewan up in White Fox/Nipawin area. Now, I don't know him very well, but my uncle and auntie lived there, as well. They moved there 10 years ago. We went to see them when they first came over but I was only 17. That was the only experience I have; in Saskatchewan. Then I decided that I'm just going to move over and see what it's like."

O'Leary says coming to Canada has been her biggest trip, noting people from Europe travel throughout its countries making cheap and short flights.

"Eve was saying how great it was here and that I would really enjoy it. I really just wanted something different, then I moved here, and I love it. I love Portage la Prairie. I think it's a great community and I was really welcomed by everybody here. I really fell into place at the library because, as a program coordinator, I'm doing marketing, I'm doing events, and I'm doing all our programming for kids and that kind of thing. It's really the perfect job for me. I'm really loving it here so far, and I'm just hoping to gain more connections and work with more not-for-profits. We work heavily with not-for-profits here, which is really interesting, because I'd never been involved in my career with other non-for-profits. I've always worked in a corporate company. So, I've never seen the side of getting sponsorshipa, grants, and that kind of thing."

She notes it's quite fulfilling to watch the excitement of children in the programs that she organizes.

O'Leary says she definitely misses her parents despite feeling extremely fulfilled here. 

"I absolutely do miss my family home dearly, but I generally feel like Portage la Prairie's become my home, and I'm really excited just to see where it all goes with everybody and just to keep growing here and gaining connections. I can definitely see myself settling here, for sure. It really helps that I have my sister here, as well."

She adds the first thing that stood out to her when she arrived in Portage la Prairie was how large the city was. We consider Portage to be quite small compared to other communities, but she insisted that her more seriously small hometown makes that much of a difference. 

"I wasn't used to it, obviously. I lived in Dublin for two years, which was different, but I fully like to live here. I found the city was very big and looked very Canadian, which sounds very funny when you say it, now that I'm living here for eight months. But at the time, I thought this looks so different to Ireland. Canada is obviously a younger country than Ireland, but I thought it was really nice and everybody was really welcoming. I definitely think that it was the best decision I made to come here. And I really feel like I've grown. I've achieved a lot in the last year already, which I'm really excited about just to see where I go career-wise for me, even. I just want to be happy and fulfilled, and I already feel that way."

She adds she's simply excited to see where her journey takes her here.