My first encounter with Experiences Canada (then SEVEC) was early 2007, on a reciprocal language exchange between Langley, BC and St-Hyacinthe, QC. I was a French immersion student through high school, so the immediate and obvious benefit was the opportunity to develop and improve my language skills. But I didn’t expect to learn as much about my community and country as I did. And I think the biggest takeaway for me was a love of travel.
Shortly after my exchange, I joined the YAC in mid-2007, and went to Ottawa for the first time. I returned the following year during my senior year of high school, and ultimately moved to Ottawa to attend Carleton University the following summer. While completing my degree, I spent 4 or 5 years working with Experiences Canada to help expand and improve the Youth Advisory Committee. I took on a “mentor” role, and would help plan the YAC program and activities, and spend 2 or 3 days helping lead the YAC through and around Ottawa when they were in town.
One of my favourite memories from my time with Experiences Canada were the friendships I made, and still try to maintain despite living in a different country now. I’ve had the fortune of traveling through every province but one (I still need to go through the territories too!) and I am rarely far from a friend anywhere in Canada now. I also got to lobby on Parliament, meet Justin Trudeau, tour some of Canada’s most historically relevant buildings, and try all sorts of new things.
Overall, I think my favorite memory is when I was hosting my exchange twin. My exchange twin was a huge hockey fan but had never been to an NHL game before. While he was in town, we happened to have tickets, and so we took him to the Vancouver Canucks game. The game was pretty close, and part-way through the game he said, “I hope it goes to a shootout!” (The shootout was a new thing for hockey back then, it had only been around for one or two seasons and was still a novel experience). Sure enough, the game ended tied, and the Canucks ultimately won in the shootout. For someone who enjoys hockey as much as he did, that was a special experience.
I think opportunities for youth to experience the diversity of Canada is more important than ever. Society has a confirmation bias problem. Globalization (and social media) was supposed to expose us to other peoples, new ways of living life, and connect us with the globe, but instead we’ve isolated ourselves and surrounded ourselves with those who support our preconceived notions. Bringing youth together, whether it’s an exchange or forum, in-person or virtual, helps combat those societal forces. It instills lessons that will remain with kids for the rest of their lives, fosters cross-cultural connections, and ultimately helps create a little more understanding and acceptance of the differences we all have from one another.