The Walkers are now comfortably settled in their own home in Oakbank, Manitoba.
Margaret Szklaruk wanted to see the world, learn about other countries and their people, and enjoy new experiences. She achieved that with the help of an excellent exchange program, but didn’t expect to find her life partner all the way across the globe.
Growing up with four siblings on the mixed farm her parents owned in St. Martin, Manitoba, Margaret enjoyed life in the country. Like most farm kids, she had acquired a solid set of skills by helping in the house, the garden and with farm chores. She meant to use those abilities in finding employment that would allow her to explore the world.
That’s when she learned about AgriVenture, an exchange program run by International Agricultural Exchange Association (IAEA). Since 1965, it has offered over 30000 young people, 18 to 30 years of age, an opportunity to work on farms or horticultural enterprises in different countries, while living with host families.
Applicants fill in forms (available at agricultural offices) listing their skills, work environment preferences and countries they’d like to explore. If they qualify, AgriVenture pairs them with a family matching their requirements. The candidate pays a fee, which differs from country to country. This covers their transportation, insurance, cost of visas and other required paperwork, as well as continuing contact and support from a supervisor in the host country. The organization looks after all arrangements and provides information meetings in both the home country of the participant and the host country. The host family pays the participant a set wage and provides full accommodation, and the person gets regular time off which allows for exploring the area. Each placement ranges from four months to a year, depending on the country.
It was just what Margaret was seeking. She was accepted into the program and enjoyed stays in Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. “I had such a great time and made lasting friends,” she says. “My host couple in Germany even travelled to Canada to attend my wedding.” She credits her experiences in AgriVenture with helping her mature in many ways. “One learns so much more from living with the people of the area than one would just by following the tourist routes. It really opened my eyes to the life and culture of countries other than my own. It was also an opportunity to learn new languages.
“AgriVenture is a valuable experience for any young person interested in exploring the world,” Margaret says. “I’ve seen young people who started out being very shy and became increasingly self-confident after only a few weeks in their allotted workplace.”
She would like to see more promotion for the program. Although AgriVenture advertises in several farm papers, and some information literature is available at agricultural offices, Margaret feels that it’s not familiar to many young people. “Maybe presentations in schools or educational fairs would be a road to follow,” she said. She is still active in the organization.
“Once I got into the program, I was hooked,” she said. After she returned from Europe, it was time to explore the South Pacific. AgriVenture offers programs in Australia and New Zealand, and Margaret signed up for a combined program of six months in each country. Her first placement was on a dairy farm in New Zealand but she never dreamt that there was something special in store for her.
That something special turned out to be a young man from New Zealand, Brendon Walker, who was employed on the same farm. Growing up, Brendon had often accompanied his father as he went to work on farms. He developed a love for farming and decided to make it his life’s work. After earning a diploma in agriculture
he secured employment at the dairy farm. The work was to his liking, and even more enjoyable after Margaret arrived for her six-month stay. It didn’t take long for the two young people to realize that they had much in common.
When Margaret returned to Canada, Brendon followed her. It was meant to be a visit, but during that time, the couple’s commitment to each other became firm and marriage plans were made. Brendon travelled to New Zealand to make some arrangements, but returned to Canada after a few months. They married shortly after and set up temporary housekeeping with Margaret’s parents in St. Martin, while Brendon awaited landed immigration status.
The Walkers are now comfortably settled in their own home in Oakbank, Manitoba. They have three children, Victoria, seven, Charlene, four and Henri, two. After working for several years at Oakwood Dairy Farms, Brendon, who has his landed immigrant papers, now works in construction. Margaret works from time to time catering, together with her sister.
Margaret and Brendon, both 33 years old, say they may return to New Zealand in the future, but for now they are content to stay here in Manitoba.
– Joyce Slobogian writes from Brandon, Manitoba and is the author of To Die For, available
at Pennywise Books in Brandon, and online at Amazon.com.