Is this the right time for student travel?

It is clear that young people have been severely impacted by the pandemic. Mental wellbeing, learning loss, social skills deficits, and growing uncertainty and pessimism about the future are top of mind for teachers and educators. Travel and exchange experiences are a fun and effective way to help address all of these developmental concerns and can provide returns for teachers much greater than the additional time and investment required to organize them. Experiences Canada exchanges makes travel more possible by funding all travel costs to and from your destination, as well as providing tips and advice to teachers who may never have planned a trip before.

For many teenagers, a school trip or exchange will be their first time traveling without their family. Even though they are safely with a school or youth group, this first solo adventure nurtures their self-confidence and independence, providing them with opportunities to develop their decision-making and problem-solving skills, their capacity to organize, and to communicate effectively. Teachers can amplify their skills development by involving them in the research and planning of their itinerary, as well as assigning tasks to individual students throughout the trip or exchange.

Indeed, taking youth out of the classroom often helps to bring curriculum to life – providing relevance and context to their studies which helps answer the common question “why do I have to know this?” At Experiences Canada, we support exchanges that correlate to second language learning, social studies, music and the Arts, Indigenous studies, as well as civics and leadership. We have even seen math, economics and accounting concepts introduced into travel planning activities – such as calculating the cost of the trip or carbon footprints, estimating time and distances to travel between activities, determining wait times at Jacques Cartier Park tube runs, or comparing food prices between northern and southern communities. A broad variety of curriculum-related activities and learning modules are available free to support and extend the exchange experience.  We often hear from youth that these travel experiences bring them more focus and purpose to their studies and help inspire their paths forward beyond high school.

One of the most valuable learnings that comes from travel and exchange is adaptability. We know this generation is living in an increasingly global world.  The ability to adapt to change and embrace the unknown will be key to a happier, healthier, and more successful future – however youth may choose to measure success. Practically, youth on exchange meet with other youth and live among families that may function very differently than their own. They travel with friends and classmates they may come to know in a totally different light as a result of this shared experience. Simply put, they build important social skills developing personal competencies to get along with people and to navigate new or unfamiliar environments.

Youth who have early opportunities to travel also tend to see the world more broadly. We want our young people to be exposed to different cultures and different ways of being to better prepare them for living and working in a global society. Fortunately, we don’t have to travel outside of our own borders to provide these first experiences to young people. In fact, exchanges within Canada can help youth appreciate the diversity of lived experiences within our own country, as well as understand how global issues affect us right here at home.

This leads to perhaps the most urgent reason for young Canadians to travel within Canada now. After three years of the pandemic, Canadians have never been more disconnected from one another. We are all too aware of the growing challenges to address Reconciliation, Anti-Racism, economic disparity and regionalism. The best way to break down barriers and confront misperceptions is by bringing people together to foster greater dialogue, understanding and connectedness.

While it is true many of our youth will find their own way forward with resilience, it’s up to us as educators, parents, and communities to remind them of their place within the broader society they live in, as well as learn the value and richness of being involved in the larger world around them.

With so much to gain, Experiences Canada recognizes that eliminating barriers and providing a safe and secure environment for these learning experiences is essential. For the past 85 years we have connected just under 400,000 young Canadians through travel and exchanges. For a registration fee of $250 per participant, we cover all travel costs to and from each exchange destination wherever you are in Canada, and we provide 24/7 support to all traveling groups in the event of any travel delays or disruptions, and cover those costs, too. With host families covering the costs of meals and accommodations, exchanges are one of the more affordable ways to support youth travel.

All our participating families are required to go through extensive screening processes so parents can be confident about the environment where their child will be staying. We also have an extensive training program for group organizers to help them ensure that every organizational aspect of the trip has been covered. Educators interested in additional training whether or not they are actively planning a trip or exchange are invited to attend our Learning by Adventure professional development conference to be held in Toronto June 9 to 11, 2023.

It’s time to get more of our young Canadians traveling and exploring our country again. You can be their guide in a life-changing opportunity. Experiences Canada is currently accepting applications for the 2023-24 school year. Contact us for more information on how to start your adventure.