MCC photo/Katie Froese

Krystin Kotze (left), Judith Hege (centre), and Shirley Vaca Vargas (right) brave snowshoeing on a cold December day at Camp Arnes in the Interlake region of Manitoba.

Every September host families and partners throughout Manitoba welcome young adults through MCC's yearlong cross cultural service opportunity International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). Through this program, 60 participants come from more than 25 countries around the world to volunteer with partner organizations throughout Canada and the United States each year. IVEP offers a rich opportunity to build understanding across cultures and has proven rewarding to IVEP participants, new friends and their hosts. Current IVEP participants, Judith Hege (Dresden, Germany), Krystin Kotze (Johannesburg, South Africa), and Shirley Vaca Vargas (Santa Cruz, Bolivia), recently shared about their experiences living and serving in Winnipeg.

Krystin Kotze serves at Thrive Community Support Circle daycare where she provides childcare support.MCC photo/Alison Ralph

What is your IVEP assignment?

Judith: My placement is at Winnipeg Harvest, a food distribution and training centre. I work for volunteer services. That includes giving tours for groups, preparing workplaces and working with the volunteers. Furthermore, I help in the warehouse and in the office wherever I am needed.

Krystin: My placement is at Thrive Community Support Circle on Sargent and Spence, where they have a daycare. I work there as a volunteer and watch the kids, help with snack times and lunches, putting children down for nap time and fixing any broken items that I can.

Shirley: I work at Indigenous Family Centre. We have some workshops [on] beading and making moccasins. For people around the neighbourhood we also provide coffee and a warm place to hang out... the entire year. We have a kids program after school and summer camp.  

Judith Hege (centre) and her colleagues T.J. Prodon (left) and Kelly Kalynuk (right) resource volunteers who sort food in Winnipeg Harvest's warehouse.MCC photo/Alison Ralph

What are some of the joys you've experienced?

Judith: I like to work with all the different people at Winnipeg Harvest. It is nice to be greeted by name. Even when it is very busy someone says, "Hi Judith," and I smile and greet [them]. Because I am there regularly I know a lot of regular volunteers and they know me.

Krystin: My joy at work is that I now get special smiles from my kids when I see them and they see me… My host family has been amazing in accepting me into the fold and into their lives as a whole. They've taken me for Slurpees, poutine and sweet and savory pancake type things. They've made being away from my family easier with their acceptance of me and ability to include me in things they do. I've fallen in love with my new extended family.

I'm learning a lot about my faith and myself. I have the chance to think more deeply here, outside my [place of security] back home.  -Shirley Vaca Vargas

Shirley: In my workplace I have learned to do many things [including] beading which is nice cause I can teach others back home. Also, I met a lot of nice people: my hosts, coworkers and missionaries who inspired me to keep working in my goals. 

What has surprised you?

Judith: Dimensions. If it is the size of an ice cream box or the distance to the next city, it is all bigger here…

Krystin: The weather as I didn't expect it to get this cold or stay this long and how people just accepted me so easily when I'm from a different country.

Shirley: The history about Indigenous people cause I didn't know this about Canada.

Shirley Vaca Vargas has enjoyed learning new skills, like beading, at her volunteer placement, Indigenous Family Centre.MCC photo/Alison Ralph

What are some of the challenges you've experienced?

Judith: Some people are hard to understand. It is getting better as I am improving my English and getting used to different accents.

Krystin: The challenges that I've had have been trying to adjust to this new city and country that I have no idea on how to navigate… Being away from my family and friends and my familiar space… but most of all my independence… The weather has been hard but it’s almost over so it's okay.

Shirley: My workplace was different than I thought... Also Winnipeg is too cold and to wait for buses is not my favourite.  

Relationships with the children at Thrive Community Support Circle daycare have been a source of joy for Krystin this year.MCC photo/Alison Ralph

What has it been like to live with a Canadian host family?

Judith: To live with a host family gives me a deeper insight into the Canadian culture and forces me to always speak English.

 I've fallen in love with my new extended family. -Krystin Kotze

Krystin: It's been different as Canadians are very independent… I didn't get any chores to do and… I didn't know what to do with myself when things needed to be done. They are very friendly and always want to know how my day was and if I need anything and love to talk about my country and they include me in family stuff which helps me feel included. 

Shirley: My host family is very kind but I was expecting to eat more burgers in Canada... I eat more vegetables here than back home. They are pretty healthy.

Judith serves Winnipeg Harvest in a variety of ways including sorting food, packing food hampers, and providing office support.MCC photo/Alison Ralph

What have you learned about faith?

Judith: I enjoy attending a young adults group with potluck and bible study. I am happy to find a faith community while being far away from home. I like the discussions and sharing and praying together is encouraging. During my time in Canada I have experienced God in a new environment and broadened the borders of community through making friends with Canadians and IVEPers from around the world. It is an amazing experience to meet all these people and I am very thankful for the IVEP-experience.

Krystin: I have learnt that when you are in a new place and you're scared or nervous about where you are, what you're doing etc., you go to God more to help you than when you're at home in your own space... I've learnt that the smallest bit of faith is enough to help you through anything like being home sick and when you're having a hard time at work… My faith is stronger now because of this year away from my comfort zone and this year has taught me much on faith.

During my time in Canada I have broadened the borders of community through making friends with Canadians and IVEPers from around the world. It is an amazing experience to meet all these people and I am very thankful for... IVEP.  -Judith Hege

Shirley: I'm learning a lot about my faith and myself. I have the chance to think more deeply here outside my [place of security] (culture, family, friends and church) back home.

Shirley crafts a bird mask with Jordyn LeClaire (right).MCC photo/Alison Ralph

Find out more about IVEP and how you can get involved.

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