First, I think I need to explain what the Odyssey Program is. It is a government-sponsored program offered to Canadian citizens to promote our national languages: French and English. It works similarly to an exchange program since people from French speaking provinces go live in English speaking provinces and vice-versa. So I, being a francophone from Quebec City, had the chance to go live in Comox, British Columbia. But contrary to regular exchange programs, where you go study in a different country or province, the Odyssey Program is also a job. For a whole school year, you become a language assistant and work 25 hours/week to promote your language (French or English) in a school with children from different grades depending on the school you work at. It is a difficult, but fun and rewarding job, where you also get to learn and travel. But before you embark on this journey, here are a few things you should expect.
1. the interview process takes several months
You applied months ago and still haven’t gotten an answer? No worries! The whole process takes time. You can apply as early as September for the next school year, but the truth is, applications are open until January and the interviews aren’t until March, so no one hears back before February. After the interviews, it will take a few weeks to find out if you were selected and which province you will be working in, but you won’t know in which school or city before May! Don’t get discouraged though, good things come to those who wait.
2. you could live in a big city or a small town
While you do get to list your three favorite provinces to work and live in, the school you will work in is the province coordinator’s and school directors’ decision! So yes, you could work in Toronto or Vancouver, but you could also work in a small town you have never heard of before. While it can be scary to leave for a year in a town that doesn’t figure on your map of Canada, this country doesn’t know ugly. No matter where you end up, it will be full of beautiful scenery. It’s Canada after all! And you might just discover a place you love that you would have never known existed otherwise. I know I had never heard of Comox before, but as soon as I got there, I fell in love with the little town and discovered how lucky I was to have been placed there.
3. There will be obstacles and challenges
Just like in every work abroad program, life on the Odyssey Program is full of ups and downs. Getting used to a new home and new city, finding friends and making a new routine in all these changes can be hard and scary at first and no, not every day at school will be fun and easy, but you have to give yourself time to get used to a new life and learn to enjoy all the good times. Once you are settled, you will never want to leave!
4. you will meet friends for life
In every work abroad program, you will meet wonderful people and make new friends, but the best part about Odyssey is the length of the program. Working or traveling with people for a whole year makes your friendship stronger and connections deeper. After sharing laughs, cries, hard times at work, Harry Potter addictions, nachos, a few bottles of wines and a regular amount of craziness, you just can’t help but stay friends, even after the end of your program. While you do have to leave these wonderful people behind at the end of the year, it is always possible to stay in touch and you will still have learned and grown from the friendship that you shared. I never expect to make lots of friends whenever I move to a different place, but maybe I am lucky and go wherever all the right people are or the right people have a way of finding me, but I have met the most wonderful friends in my work abroad programs.
5. you will get to travel and explore your region
The work schedule during the Odyssey Program makes it easy to travel during the year. Since you work at a school, you only work on week days and only 25 hours every week, meaning you end your day early and can leave for a new destination on Friday afternoons. You have all of your weekends free to travel around your host province or even further. Some schools also have two weeks of spring break. I spent my year traveling all around Vancouver Island and also went to Seattle and Vancouver as well as California for my two-week spring break. I was literally somewhere new every two weekends.
6. you will love the kids you work with
Even though the kids can make your job extra hard sometimes, you literally get paid to organize activities and play with children. So yes, sometimes they don’t listen or don’t follow the rules, sometimes your activities don’t work like you thought, but there will be those moments where they tell you how much fun they had playing with you and how much they liked the activities you created and there will be at least a thousand hugs and it totally makes up for it.
7. you will miss it everyday once it's over
A few weeks after going home, you will start missing your program. You will miss your coworkers and the children. You will miss the town that you considered home, but isn’t really anymore because you don’t live there any longer. You will miss all the little things that made your program so much fun.
I learned so much about teaching, French in other provinces and mostly about myself during my time on the Odyssey Program. Although I will not be doing it again as I want to try new things and explore new regions of the world, I loved my time in Comox and wouldn’t change it for the world. If you are thinking about applying, just go for it! You never know, you might end up loving it so much you never want to leave!
If you have questions about the program or about my personal experience with Odyssey, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments below or to send me an email. And for all of you applying, I wish you the best of luck in your odyssey!
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With the Disney interviews coming up in Canada, I find myself a little nostalgic and wishing I could relive the experience again. As some of you might know, I participated in the Disney Cultural Exchange Program for three summers, from 2014 to 2016. Even though the Program does have its downs, the ups are magically worth it! Here are 6 reasons why you should do the Cultural Exchange Program if you have the chance.
1. The free stuff
This is one of the more popular reasons even though it is not the best one. But, lets be honest, free stuff is just as good as the Grey Stuff! (If your Disney knowledge is limited, you should know that the Grey Stuff is a popular dessert seen in Beauty and the Beast and available at the Be Our Guest Restaurant) While on the Cultural Exchange Program, you get free admission to all the Disney Parks! You also get 40-60% off Disney Resorts, 20% off merchandise and certain restaurants and free passes for your family and friends! You may not be paid a lot, but the passes for you and your family alone are worth more than 2000$!
2. The Experience and Training from One of the Best Company in the Entertainment Industry
No matter what industry you are in or what you are studying, having Disney on your resume is always good because it lets your employers know that you can work with high standards and meet the high expectations that come from working for the Mouse. You can work long hours in uncomfortable settings and you are excellent at Guest interactions and Guest relations. Plus, it is probably the most surprising thing on your resume and your future interviews will most likely be about Disney instead of your top 3 qualities.
3. the people
The Cultural Exchange Program is only three months, so I expected to meet some nice people and maybe make a few friends, but I never expected to make deep connections with my coworkers and other Cast Members. Although there were some people I did not get along with, just like everywhere else, everyone at Disney was so friendly, open-minded, ready to help others, hard working and just SO nice. I can honestly say I met some of my best friends at Disney. Some of which I am still in contact with and talk to regularly, even from my first program three years ago! Even though the people at Disney were not the reason I did the Program the first time, they are the reason I went back for two other Programs.
4. the activities
While on the Program, a lot of different activities are organized for you by Disney as a chance to meet new people on the Program and share different aspects of the cultures represented by the Program. There are Welcome Parties and dances, trips to the beach and sport events and a chance to be a Voluntear. I also went to a sunrise yoga event in front of the castle in the Magic Kingdom park before it opened in the morning.
5. the work atmosphere
I am not going to lie; working at Disney World is HARD! You work long hours, often outside in the heat (and not a little summer heat with some wind and nice sun rays on your skin no, I mean harsh sun burning through your skin and humidity to make your skin melt), often standing and lifting heavy objects in a heavy, thick and uncomfortable costume that is really not flattering for any body type. But, it is totally worth it! Making the Magic happen for others and seeing their smiles and surprise and wonder will make your heart beat faster and make you believe in Pixie Dust and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boos. Yes, there are bad days and rude Guests, but there are also days where you give a balloon to a child celebrating their birthday and you make their entire vacations or days where you run into Mickey while working and he gives you a fist bump with a Bah-la-la-la-la-la-la or days where a guest will come tell you how impressed they are because you smiled and greeted everyone single person in a waiting line while boarding them in the attraction or guests that come back everyday to say hi because you gave them directions on the first day of their vacation and they remember you… And that is without counting all the fun you have with your coworkers, the free Mickey bars on especially hot days and fireworks after work!
6. the new cultures
Like it says in the name of the Program, this is a cultural exchange. As Disney World is a multicultural resort, the employees come from all around the world. Part of our job as a Program participant is to inform Guests and other Cast Members about our country and culture and in exchange we get to learn about the United States and all the other countries that also participate in the Program. I now know a lot more about different cultures and have friends from all over the world I hope I get the chance to visit one day!
I will be back in Disney World someday! Maybe not as a Cast Member, but it will still be magical. To everyone doing the Program this year and in the next few years: enjoy every single moment and, if you are not exhausted, you are doing it wrong! Don’t forget three months go by real fast at the most magical place on earth.
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