Voyagers: Relocating to Jamaica Means Coming Home for UK Professional

natalie smith jamaica

Natalie Smith's Jamaican heritage led her from England to the Caribbean, where she fuses together both cultures in a way that helps others succeed in BPO.

Culture is a vital part of the Nearshore industry, on both sides of the partnership, but it’s sometimes easy to forget that cultural impact and influence comes from a company’s people, not its cultural “guidelines”.

For UK-born Natalie Smith, who works in the Global Leadership Development and Organizational Effectiveness Department at VXI Global Solutions, her Jamaican heritage led her to seek out a life on the Caribbean island, allowing her to fuse together both cultures in a way that helps other succeed.

Early Life and Education

natalie smithAfter finishing her GCSEs at 16 (10th Grade), Natalie stayed on at school to do her A-levels (High School Diploma) in English and Sociology. During this time, she was also working part time at fast food chain McDonald’s, giving her a chance to develop her work ethic and become more financially independent.

“Working there was sometimes difficult, but my mother supported and motivated me to stick at it,” she recalled. “I listened, and, after a year, I was asked to become a floor manager, meaning I had to take a number of training courses. At that time, I began to understand that there were ways to develop, train, and teach people in leadership and communication, which is something I wanted to be involved in.”

The initial difficulty that Natalie felt as a crew member drove her toward a career in helping other employees. She course corrected on her qualifications and focused on a GNVQ in Advanced Business Studies.

The Distinction she achieved in GNVQ Advanced Business studies allowed Natalie to attend the University of Westminster, where she took a degree in Business Studies to get a more rounded understanding of business principles, allowing her to see how people and employees are connected to everything else.

“During my third year, I had to take a work placement, but it was the same year as 9/11, and those devastating events led to many work placements abroad being put on hold,” she said. “Instead, I went for a UK work placement where I got lots of experience in an HR and training role.”

On a Path to Helping Others

natalie smithNatalie looked into working for companies where she could learn more about her chosen aptitude and start climbing the ladder, so took her first job at Deloitte UK as a project coordinator, where she worked for two years before taking a secondment in Paris in 2007.

“I was responsible for organizing training for roughly 29 countries in Europe, Middle East, and Africa,” she said. “The role required me to be out of Paris a lot, such as in Greece or Portugal planning and coordinating large scale training events.

In 2009, Natalie returned to the UK and wanted to move out of her comfort zone again. This move led to a nine-month role at Apple as a training sales specialist, where she organized training for resellers.

“I loved the culture and innovation at Apple, but I missed working in professional services, so I moved on to a job at Ernst and Young (EY), where I stayed in learning and development (L&D) and helped to create an L&D function for the financial services operation of the advisory business unit,” she recalled.

After a year doing that, Natalie applied for training manager role at KPMG but missed working for EY and went back, at which time she started to get the travel bug again. “I noticed that I wasn’t travelling as much, and I missed that,” she said. “I loved developing the skill set that comes with travel.”

This urge to see more of the world eventually led to a move to Jamaica, which had immense significance for Natalie.

Jamaican Heritage and Family

natalie smithNatalie’s grandparents moved to the UK from Jamaica after WWII, when the government was bringing in immigrants to come and help rebuild. Her parents, children at the time, were left in Jamaica until their parents could settle and become stable in England, eventually moving over at the age of nine.

“They went to school in the UK, grew up there, and eventually met, fell in love, got married, and had me, a second-generation Jamaican,” she said. “The thing is, I didn’t know that my parents were Jamaican until I was around 22 years old, because I was never sat down and was told it explicitly. In hindsight, certain food and behaviors were tell-tale signs, but as a child they always seemed just normal to me.”

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Natalie finally visited Jamaica at 25, when she suddenly felt that everything made sense. “There was just lots of people like me that I could suddenly identify with,” she remembered. “It’s really important to understand your culture and lineage, as it feels like a jigsaw puzzle being completed. Once I realized that my family were Jamaican, everything fell into place.”

With both of Natalie’s parents being Jamaican, she only had to prove that they were her parents to get citizenship in the country, so she applied and made the decision to move there in 2012: a decision helped along by the terrible British weather.

“Each year in the UK, summers seem to get darker and shorter, and weather is really important for my mood,” she laughed. “But also, I felt like I had done all that I could in the UK, both personally and professionally, and I wanted to continue to explore, experience, and understand the world.”

Goodbye England, Hello Opportunity

Natalie does not yet have any children, so has taken the chance to capitalize on all the freedom and opportunities available to her.

“With my family being Jamaican, I really wanted to work with Jamaicans and learn about Jamaicans both personally and in the working environment,” she said. “Within my career in L&D, I am able to inspire, mentor, and help people be all that they can be, and, most of the time, all they need is someone to tell them that to make the results happen. I have been doing this all over the world and what better place to do that this than where your parents and grandparents were born.”

natalie smith

At VXI Global Solutions, Natalie is responsible for executing and implementing the strategic vision for the company, rolling out initiatives for the Jamaica site and now the U.S. With her background in other countries, she is able to point out some distinguishing differences in work culture from around the world.

“Some challenges are cultural, with things like dialect, communication, and cultural interpretation, but I can often overcome this when people know that my family is Jamaican and I was raised in a dual household,” she said. “In L&D, it’s vital to understand personality types, working styles, and cultural types, and then mirror the people you are working with. Jamaicans are very passionate about what they do and strive to learn, grow, and be successful, and at a leadership level can easily interact with any other country.”

For Natalie, the various experiences she has had over the last 13 years, in different countries and industries, and across various training and leadership development tactics, have helped her to limit some of the challenges that she faces in Jamaica.

“I want to look back on my life when I retire and reflect on the positive impact that I’ve made in people’s lives and the impact people have made on my life,” she concluded.

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