They say you have to walk a mile in one’s shoes to understand them, but for two families from Saanich and Switzerland, they have to fly 5,200 miles just to wear them.
Christian Verrier and Sonia Chabot, along with their sons Samuel, 9, and Justin, 8, are embarking on a yearlong exchange with a Swiss family, starting in July. They will be trading practically everything – homes, jobs, schools, vehicles, clothes and lifestyles.
“They’ll be using our house, our bikes, our clothes, and we’ll do the same with theirs,” said Verrier.
The exchange is through the Canadian Education Exchange Foundation, which offers international teaching programs for educators. Chabot, a teacher at École Victor-Brodeur – a French K-12 school in Esquimalt – heard about the CEEF after a colleague took part in a similar trip and thought it would be a great idea for her family.
“She met a family over there in Switzerland – they have two boys like us and she knew that we were the kind of people who like to travel and experience new things,” said Chabot.
Switzerland is one of the few French-speaking countries available for the exchange, being the native tongue of 22.5 per cent of the country’s population. Verrier, Chabot and their sons will be staying in Lausanne, a distinctly Francophone city on the shores of Lake Geneva.
“We’re going to be in a fully French environment, but I’ve already started learning a bit of German because we’ll be travelling,” said Verrier. “Samuel likes to snowboard, so we said, ‘Lausanne is pretty much next to the Swiss Alps.’ We’re trying to help them get motivated.”
While the idea of letting strangers into your home is frightening to some, Verrier and Chabot aren’t strangers to exchange programs: they’ve previously done vacation exchanges with families from San Diego and Spain, Skyping with them beforehand to get to know them and then striking a deal. They said they’ve had excellent experiences thus far opening their home to people from out of town.
“We’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Aren’t you afraid of what’s going to happen to your house?’” recalled Verrier. “It’s not for everybody, but although we take care of our things, we’re not attached to them to the point where we’re not willing to take a chance.
“For me, it’s a good exercise just to let go and say, ‘It’s OK, it’s just material,’ and to trust people, too.”
The Swiss family – practically a mirror image of Verrier, Chabot, Justin and Samuel – will be switching roles with the Saanich family. The boys will trade spots at their respective schools while Julian, the father, will take Chabot’s job at École Victor-Brodeur.
Julian’s wife Nicole will stay at home and take care of the kids, in addition to possibly volunteering at the school, and Verrier will do the same in Switzerland.
Admittedly, Samuel and Justin aren’t entirely thrilled with the idea, knowing they’re going to miss their friends, but Verrier said the chance to live in a city on the other side of the world was too good an opportunity for the family to pass up.
“Now that it’s definite, they know that there’s no turning around and I think they’re accepting it,” he said. “They do find things that make them excited about the prospect of discovering something new.
“We want to give our kids the opportunity to experience something completely different.”