One of the biggest things we, at YMCA Exchanges, equate the month of June to, is the official launch of the 2015 edition of our Summer Work Student Exchange (SWSE) program! Seriously, the whole department sleeps and breathes SWSE these days. Everyone is super busy making sure your experience this summer is that of a lifetime!
You guys must also be getting excited, by now! A few more weeks (or days, if you’d rather 🙂 ) and you’ll be on your way to a great adventure. We thought you might have some questions related to the program, so we had a quick sit down interview with Ken Zolotar, our SWSE National Manager. He answered some pretty common questions/concerns, but feel free to reach out to us if you have any outstanding ones!
Nanamoye Ascofaré: Good morning Ken! Thank you so much for taking time off your busy schedule to meet with me! How are you today?
Ken Zolotar: No problem. I am well, thanks! How are you?
NA: Fantastic. Let’s get started. Tell me about yourself and the SWSE program.
KZ: Sure! I am the SWSE National Manager and I have been with the YMCA for the past three years. In a nutshell, SWSE is a unique national exchange program that brings together youth (aged 16 and 17) from various communities across the country for six weeks. During their exchange, our participants get to practice and improve their second official language skills while gaining important employment and life experiences. SWSE is a great way for youth to learn more about themselves, to discover another part of Canada (think TRAVEL!) and to know more about the people that make up our great nation. Plus, participants take on new challenges, make new friends and have fun!
NA: Thanks for telling us about the SWSE program. Off all the years you’ve been with the program, what, in your opinion is the most important component of SWSE? Or should I say, which component tends to bring up the most questions amongst your participants and their parents/guardians?
KZ: Well, all our components are important! But, if it had to come down to the one that attracts the most questions, it would be hosting.
NA: Tell us more.
KZ: For the duration of the program, participants stay with a host whose son or daughter is also participating in the program. Parents/guardians play an essential role as they act as a host to students from another community for the six-week exchange. Their role is not only to provide lodging and meals for their visitor, but also to act as additional support for them. Hosts are responsible for the participant staying with them, by providing a safe living environment and by allowing them to experience a new home, language and culture.
Let me explain this a little further, hosts spend time with their guest as they would with their own child. During the work-week the youth are at work and do not require supervision. During the weekends and one weekday evening, the youth spend time with their other group members doing organized activities with the Local Coordinator. The host’s role as a youth support largely takes place during the evenings and other week-days. I’ve worked with a lot of potential hosts over the years and from the outset, many think they are unable to host. Thankfully they learn about ways it can be worked out.
NA: What are some of the most common concerns you receive regarding hosting?
KZ: Let’s see. For one, many families take weekend trips during the summer. What usually happens is that our potential hosts end up thinking they can’t host just because they are going away for a weekend. But that can be worked out! For example, the first weekend of August is ‘family weekend,’ where we, at YMCA Exchanges encourage hosts to take their guests with them if they go away, or to spend some quality time with their guest by exploring the family’s interests in the community.
Furthermore, if they are going away for a weekend that isn’t ‘family weekend’ they can also arrange to have another adult such as a neighbour or relative stay in their home when they travel and that adult can provide support for the youth.
NA: Makes sense. Speaking of traveling… Do you ever get potential hosts who are concerned with distance?
KZ: Yes actually. Some of our potential hosts think they can’t host because they live far outside the city. We understand that commuting is a factor of life for many workers. Our goal is to find a place of employment that is within a 45 minute commute from their home. Youth can take public transit, get a ride from one of their coworkers, or get driven in by the hosts or neighbours who drive on the Monday – Friday work week. We select our employers around the same time that we select the youth, and we have often broadened our search for employers to suit where the hosts live. So that too, can be worked out.
NA: For sure. About work weeks… Many families have a diverse range of schedules. Are we able to accommodate potential hosts who work late/evenings/weekends?
KZ: Absolutely. As I previously mentioned, the youth are involved in group activities one weeknight per week and both days on the weekends. It is a busy schedule and like everyone else, the youth can use some down-time to recharge. The youth need to be supported by an adult during the time they are at home. Having someone in the house in the evening is excellent but not necessary; having someone in the house after the curfew (10 p.m. on weekdays, midnight on weekends) is necessary. As long as those arrangements can be made with friends, neighbours and/or relatives, potential hosts are eligible.
NA: I see. What other concerns do you sometimes get?
KZ: Another concern we get is one where potential hosts think they can’t host because they do not have a separate room for the participant. However, sharing a room with a sibling is normal and can provide for a new experience for youth from a different family setting and environment. Our participants need to have their own bed and a separator between their space and the common living space to give them privacy. As long as they have that, potential hosts can host!
NA: So basically, many concerns really shouldn’t exist, right?! Any last words?
KZ: Exactly. We are always looking to provide our participants and their families the best experience possible, so we do our best to accommodate and address concerns. I hope my responses were insightful. We also have a host guide that explains things in more detail. Lastly, I understand that in certain circumstances, hosting a student may not be possible. However, in order to participate, an alternate exchange host has to be found. We do our best to recruit additional alternate hosts but we also ask that families do their part to assist us.
NA: Thank you so much for all this information and for your time this morning, Ken!
KZ: It was my pleasure.