The Importance of Cultural Exposure in High School and How You Can Participate (For free!)

by | Jul 7, 2019 | Blogs

No matter what a student’s career or future goals are, international learning and cultural immersion experiences are beneficial. In an increasingly globalized world, it is imperative that youth expose themselves to other cultures and perspectives as early as possible due to the immense benefits it affords both the student and the world as a whole.

The reality is that every school board advertises cultural opportunities differently. Some boards may actively advertise international learning opportunities while others are not as vocal about the opportunities. The purpose of this blog post is to encourage you to seek out the cultural and international learning opportunities in your school board or encourage your board to be more vocal about them.

The Importance of International Learning and Cultural Immersion In High School

Often the cliché that traveling helps you ‘find yourself’ is tossed around without a thorough explanation. The cliché is accurate for two different reasons. The first is that traveling forces people to self-reflect on themselves and their life compared to the lives and personalities of the unfamiliar people around them. This often changes a person’s perspective. The second reason is that traveling puts you in an unfamiliar, often uncomfortable situations. This discomfort means that the next time you are prepared for whatever life throws your way. International learning and cultural immersion are truly some of the best activities for guaranteed self-growth.

Another reason that it is important to think internationally at least once in high school, is the competitive advantage that it gives for post-secondary education and life beyond. This is not just limited to language skills. Employers, University Admission Boards and Scholarship Committees appreciate students that go outside of their comfort zone and embrace a new culture. It proves to them that the student is resilient, flexible, empathetic and hard-working, some of the most pertinent soft-skills to possess in the modern-day workforce. Short- or long-term exchange programs also assist students in the transition to post-secondary education or the workforce by encouraging independence and resilience in daily life. The benefits of an exchange experience are infinite for young people.

The value of a student’s cultural experience goes beyond the benefits afforded to the student, it encourages peace as well. Often world problems and disputes are caused by a lack of understanding. With every young student that experiences a new culture, comes an older diplomat that will be there to help others understand the way the two cultures think, can collaborate and value each other in the future. This could end up saving lives. As arbitrary as it seems for one person’s travels to encourage peace between countries, it’s a step in the right direction for both the student and the world.

Where to Find International Learning and Cultural Immersion In High School

Affordable international learning opportunities are everywhere for students that want to find them. Often there is the stereotype that international learning and cultural immersion means traveling halfway across the world and spending $5000 to learn French for a summer. This is often a misguided preconception.

First it is important to note that traveling comes in a variety of ways. Being one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world has its perks. Something as simple as traveling to Chinatown downtown Toronto can open your eyes to a different culture. Even discussing everyday life with a student in your high school from another country presents you with the opportunity to travel into their world and way of thinking without leaving your chair. In terms of high school, immersing yourself in a new culture could be taking a course with an international focus or joining the international club. Courses such as French or International Business teach useful cultural lessons and expose students to the vastness of the world in a different format. Many boards often have cultural events or international student orientation days that Canadians students are able to volunteer at and attend as well. All it takes is a little initiative to inquire about these opportunities.

There are also many low-cost, high benefit cultural immersion programs at the national level. For example, I had the opportunity to travel to Gaspe, Quebec to learn French with the Explore program which offers bursaries that enable youth to travel around Canada and develop their second language skills for five weeks in the summer. I paid next to nothing and had a true cultural immersion experience through the program. The way of living in the little town of Gaspe was so inherently different than my hometown in Ontario. From the way the residents all gathered together for folk dances once a week to their willingness to show you the beauty of their little town, their mindset was more relaxed and carefree. The program provided me with all of the benefits of experiencing a new culture and language, without breaking the bank.

In addition to traveling within Canada, high school students have the opportunity to participate in exchange programs such as the Rotary Youth Exchange Program that sends youth ages 15-19 to a foreign country for 10-12 months, with many expenses paid for. The program is phenomenal and not only provides funding for the student, but also cultural training weekends all free of charge. I will be traveling to Japan with the program for the 2019 to 2020 school year. There are also other shorter-term exchange programs that do virtually the same thing. The links to a few national and international cultural immersion/international learning programs are posted at the end of this article.

Although every board advertises cultural immersion and international learning opportunities differently, they are meant for interested students everywhere to take advantage of. It is up to the student to actively seek out these programs if interested in them. Seeking them out is as simple as a trip down to the guidance office or a call to your local Rotary club. The value of any cultural immersion or international learning opportunity is priceless and the skills and experience it will afford youth are un-parallel to any other activity. High school is the time to do it because young students have the time, the flexibility and the means with dozens of organizations eager to invest thousands of dollars into high school students studying abroad. Say yes and take the leap into a new cultural experience because I assure you it will be worth it in the end!

Links to Exchange/Language Programs Within Canada (both funded by the government)

*note I do not have personal experience with all of these programs so I recommend you do further research to see which program works best for you

Explore

Explore is a 5-week program offered to Canadian youth aged 16+ that provides youth with bursaries to travel to a different part of Canada and develop skills in a second national language. The program includes activities and trips as well that allow participants to explore a different region of Canada.

https://www.myexplore.ca/en/

YMCA Summer Work Student Exchange

The YMCA summer work exchange is a program for teenagers ages 16-17 that provides them with work experience and develops their second language skills for 6 weeks of the summer.

http://my.ymcagta.org/netcommunity/page.aspx?pid=536

 

 

Links to International Exchange Programs

*note I do not have personal experience with all of these programs so I recommend you do further research to see which program works best for you

Rotary Youth Exchange

Rotary youth Exchange offers 10-12-month exchanges to students 15-19 years of age with many expenses paid for. The program also provides training and supports for students to ensure a successful exchange experience.

https://www.rotary.org/en/our-programs/youth-exchanges

CEEF Exchanges

This program offers exchanges to various countries for elementary and secondary school students.

https://www.ceef.ca/student_program.html

International Exchange Ontario

This exchange program offers opportunities for students that live in Ontario in Grades 8-11 to travel to a foreign country for 9-12 months or a short summer exchange. Participants host a foreign student then travel to that student’s country with them for a period of time.

https://iseontario.on.ca/