COVID-19 has taken the ‘abroad’ out of Northern Youth Abroad for the past year and a half.

But administrators of the program are working to ensure travel resumes as soon as it’s safe to do so.

There’s a cohort of 60 students ready to spread their wings in locations across Canada or outside the country’s borders. Nobody’s been on the move since March 2020, when taking off for domestic and international destinations had to be shut down due to the pandemic.

Rebecca Bisson, Northern Youth Abroad’s executive director, said on Aug. 4 that it’s looking like Canadian excursions will likely start again during summer 2022, while international trips will “hopefully” be able to proceed sooner than that, but that’s dependent on a number of factors.

“For us, obviously health and safety is number one,” she said. “We’d need to have the all-clear from all of the people we’d want to consult with for that. We also want to make sure we have all the resources and … participants get the great and wide experience that they deserve.

“And it’s really important to us too that our participants feel comfortable, their families feel comfortable and communities feel like we making a good decision too.”

With the interruption of programming, it hasn’t yet been decided whether the number of youth accepted into Northern Youth Abroad in 2022 will be expanded to address the backlog, Bisson said.

“Because things continue to change really quickly, it’s just being really flexible and sort of seeing how things go as we get closer to those sorts of decisions,” she said.

Each program operates over 10 months and includes a summer travel placement of five to six weeks.

Northern Youth Abroad was established in 1998 and 525 youth have been given the opportunity to travel during that time. Another 150 have take part in non-core activities such as post-secondary campus tours, according to Bisson.

In addition to trips, Northern Youth Abroad seeks to enhance education, career development, personal goal setting, community leadership, cross-cultural awareness and build self-confidence.

Although COVID-19 ground travel to a halt, the program has been able to continue its Northern Youth in Service leadership training and community engagement component, whereby youth complete projects in their home communities. There have also been academic tutoring and scores of $500 micro-grants that supported community activities such as baking and caribou tufting.

Participants have documented their experiences in essays.

Arctic Bay’s Crystal Enoogoo wound up in St. John’s Newfoundland, where she volunteered with the First Light Native Friendship Centre’s day camp in 2019. She also played plenty of soccer, took a ferry ride to Bell Island and went whale and puffin watching.

“The program helped me so much, my English is improving so much since I left Arctic Bay – being more open about my feelings, learning how to work as a team, learning about the city life,” Enoogoo wrote, adding she hopes that other teenagers amazed with her experiences in the program give it a try.

Mahasi Nateela of Arviat spent her summer placement in Powell River, B.C. at the Tla’amin First Nation in 2016.

“Throughout this program I learned a lot about my culture, other cultures and myself. Learning about other cultures amazed me, learning to speak and understand their language, listening to their stories and legends, participating in their dances and songs, trying out their food and clothing, etc.,” Nateela wrote.

“I enjoyed teaching my host family and co-workers about my culture too.”

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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