Finding a place abroad

It’s impossible to say what small action will change the course of our entire lives. For Quentin O’Mahony, an Irish-born Canadian, it turned out to be something inherently international.

“I always had a European focus,” says O’Mahony when reflecting on his time as a student at UFV. “I was born in Ireland, came to Canada when I was seven, and my focus was always Europe. Even up until my first two years of university here studying history, I did all my projects on Ireland, the Irish, Immigration Canada.”

But that changed when he decided to step outside his comfort zone and take an elective course in his third year on 19th century European Imperialism in Asia.

Quentin Refereeing in Singapore 2022
Quentin refereeing in Singapore

“I knew nothing about Asia. Nothing! It blew my mind,” he says. “There was a whole world over there. And then I realized that whole world is right here even in the university, with all the international students, who I never noticed before that.”

It was during that same year that O’Mahony interacted with the UFV International Office for the first time. They sought him regarding an opportunity to study in Japan —something he had never considered.

“They asked me to go to Japan for two months in the spring semester,” O’Mahony recalls. “They wanted to send me to Japan for free for two months. So, I said sure! And it was as simple as that.”

From there, O’Mahony had his first true international experience, which sparked his desire to work in Asia.

“I decided this was it,” he says. “I had to focus my life towards Asia.”

After graduating from UFV with a BA in History in 1998, he went on to do the Asia-Pacific Management Co-operative program at Capilano University (when the institution was still a college). After completing his co-op portion in Japan and working there for eight years, he moved to McGill University in Montreal, where he earned an MBA, completing some of his course work on the McGill Tokyo campus.

O’Mahony now works for CAE Inc. in their Flight Training Centre in Singapore. After graduation from McGill, he knew he wanted to work for a Canadian company overseas, and CAE, a Montreal based international aerospace company, provided the perfect opportunity.  He is now the general manager of their joint venture training centre with Singapore Airlines.

“But for Canadians, we typically blend in, intermarry with a local group. We just adapt. We’re very good at fitting in.”

CAE has also sent him back to Japan for almost five years, where he met his wife; he then transitioned all over the South Pacific with CAE, until he landed his current position in Singapore, all while retaining his connection to Canada.

“Overseas, Americans keep their identity, so do many Europeans, with a common language,” says O’Mahony. “But for Canadians, we typically blend in, intermarry with a local group. We just adapt. We’re very good at fitting in. So therefore, the Canadian bonds with other Canadians aren’t strong apart from the embassy holding a Canada Day event and some like me who join the local Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“I sat on the Chamber board in Japan and again in Singapore. But even so, as a Canadian, you have to find our own pathway overseas. And if you have a passionate hobby, that’s your link into the local community.”

For O’Mahony, that was soccer. Following his days on the UFV Cascades men’s soccer team, he earned his senior refereeing license. While still in Canada, he grew to love the role, even officiating Whitecaps matches in the early 2000s.

“It’s a universal game,” he says. “Everywhere I go, I use soccer as my medium to meet people. There’s always a shortage of referees and very few non-locals who referee. In Japan I refereed for eight years. I transferred my B.C. license to Japan, so I refereed in the Japanese leagues and some international (expat) leagues. And because I was able to communicate with the players in English, the international players appreciated it. And then as my Japanese got better, I was able to communicate with the Japanese players. So, between the two I was a bridge; soccer was a real link.”

For anyone planning to live abroad, O’Mahony says it’s not hard to find a community, or even connect with other Canadians if you want to.

“Overseas, because we’re in the minority, almost everybody you speak to will say, I know a guy you should speak to, and then they link you,” says O’Mahony. “They’re very happy to help because we’re all in the same boat, outsiders trying to fit in.”

For O’Mahony, these international experiences shaped his life. Starting at UFV he found his passion for Asia and working abroad. And though he lives in Singapore now, he still maintains his connection to the Fraser Valley, through his own family, and also through UFV.

alumni quentin omahony paddle presentation 53249885924 o web

Since his time at UFV was such a formative experience for him, he has continued to donate to the university to provide opportunities for students to find their own inspirations. As a regular donor for more than 15 years, O’Mahony was recently recognized with a Loyalty Paddle for his continued support.

“I believe in sponsoring or sending regular donations,” says O’Mahony. “Just giving small on a regular basis adds up.”

To learn how to give, you can find more information here.

To learn more about UFV’s Study Abroad program, you can visit their website here.