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Pack your bags and pick up your passport

Margaret Sheridan | Interrobang | News | April 7th, 2008

More students and new graduates are choosing to travel and work internationally, rather than stick it out at home

Backpacking through Europe or South America tends to be seen as a rite of passage for most students.

Traveling can mean a visit to our parents homeland, a reward for graduating, or as simple as wanting to explore as much of the world as possible before settling down to the monotony of the nine to five lifestyle.

But one thing that's becoming apparent is that students are now choosing not just to sightsee anymore, quite a few are taking the opportunity to either volunteer or work while they expand their horizons.

“There are more people working abroad than 10 years ago,” said Michael McClanaghan, the marketing coordinator for SWAP Working Holidays. “People recognize the value of this kind of experience as a character building activity, but also working abroad is very beneficial for building a resume and gaining work experience.”

SWAP is a non-profit program that has been offering Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35 the opportunity to work and travel abroad for over 30 years now. In the three decades it's been around the program has assisted roughly 45,000 Canadians in planning and bringing their working holidays to fruition.

But what's making this sort of program popular with travelers- when did a vacation start to include work?

“You have a chance to live and breathe another culture,” McClanaghan explains of SWAP's popularity. “You're on the inside rather than simply passing through as a tourist. The best thing about it is that it's your experience, you choose where you want to work and what you want to do.”

But travel isn't a novel idea, nor is our generation ahead of the curve. Canadians have been known as travelers for quite a while. An international travel survey done by Statistics Canada in 2007 showed that Canadians made a record 6.7 million trips to overseas countries, an increase of 8.2 per cent from the previous high observed in 2005. And this increased travel overseas is nothing new, as the records showed gains in 14 of the past 15 years.

Where exactly are these intrepid Canadians going? The number one destination, outside of the United States, was Mexico, which saw more than 840,000 Canadian visitors. Rounding out the top five were, in order, the United Kingdom, France, Cuba and Dominican Republic.

“We're seeing a lot of increases in travel in the winter,” explained Francine Roy, a researcher with Statistics Canada who recently looked at international travel in relation to the Canadian economy. “Travel to places like the Caribbean and South America, but also to Europe and a lot to the States.”

And the Canadian economy, pushed by a strong dollar, is making these sort of trips easier on students by making them more affordable, and therefore more in the average students' price range.

“We've seen a definite impact with Canadians traveling more overseas,” Roy continued. “Canadians as a whole are traveling more for a number of reasons, like evidently the dollar is one of them, but also incomes are increasing. And Canadians have started traveling around the world a lot more- it's a global trend where travel is expanding.” With SWAP the list of most popular destinations is only slightly different than those that Roy listed.

“Our most popular destinations are UK, Ireland, Australia and the USA,” McClanaghan said. “And the kind of work you'll be doing it totally up to you. A lot of our contacts are in the hospitality and tourism sector.

“Some participants choose to find career related work while other want to take a break from what they have been working at to try something new.”

A sure sign that the industry is growing is that the Canadian government has started promoting work, study and travel abroad options for students and youths. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has a program titled ‘International Youth Programs' which helps youths between the ages of 18 and 35 get work permits in 40 participating international countries.

DFAIT has agreements already in place with countries such as the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Japan and Australia, amongst others, that facilitate the acquisition of work permits, visa's and jobs in the host country.

No matter where the students, or youths go, travel opportunities not only provide an entertaining and informative vacation, but they look great to prospective employers.

“It's a great way to add to your resume,” said McClanaghan. “Working overseas shows that you are independent, adventurous and open to changing the world around you.”

Want to go International?

- The Government of Canada provides several options for students, or youths, interested in working and traveling abroad. Everything from working holidays to worker exchange programs. With more than 40 participating countries and short-and-long-term stays available they've covered their bases.

- SWAP Canada has more than 30-years of helping young travelers under their belts and can help to organize your working holiday in a wide variety of destinations and positions that including internships, volunteer and teaching jobs.

- Interested in traveling next summer? You may want to take a trip to Toronto in September for the annual Go Abroad Fair held at the Metro Convention Centre in the downtown core.

- Another good government sponsored alternative is an youth internship with the Canadian International Development Agency. Their International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) is competitive, with only 15 spots, but well worth the application process if you get one of the spots.

Want to stay closer to home?

- Some SWAP programs are based in the USA if you'd rather not travel overseas for a working holiday or for an internship.

- If you're interested in doing a youth exchange within Canada, a visit to the Youth Exchanges website is in order. The site helps connect youths with a wide variety of Canadian organizations that sponsor exchanges between provinces.
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