Pack your bags: International student exchanges and travel build global knowledge and understanding

Photo by Darryl Sveinson.

Traveling to another country is an experience that will often shape a person’s future. The younger someone is when they first begin to travel, the more fundamental the travel experience will be to their person. Student culture exchange and travel programs are vital for our youth to gain these types of experiences as they will soon become workers, leaders and others who begin to shape our shared world. Being exposed to a whole new culture, asking questions, and talking with people from various parts around the world are all ways that students can be exposed to different ways of life and thinking.

Trading partners

Peter Neufeldt is a Regina-based business coach and Rotary International member who has been involved with Rotary’s international youth exchange program for years. Rotary International offers both year-long and short exchanges for youth, where young people live abroad with families and experience new cultures, new countries and new experiences. “Exchanges open eyes and minds to new opportunities and to potential,” says Neufeldt. “They change opinions and lives.”

Neufeldt has seen how exchanges can build incredible relationships and show young people the world in life-changing ways. Rotary International offers a 12-day summer wilderness retreat at Sioux Lookout, Ont. for youth on exchanges throughout eastern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. On the first day of one retreat, two young people arrived who were from ‘enemy’ countries, where one said to the other “I hate you.” Twelve days later, the pair were the best of friends. “They had animosity in the beginning, even without knowing each other,” says Neufeldt. “Less than two weeks later, they were close friends and had built bridges of friendship and understanding. That’s the power of exchanges.”

See the world

Daryl Sveinson is a teacher from Regina, Sask., who has worked for about twenty years to provide travel opportunities and student exchanges for the students that he teaches. Sveinson discovered a love for travel himself at a young age. Once he became a teacher one of his first goals was how to impart his love of travel onto his students. “Being from Regina and being landlocked led to wondering what the rest of the world is like,” says Sveinson.

Education First Tours (EF Tours) is one of the ways for students interested in traveling to see the world. Sveinson has used EF Tours to take a yearly trip with some of his students, ranging in groups from about twenty to forty students in Grade 12, around Easter break.

For a lot of students, trips Sveinson takes them on through EF Tours mark a transition period in their life. The trips take place at the end of their high school career before taking the next steps into the working world or furthering their education. These trips are also done with only teachers along for supervision—for many of the students this is the first time that they are not only leaving Canada, but doing something so momentous without their parents with them. These travels provide opportunities not only to see the world, learn about other people and cultures, but give some students their first step to becoming an adult. Of course, when dealing with travel not everything can run as planned or go quite as expected. But these experiences too, help students to learn how to overcome adversity on their own.

Memories made

The impression that travel can leave on a student can be long lasting. Sveinson noted that he has run into many students over the years after their graduation and said that they often remark at how their travel impacted their life. Many of his students made sure to incorporate travel into their lives in some way, whether it was traveling more, finding job opportunities that allowed for travel or deciding to study abroad.

Neufeldt sees the same thing with exchange students. Many form life-long friendships with their host families and the friends they made on exchanges, and others look to move abroad for education or work. One of Neufeldt’s own exchange students, a young woman from France, spent time in Canada a decade ago. Now she is studying fashion design in Vancouver and hopes to make Canada her permanent home.

Growing up

While participating in exchange programs and travel programs can have many benefits for a student’s own personal development, there are also benefits that impact society at large. When students visit one another’s countries during their visits, they’re exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. Students develop respect across cultures when they interact with peers from around the world during their stay abroad.

Travel helps young people develop more open-mindedness and tolerance towards other people’s points of view—something that’s especially important in today’s globalized world where communication between cultures is key to finding common ground and resolving conflicts peacefully.