Changing Places

Student exchanges build confidence, friendships & understanding.

Changing Places

Photo: Shane Chapman


To this day I still talk to all of the friends that I met in Vancouver. Even though they live across the country, I feel like they are in my close-knit group of friends. The exchange was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had.
Carolyn, Peterborough

Student exchanges are a great way for young people to experience other parts of the country, or even other parts of the world. While living with host families, students are exposed to other ways of life, which can give them a broader understanding of others, perhaps leading to long-lasting friendships.

Young people gain increased self-esteem and self-reliance through experiences away from home. They can participate in exchanges as part of a group at school, or in the community, or as individuals. Exchanges can be as short as a few days or last for a year. In most cases, subsidies are available to help defray costs.

Close to home

Carolyn, a member of the Peterborough Children’s Chorus, participated at age 12 in an exchange that matched her choir with a choir from North Vancouver. The exchange was arranged by the Society for Exchanges and Educational Visits in Canada (SEVEC), a national charity that helps young people gain an understanding of Canadian diversity through language, cultural and special interest exchanges, and more.

SEVEC exchanges work both ways – kids live with host families in another province, then act as hosts themselves. “I loved the experience,” says Carolyn, now 17. “Our host family was amazing – they treated us like we were their own kids.”

Student exchanges offer many benefits, says choir director Maureen Harris-Lowe. The kids often find that they have similar interests with their counterparts. They also discover “what a beautiful country this is, with the ocean and the mountains. They realize that they do not have to leave the country to get a real travel experience.”

While acting as hosts, the children learn a lot about their own city and province by becoming tour guides,” says Harris-Lowe. “They re-discover some of the gems that are close to home that they have taken for granted.” Many of the children keep in touch with their exchange partners and some even choose to go to university in the cities they visited, reports Harris-Lowe.

And far away

International exchanges can give students exposure to other countries and cultures. The Rotary Club, an international service organization, is world-renowned for its international exchange program, which has 8,000 participants annually. Unlike SEVEC, the Rotary’s program is not a straight exchange. “A local club will send a student to another country, while a club from another country sends us a student,” explains Janet McLeod, a member of the Rotary’s youth exchange committee. “This year our outbound student Isabel is spending the year in the south of France, while our inbound student Jessica is here from Brazil.”

Guest students attend a local high school and stay with four host Rotary families. Eighteen-year old Jessica decided to participate because of her mother’s positive experience as an exchange student in the United States.“With the exchange I realize how important it is to learn different languages and to learn about new cultures,” says Jessica. “Now I am more conscious of world issues and conflicts.”

To be considered for the exchange, young people must be between 15 and 18,  above-average students, open to new experiences, and according to Jessica, emotionally mature. “The student should really want to go, because you have a great deal of responsibility,” she says. “There are difficult days and you can get homesick, so you have to be emotionally prepared for it.”

Tolerance is key

“I read that if everybody had the opportunity to go on an exchange, there would be no war,” says Jessica. “You become very respectful of different cultures and develop a good understanding of people. If there was more tolerance, there would be no point in killing people in other nations for any reason.” For more information about student exchanges, contact the organizations listed in the sidebar.


Student Exchange Programs

Author: Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons; or

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