seven swse participants wearing ymca shirt

“This program has developed my independence immeasurably and there were so many amazing activities. The friends and memories that I made here I will hopefully carry with me for the rest of my life.” – Youth participant from 2019

  Youth Participants

Group shot of youth participants in Halifax wearing YMCA SWSE shirts and smiling

What to Expect

Interested in travel, meaningful work and experiencing new things this summer?

The YMCA Summer Work Student Exchange (SWSE) is a national exchange program for 16- and 17-year-old Canadians. For six weeks in the summer, you’ll travel to an area of Canada where your second official language is spoken, work full time in a community-based organization, stay with a host family and participate in program activities to integrate into your new community.

SWSE is committed to making the program accessible for you. We support youth of diverse cultures and beliefs, income levels, skills and interests. If you have any questions or concerns about your ability to participate, contact us today.

There is no one specific model participant, and the diversity of people who participate each year is appreciated.


While on exchange, all youth work full time with a non-profit or public sector organization. You’ll be paid at the provincial minimum wage of the province you’re working in, and be provided opportunities to grow valuable job skills for the future. During the interview process, you will answer questions about your preferred areas of employment.

Below are some examples of past job placements:

  • Working at a media arts company

  • Interning at a museum or cultural centre

  • Assisting as a science and technology camp counsellor

  • Being a counsellor-in-training at a soccer camp

a group of youth at the park

three swse participants


During the exchange, your local coordinator will be running activities three times per week to introduce you to your new community and help you build relationships within your group. Activity costs are covered by the program, and activities are an integral part of the experience. Activities take place on Saturday and Sunday (generally one full day and one half day), and one weeknight evening.

Types of activities that you’ll experience during the program include:

  • Arts and culture: Attending Shakespeare in the Park in Toronto, Ontario

  • Sports and physical activity: Participating in a circus school in Quebec City, Quebec

  • Truth and reconciliation: Visiting Tsawenhohi House at a Huron-Wendat reserve near Quebec City to make dreamcatchers, bake bannock bread and discuss Indigenous knowledge and storytelling with community elders

  • Participant’s choice: Visiting amusement parks

  • Community service: Volunteering at a local animal shelter ..and more!

Staying with a Host Family

"I love my host family so much! I feel like the pairing process was done very well and that the family I was paired with was very similar to my family back home, so it made adjusting to a new community easier.” – Youth participant from 2019"

An integral part of the SWSE program is staying with a host family in your new community. Spending six weeks learning about a different family’s way of life and their community, and practising your second official language skills, is often a participant’s favourite part of the SWSE experience. Along with your job and group activities, your host family provides a key resource in figuring out how to navigate your community.

Staff work hard to make sure that they’re making good matches between youth and families by asking questions in the interviews about food, pets, chores and more. Families are as varied as participants, living in places all across the country, in houses and apartments, from many different cultural and religious backgrounds, and with differing structures and expectations. Both youth and host families often find that they learn a lot about Canadian diversity through living together.

A priority for the program is maintaining respect for everyone involved, and this is reflected in the expectations for host and youth relationships.

a group of youth at the central station

Group shot of youth participants sitting in circle in toronto park

Programs Cost

The program fee is $125, payable at the time of acceptance. If this poses a barrier to participation, the fee can be waived, or staff can work with participants and families to come up with a payment schedule.

What costs does the program cover?

The program covers the cost of travel to and from the host community and expenses related to activities run by the local coordinator. Each host family is responsible for providing food for three meals a day.

Personal expenses and transit costs to and from work are the main expenses for program participants. For concerns related to these expenses please contact us.