People of Georgian: Friend’s death sparks woman’s life-changing travel

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The Georgian community is full of unique, inspiring perspectives —and we’re sharing them as part of an ongoing series.

People of Georgian: Meet Joanne Foxton

When I was 23, my best friend passed away of cancer. That was a wakeup call for me.

Michelle had been sick for three years. It was also around the time I had just moved up this way to go to school, so I was back and forth to Toronto a lot, supporting her through her illness.

A person dressed in winter jacket, snowpants and toque, smiles and stands outside in the snow.
Joanne at her family cottage in Muskoka.

‘It just rocked me to the core’

Before she passed, she had been told she had six months to live and she lasted four. It just rocked me to the core and that’s when I was like, “Life’s short. What have you always wanted to do that you’ve never done?”

At that time, the only bit of travel I’d ever done was my dad had taken us to Montreal for a weekend. My aunt took us to Florida once. I’d been on a plane once.

Joanne travels the world

I decided I was going to Australia, so I got a second job.

I worked at Georgian to live, and I worked at The Beer Store part time to feed my soul and all that money went into savings. It took me two years to save up to go.

Eventually I travelled through Australia, Korea, and Singapore. I skydived, I sailed, I did all the things.

Two people attached to each other skydive in tandem, while one of them covers their eyes with a hand.
Joanne tried skydiving, sailing and lots of other activities on her international travels.
A person stands outside next to a kangaroo.
Joanne travelled through Australia, Korea and Singapore.

‘What am I going to do next?’

Toward the end of my trip, I had about $300 left, and I started to feel the pressure of, “What am I going to do next? What am I doing here? How long am I going to stay?”

I resisted calling home, but when I finally did my mom said I could come home anytime, or she could send money if I needed. I was just like, “No, no, I’m good.” I just needed the reassurance, I think.

And I ended up surviving another month on that $300.

I had been traveling with a friend, but this was a period of time when I was on my own and had many quiet times of reflection.

You just get to your core and listen to what your body and your soul need – and I wasn’t done yet, but I didn’t know how to make it all happen. But I did.

The whole trip gave me that new energy, that new life, that new perspective. I needed a new story.

Snapshot of photos in an album. Text: "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I've ended up where I intend to be." - Douglas Adams
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I intend to be.” – Douglas Adams

Back to Canada and Georgian

When I came back, that’s what set me in motion with the International Centre at Georgian. I followed my heart, and all my travel actually gave me a little bit more credibility in that space, which I didn’t know I was looking for or that I needed. It opened a lot of doors.

But let me tell you, reverse culture shock is real.

It’s one thing I will talk to international students about. They go home a year later and they’re almost lost in translation because some feel like they don’t fit in at home or in Canada.

I was fumbling along, too, when I came back to Canada. Do I get another job? Do I save up and go somewhere else again? Do I work on a cruise ship and get paid while I’m abroad?

But that’s when I got hired back on at Georgian full time.

Two adults and three children take a selfie against a window with a sprawling view of a city.
Joanne with her husband, Jamie, and three children.

‘Working at Georgian feeds my soul’

I first started at Georgian in 1998 as a job search coach.

Since coming back to the college, I’ve worked in Co-op Education and Career Success, the International Centre, the former Centre for Changemaking and Social Innovation, and now I’m a manager in the Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship department.

I have an unusual background, but life is not a straight and narrow path.

Now, I’m super fulfilled with my career choice. Working at Georgian feeds my soul.

Joanne Foxton, Manager of #ChangeTheNow, and alumna of Georgian’s Office Administration – Executive program (class of 2000).

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