I was 15 when I was offered the chance to work in Montreal for the summer, because I speak French and live in Souris. I followed that up with being hired to work in Gaspé when I was 16, in the hilltops pushing at the Appalachian Trail through to Cape Gaspé in Forillon National Park. That fall a 16 year old came and lived with us from south of Valleyfield, Quebec, and that winter still age 16 I went to live with his family, and attend Grade 11 for three months in southwest Quebec.
Also that academic year I worked on the high school newspaper, Allied Youth Peer Education, and helped with the school yearbook. The spring I was 16 I returned and was interviewed for a bilingual summer job with Parks Canada, and was hired to work for the season at Greenwich. Another student from Souris Early French Immersion was also hired, because we lived closer to Greenwich than Stratford or Montague, and spoke French.
That year I worked until almost Halloween at Greenwich, a couple of years before they built the interpretive centre. That year I was 17 and was one of the SRHS youth chosen to Terry Fox Centre, my week was dedicated to foreign affairs and the Organization of American States. When I came back from that week they were recruiting for Global Vision Junior Team Canada to the Philippines and Malaysia, which I was selected from amongst the 125 other recruitment centre attendees, some of whom were in college.
I spent my 18th birthday networking with the international trade officer of PEI Business Development Corporation, and a few days later graduated Grade 12. When a chemical company which had promised me sponsorship backed out at the last minute, a trucking company stepped in. The Chief Public Health Officer of PEI insisted upon hearing of my trip that I should take mefloquine (Lariam), an anti-malarial medication. While I was on the trip I found a $180 million contract for a company in Slemon Park, but was too sick from Lariam to follow through on the deal when I got home, and the lead went to the company’s sister site in Texas.
That fall my parents and I were in a car crash and dad died, while mom could never work again. It would be well over a decade before the insurance companies settled in my and mom’s favour.
The two incidents, the Lariam toxicity and the car crash, led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, so battling that it took nine years to get a university degree. Eventually I overcame my own personal stigma to ask for help from the Accessibility Office at UPEI. That was three university transfers later. At the first two universities where I spent at least a year, I was involved in an extracurricular, student-run INGO called AIESEC. It was common for Global Vision Junior Team Canada alumni to join the organization upon reaching universities where the organization had student-run chapters. Both Dalhousie/SMU and Bishops’ chapters have since closed, because paid global, temporary traineeship exchanges run for students by students butts up against the cooperative education unpaid internships many small universities run in the community surrounding their campuses, sometimes paying companies to take trainees.
So AIESEC is typically only found at larger population centres, and it was a fluke I was a paid intern for the summer when I was 20 with them, and went on to lead the last remaining chapter in Atlantic Canada when I was 22. AIESEC briefly regrew to having Atlantic Canada chapters in St. John’s, Moncton, and Halifax, but with PNP on PEI I could never convince locals to hire temporary work visa trainees who would return home after their two-month to 18-month work contract.
When I was 27 I finished my BA, worked as a substitute in French first language education, taking a volunteer role with Acadian and Francophone Affairs through Participate in PEI, then worked for a year in western Canada as a field agent for Katimavik, hoping it would eventually expand to eastern PEI someday, rather than only have PEI chapters in western PEI and Charlottetown.
I worked my last contract for Katimavik in French in Quebec City when I was 29, and six months later it was announced the federal government was cutting its ties with Katimavik. The organization stayed afloat through partnerships with the province of Quebec, the western Canada Metis Federation, and universities in Ontario facilitating indigenous reconciliation, but I worked for a Katimavik alumnus in Calgary then moved home at age 31 to work in IT cloud computing in Summerside for almost three years, taking queues which were French and English, such as DHL Express Canada for business clients, and Airbus in St-Nazaire, France for their employees.
The PEI francophone community is not on life support, it is thriving and building a nation.