Over a dozen international students were in Tillsonburg Saturday afternoon, as part of the Tillsonburg Lions Youth Exchange program.
16 youth from 10 countries ranging in age from 16-20 took part in activities, visited local tourist attractions and learned about local history.
“When they come to Canada they have two-weeks with host families,” said Duane Malcolm, president of the Tillsonburg Lions Club.
“After they finish with host families they go to camp. The camp we use is in St. Catharines, it’s a Boy Scout camp - that’s home base for ten days or so and by the middle of next week, they go back with their host families, say goodbye and the host family takes them to the airport.”
The group arrived in Tillsonburg around 2 p.m. Saturday and made their first stop at the Tillsonburg Water Park followed by a tour of Annandale National Historic Site. Prior to that, they were canoeing in Waterford Saturday morning.
Malcolm said the youth exchange helps students learn about different countries and cultures and provides them with opportunities to explore Canadian nature, history and a first-hand experience of life in Canada.
“The program is about sharing your culture and trying to learn something relevant to the area you’re visiting,” he said. “Thinking about what we can show them about Tillsonburg that’s unique – Annandale House was it.
“They’re quite enjoying different things and learning different things.”
The Tillsonburg Lions Youth Exchange has been running locally for approximately 13 years but has been in existence for over 40 years across the region. The Tillsonburg Lions Club belongs to a district that runs from Niagara Falls to Tillsonburg.
The program is open to students between 14-21 years of age, many who travel abroad and visit Canada for the first time.
The ten countries represented by the youth exchange Saturday included Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Brazil.
Students Maxi Egli, 18 of Zurich, Switzerland and Laura Ilmanan 16, of the Helsinki region in Finland were two of the students participating in this year’s youth exchange.
“It looks like America but the people are more friendly,” said Egli. “It was fun in nature and also the museum was really impressive.”
Ilmanan agreed and said there were similarities between Canada and her home country of Finland.
“I think nature is pretty much the same as in Finland but everything’s just bigger – so it’s like a big Finland,” said Ilmanan. “The summers are warmer here so I like it a lot. I didn’t know it’s that much like America but I like it more because I also think that the people are really friendly,” she added.
Deputy Mayor Mark Renaud joined the group at Annandale National Historic Site on Saturday and offered a few inspiring words for the international students visiting Tillsonburg.
He challenged them to make a contribution in their home countries as the leaders of tomorrow, and help improve the world around them.
“It’s so important that when people have these learning opportunities and they travel, as these youth of this Lion’s exchange program have been able to do, that they see and learn from other cultures things that are successful,” he said.
“It’s important that, like we have here today in Tillsonburg with this wonderful group of young people from all these different countries, we can impart some wisdom on them from our successes here in Tillsonburg,” Renaud added. “They can take that home and make sure that we build a better world.”