The SEVEC student exchange program: A gateway to Canada

Each year, the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada (SEVEC) gives thousands of young Canadians the opportunity to discover Canada, improve their second language, explore another culture and learn about their history. SEVEC is a non-profit organization that has been active for over 75 years and is recognized as a leader in educational youth experiences.

Originally called Visites Interprovinciales when it began back in 1936, the program we know today as SEVEC’s student exchange program boasts a winning formula that has proven itself over the years and its success speaks for itself. Over the past three quarters of a century, SEVEC programs have enabled more than 350,000 young Canadians to participate in enriching educational experiences that give them a stronger sense of identity and inspire them to build the Canada of tomorrow.

Exchange, learn, connect

Each year, more than 5,000 young people discover another part of Canada through student exchanges, SEVEC’s largest initiative. All you need to submit an application is a group of about 20 people between the ages of 12 and 17 from a school or community organization.

“We have a lot of former participants, who are now teachers, organizing exchanges with their students,” says Fran Gagnon, SEVEC’s Executive Director. “To select groups, we have to follow the criteria set by Canadian Heritage that are based on the last census. For example, if 15% of the Canadian population lives in the Maritimes, we will ensure that the same percentage of participants comes from that region.”

Once the application is approved, SEVEC twins the group with another, making sure that there are similarities, such as the number and age of participants, and the exchange objectives—a better understanding of Canadian history, for example. The participants then make arrangements with their twinned group for the exchange and, since the exchange is reciprocal, prepare to host them as well. There is also a bit of paperwork to complete.

“Each participant is paired with someone from the other group,” explains Gagnon. “They will be billeted with their twin host family. To ensure participants’ safety, organizers ask host families to provide references. We ensure that everything is handled properly and that all paperwork is complete before sending the plane tickets to the participants.”

And how much does it cost? “Canadian Heritage pays for transportation, and then it depends on the local activities planned,” says Gagnon. “If the participants are visiting a big city like Toronto, they pay for their own visits to museums and other cultural activities. Normally, they organize a fundraiser.” Canadian Heritage also provides financial assistance to those with extenuating circumstances.

In addition to the regular exchange program, SEVEC also runs the Youth Saluting Youth program, which twins young people from military and civilian communities, and the Aboriginal Exchanges program.

Learning a second language

One of the key advantages of student exchanges is learning a second language. “About half of our exchanges are second-language exchanges,” says Gagnon. “And the results are compelling and long-term. Students who participate in a language exchange tend to register for an immersion program or even study in their second language once they get to university.”

Ask Rob Warzel. Originally from British Columbia, he went on a SEVEC language exchange to Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, in 2007. “I knew French from studying it in immersion and from going on a two-week trip to France, but it was a whole different story staying with a Quebec family for a week,” he said. His exchange had a major impact. Not only did he go on another exchange for a month and a half after high school, he also moved to the national capital to study at the University of Ottawa. His bilingualism even helped him land a summer job in the public service.

Another benefit was that he made long-lasting friendships. “I made a lot of friends through the program, young people from every province, from different cultures and speaking other languages,” says Warzel. “It helped me understand how Canadians, despite being very diverse, still have a lot in common. We’re more alike than I thought.”

More than just an exchange program

In addition to organizing exchanges, SEVEC helps organize youth forums and has created an information resource bank based on participant surveys that includes a second-language proficiency evaluation kit.

The organization is run by a board of directors whose volunteer members represent a wide variety of regional, educational, business, linguistic and community interests. It also has a Youth Advisory Committee made up of 22 young Canadians from across the country who make recommendations to improve and develop SEVEC’s youth exchange programs or create new ones.

To learn more about SEVEC and its programs, to access its free documentation or to apply for a student exchange, visit the SEVEC website.

Interested in finding out which universities in Canada offer second-language learning opportunities? The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has an on-line map that includes information on second-language courses, other courses taught in the second language, support and exchange programs, and networking activities.

Published on Thursday, December 12, 2013

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