Over more than a decade of operation, the YMCA Summer Work Student Exchange has changed many lives — for the students who participate and the families that host them.
One of those families is the Kiellys of St. John’s. In 2017, they hosted a pair of students and their son, Jacob, went to stay with a family in Quebec.
“I enjoyed the YMCA Summer Work Student Exchange program a lot,” said Jacob, who is just completing his first year of science studies at Memorial University and pondering the field of neuroscience as his future.
“I was able to work on my French skills in an environment of almost total immersion for weeks, and I got to spend much of my time doing exciting activities like going to Cirque du Soleil, exploring Old Quebec or visiting La Ronde amusement park. My French improved dramatically, I got work experience and I made friends with some of my fellow students. I really enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone who had the option to do it.”
The YMCA Summer Work Student Exchange is a six-week national program for youth 16 and 17 years old. The exchange is happening in St. John’s from June 30 to Aug. 15.
With financial support from the Department of Canadian Heritage, the program is entering its 12th summer and has involved more than 650 young people from across the country. It helps them improve their second official language skills and get useful employment experience through a work placement.
Within participating communities, exchange hosts, employers, summer staff and the community at large can also contribute to and benefit from the program.
“Jacob had heard about the program at school and he applied,” said his mother, Maggie Kielly. “We had meetings with the program organizers. At an early meeting, there was another student that wanted to go, but they were unable to host, so because I have two rooms, I offered to host two and they accepted.”
The two exchange students paired with the Kiellys were Flaurence Miville and Cassandre Burelle.
“Flaurence spoke fairly good English, but Cassandre didn’t,” Maggie Kielly said. “Over the summer, their English became very good. They worked at the (Association) for New Canadians and ran camps for the immigrant children. It was also great for us, as we got to show them Newfoundland and Labrador. Things like sea kayaking, (we) went to ‘Mama Mia,’ and even took them to the Duke (of Duckworth pub) for fish and chips. We were lucky. The girls were amazing, they got along well and were inseparable while they were here.”
The benefits for Jacob included getting his first real job as well as the cultural exchange that allowed him to immerse himself in the community of St. Hubert, polish his French and work in an amazing program at the native friendship centre.
“I would recommend this program to any student who wants to see other places and cultures,” Jacob said.
This also holds true for his family.
“I would do this all over again if they asked,” Maggie Kielly said. “I enjoyed taking two, even though that is not normally how the program works. Normally, if we took a student, that person’s family would host your child. This was a different scenario, but one that worked so well.
“Getting to have kids in the house was really fun for us.”
Youth who are interested should go online to www.summer-work.com to apply. At worst, their name will be placed on a waiting list.
Nicole Withers, support co-ordinator for Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island with Summer Work Student Exchange, said the opportunities this program presents are vast because of Canada’s makeup and geography.
“Canada is a pretty diverse culture. Getting to experience a new culture and a new family through this program is great,” Withers said.
“The work experience, the confidence the participants gain, the friendships are all great things that come out of this program.”
Withers said it is her first year as co-ordinator and she is seeing how massive the program is, as there are lots of moving parts. She says staff are well-trained, “preparing us for any challenges that may come up in order to support the youth through the process.”