Paula Bennett

paula0002[1]Paula Bennett
First Secretary for the Embassy of Canada in Beijing
BA ’73


Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live? What are you currently doing?

Since September 2011 I have been working in the visa section of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.  I am responsible for our risk assessment unit that deals with fraud in the visa program as well as our quality assurance program.


Did you always know you wanted to work in public service? What was your career path like to get there? Did you have formal education or training?

I have been working since April 1973 for various departments related to Immigration.  I was hired while still a student at UBC so I never really got the chance to decide what I wanted to do after graduation.  I was studying Japanese and doing my Honours thesis when Mr. Gonnami in the AsianStudies library told me about a job advertised in the local Japanese paper.  The requirement was for someone who spoke Japanese and French to work for Immigration at Vancouver Airport.   It was the Department of Manpower and Immigration at the time.  I applied and got the job and started working on the 16th of April.  I have never looked back.


How did you start working abroad?

My first overseas assignment was in April 1975 when I was sent to Hong Kong to interview Vietnamese boat people.  That was all it took for me to want to continue working abroad whenever I could.  I had a second assignment in Manila, Philippines the following year.  Both of these were short assignments after which I returned to work in Vancouver.

In 1993 I took my family to Kenya for a three year assignment in Nairobi, where we stayed until 1996.  I travelled to many places in Africa from Eritrea to South Africa.

Since then I have worked in Washington, DC, Singapore, Tokyo and now Beijing.  Of course, Tokyo was my dream assignment where I felt so at home.  As part of my Japanese studies I had spent two years in Japan.


How is working and living abroad as a foreigner?

Living abroad makes one grateful for how good we have it in Canada.  It also gives us the wonderful opportunity to see the world and to experience other rich cultures.  Being a representative for Immigration can be incredibly rewarding.

Pros: travel, learn languages, making many friends from all over the world and sometimes re- connecting on subsequent assignments, it was enriching for my children who were with me in Kenya.

Cons: missing family, being far away when there are family emergencies, not having family close when you have an emergency, security in some countries is an issue and pollution is a concern in China.


Any Advice for other alumni that hope to go abroad?

I guess my best advice is to be open-minded and don’t go abroad hoping or expecting it to be like home.  If that is what you want, stay home.  Living abroad can be incredibly enriching.


What is one of your funniest or awkward mistakes as a foreigner?

I have had lots of fun abroad.  Hard to think of any one incident but when in Japan travelling with Japanese friends, if I ask a person on the street a question in Japanese, the person will always respond to my friend rather than to me.  This is only odd if you know how colloquial my Japanese is!