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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