Moving to a new city in a foreign country provides the ultimate chance to reinvent yourself. For some this happens through meeting new people, or picking up a new hobby – for others, a career change.
One of those newcomers that has decided to try their hand at something new after arriving in Winnipeg is Debora Nichelle, a former business and finance professional turned chef. This is her story.
Debora Nichelle, a former finance manager and analyst, now spends her days in the kitchen of Carnival, a Brazilian barbecue restaurant in Winnipeg’s Exchange District. Photo: Debora Nichelle
I really love Winnipeg because it actually looks a lot like the city where I grew up in Brazil, in the southern state of Santa Catarina, and is of a similar size.
I moved here from Rio de Janeiro with my husband two years ago because, although Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city, it’s just far too dangerous to live there right now. After we had been there for about five years my husband and I started looking around at different cities, but then thought: why not a different country? So my husband started looking online and emailed a lot of different people about a few options for places to go, and we ended up coming here.
I’m the head chef here at Carnaval now, but that was actually a big career change for me. When I moved to Canada I thought, why not try something new?
And so I tried to find work in professional kitchens but because for me I was starting on a whole new career path it was hard to find anything, so instead I started working at a pizzeria. After a while I found work here, at Carnival, as a cook, then after three months I got a promotion to supervisor, and one year later was promoted to head chef! I love it, it’s been a great experience.
Although, I must admit, I still like cooking most when it’s in my own home, with my wine. *laughs* The professional kitchen environment is very hectic, very busy, and some days you’re working very long hours – twelve or thirteen hour shifts.
My favourite part of the days now is in the morning, when I get to walk my dog in one of the many dog parks around the city. We don’t have those in Brazil. My dog is small, but he’s also very fat! I’m thinking about getting another one…
Dogs playing at Maple Grove Dog Park in Winnipeg’s Fort Richmond neighborhood. The city has 12 designated off-leash public dog parks where owners are free to let their furry friends run loose and socialize. Photo: Daryl Sawatzky/Flickr
Winnipeg is actually the only city I’ve been to in Canada. Although, I can tell you: Winnipeg is a very friendly city. The second day I was here after moving from Brazil, I was trying to figure out the bus schedule while waiting at the bus stop but was having a lot of difficulty – and it was March of 2018, when it was still in the minus 20s.
But there was an old man that came to the stop and asked if I needed help, and where was I going? I tried to answer him, but I didn’t really know what neighborhood I was in and didn’t have the right coins for the bus. But this guy was super helpful. He told me the route I needed to take, he put me on the right bus and he even gave me the proper change for bus fare. I just thought, Oh my God, I need to stay in this city.
There’s been other times too, when people have been very helpful. Another time when I first went to the supermarket someone helped me figure out the different types of food I should know not to buy. *laughs*
And you know, my English isn’t very good, but people still always have patience with me when I’m trying to explain things, and I really love that.
For the first 50 days after we arrived here we stayed in an AirBnb house, and the owner of the house found a car for us to borrow for free for those few weeks. It was so helpful to have that in order to go see other places we might want to rent, and just to get to know the city. During that time we were staying down along Spence Street, which didn’t really feel all that safe to go out and walk around in, especially at night time.
We also arrived in spring time, when it was still cold but there wasn’t much snow, so the streets all over the city were covered in dirt and that was a bit of a shock. But now that I have been here for a full winter I’ve come to realize that during that part of the year, after the snow starts to go away, the city just looks dirty for a little bit. That’s just how it is. *laughs*
You know, I left my parents and friends in Brazil when I moved here, and I do miss them, but to be honest, I don’t miss very much else. The living conditions here are just that much better. In Brazil there’s just too much serious crime. Here, I feel at home. I feel at peace.
I’m hoping to bring my parents here this year to see the city, and the country. When I describe it to them I say it’s very much like where we grew up. Otherwise, in winter it is cold – but it’s not too bad! – and in summer it’s stunningly beautiful. In Brazil I hate the summer. *laughs* It’s too hot and the humidity makes everything sticky! But here, I love the long days.
Another change that’s happened since being here has been the way we eat our meals. In Brazil the biggest meal of the day is in the middle of the day at lunch; whereas here it is later, in the evening. So now we find ourselves eating that way. Buying fresh fruit here is also a lot more expensive.
But traffic here isn’t nearly as bad as Rio de Janeiro – you only have rush hour at two times during the day instead of bad traffic the whole day.
Saara Shopping District in Rio de Janeiro. Many newcomers that come to Winnipeg from warmer climates quickly discover that much of the clothing they brought from home is no longer wearable for large portions of the year. Photo: Tobias Mayr/Flickr
Looking back, if I had to do it all over again, I would definitely take the time to improve my English before moving here. My husband’s English is very good, but for me, when I’m going around alone and I have to talk to someone it’s still a bit scary.
Another piece of advice: don’t bring too much stuff with you, because you’re going to need different stuff!
All the clothing that I brought with me, like jackets and shoes, none of that stuff from Brazil works here. You need to buy those things here. Although now my family and friends think I look so funny with the big Canadian winter clothes on. I send pictures back in the middle of winter here and it is summer time down there. They all laugh.
But even that first winter, in 2018 when it was so cold and none of my winter clothes from Brazil worked, I still tried to enjoy the cold. I put all my stuff on and went to embrace the cold, because I needed to know what it felt like. That was important to me.
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