three swse participants

“It was the best summer of my life! I did so many fun activities, learned new things and met amazing people!” – Youth participant from 2019

Group shot of youth participants in front of a lake

About the Program

The YMCA Summer Work Student Exchange (SWSE) program is a national exchange opportunity for 16- and 17-year-old youth living in Canada. Over six weeks in the summer, youth travel to another community in Canada, living and working in their second official language. Participants are employed in public sector or non-profit jobs, providing them with meaningful employment experience and a chance to contribute to impactful work in communities across the country. Learn more about the program. 


History and Funding


SWSE was first run in the summer of 1996 and has been organized through the YMCA of Greater Toronto since 2007. SWSE was developed with program goals to increase understanding of Canada among Canadian youth, develop second official language skills, deepen appreciation of difference and diversity, and create possibilities for youth to gain valuable employment experience. SWSE is funded by the Government of Canada, with partnership support from Via Rail.

Group shot of youth participants in front of lakeshore

a group of youths at the central station



Safety of youth, staff, hosts and community partners is at the core of our principles, and a priority in program planning and execution.

To ensure high standards of safety, all staff go through a rigorous training process that includes a focus on understanding policy and procedures, working effectively with youth and supporting mental health concerns. All staff and host families undergo criminal record checks, there are robust requirements for workplace safety standards and staff chaperones accompany all group travel.

The aim of the program is to balance youths’ abilities to engage in critical decision-making, while providing healthy boundaries that support development and safety. This is done by:

  • Coming up with group collective agreements in the first week of the program and making sure participants understand the importance of following them to ensure their comfort and safety.

  • Having program-wide policies on curfew, respecting diversity and activity attendance.

  • Equipping local staff with tools to foster open, non-judgmental communication with youth

Via Rail logo    Government of Canada logo