Feb. 1, 2010
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the third in a series of eight feature articles prepared for Heritage Week, Feb. 8 - 15. Entitled Spotlight on our Heritage, this series is a reflection upon the people, places and collections of New Brunswick's past. This year’s theme, Global Village, provides an opportunity to underline New Brunswick’s advantage in communicating to the world: it’s two official languages. This article was prepared by The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick and is taken from the document People Are Talking… about Official Languages. For more information about Heritage Week, visit the Heritage Week 2010 website.
Languages: An entry visa to the world
Christie Dennison's parents enrolled her in the French immersion program because they wanted to give her every chance of success in a bilingual province. Mission accomplished. Today, thanks in part to her command of both official languages, Dennison manages international development projects around the world.
Dennison said she welcomed the challenge of learning a second language during her early school years.
"For me, it was something that offered advantages," said the young Fredericton resident. "It was part of learning."
All her schooling was within the immersion program, first at St. Dunstans School, then at George Street Junior High School, and finally at Fredericton High School. She felt well prepared to continue her studies in French and English at the bilingual University of Ottawa.
The strong presence of two linguistic communities at university, and her participation in the House of Commons Page Program, stimulated Dennison's interest in the Canadian francophonie. She became friends with many francophones from across Canada.
Dennison studied political science and learned Spanish and, after completing her Bachelor of Arts, studied in Great Britain, where she obtained a master's degree in conflict resolution and peace studies. She felt ready to travel the world.
"I did a few internships, and I had the opportunity to work for the United Nations Development Programme in Uzbekistan, in central Asia," she said. "That was my first job in another country, and it was fantastic. I learned a lot."
As a gender and development advisor she participated in international committees that guided and supported local Uzbek organizations in promoting the economic and social rights of women.
At the end of this first contract, Dennison found the perfect job for her next assignment in Senegal, a francophone country. She knew her skills and work experience made her an ideal candidate. Although Dennison had never worked exclusively in French, that was no obstacle for her, and she applied.
"They offered me the position. I went to Senegal for a year. It was a total immersion experience," said Dennison, who worked with groups of women to help them sell their products in local markets. She feels the experience improved her French language skills tremendously.
"Communicating effectively in a different cultural environment forces us to modify our physical and oral language," she said. "I communicated with my Senegalese colleagues mainly in French, because that was our only common language before I learned a little Wolof. They came from different ethnic groups and, like me, had learned French in school. A desire to collaborate on human development projects motivated us to overcome our cultural and linguistic differences."
After Senegal, Dennison left the African continent and went to Haiti, where she worked for the United Nations for a few months. While living abroad, she learned that an international development consortium, SavoirSphère Canada - LearnSphere Canada, had its offices in her hometown. She got in touch with the organization and in 2006, when she returned to Canada, the organization hired her.
As project manager, Dennison works on international development projects that enlist the expertise of New Brunswick training firms and organizations. Her command of French is an asset.
"Two of our largest international projects are in Cameroon, and they are francophone projects," she said.
Dennison believes her immersion experiences, especially in Senegal, gave her a better understanding of the situation of francophones who live in a minority setting in New Brunswick.
"It's not easy to live and work in a language other than your mother tongue," she said. "Even after attaining some level of proficiency in the other language, barriers still exist."
Although her current job enables her to travel on occasion, Dennison would like to work abroad again one day. She already has the best entry visa: a command of several languages.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Elizabeth Joubert, communications, Department of Wellness, Culture and Sport, 506-457-6445; Hugues Beaulieu, director of public affairs and research, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick, 506-444-4229 or 1-888-651-6444.